I had looked at photos of Halong Bay when planning this trip to see if it was one of the locations that would make the cut for our short time exploring an expansive land. The pictures were incredible enough to make the cut but didn’t fully prepare me for what I’d actually see. The bay has literally (read: lit-trilly, a-la Rob Lowe in Parks and Rec) thousands of limestone towers jutting out of water, all capped with lush green vegetation. These towers are spread throughout a bay that covers more than 1,500km2. It’s huge.
Hundreds of boats cruise the bay every day. Tourists can choose from a $50/night bare-bones junk boat to a $500+/night luxury “junk” boat. My brother and I opted for something in the mid-to-high range. We wanted to be spoiled (and we were). The Indochina Sails greeted us with a cold towel, a welcome drink, and an upgraded suite with a 2nd floor balcony. The 4-course lunch was superb as were the buffet dinner and breakfast that followed. The boat puttered along the bay, eventually stopping at Titop Island for a quick swim and an optional climb to the top of a small hill. We opted to climb and 400 sweaty steps later were rewarded with an outstanding aerial view of the bay.
Later in the day Zach and I took a kayaking excursion with several other guests to Bat Cave and the surrounding lagoon. The silence out on the water away from the large junk boats was in stark contrast to the previous eight days that we had spent touring busy cities. It was magical. Until we looked down and saw that shoes, plastic bags, toilet paper… all matters of garbage really… were floating right alongside us. How can you have one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world and treat it like a landfill? From what I’ve seen and heard, tourism is taking off in Vietnam and the government is enjoying the revenue it’s bringing in. I hope they realize that tourists will only be attracted to Halong Bay so long as it’s taken care of. There’s a tipping point and it may be fast approaching.
The tour package Zach and I booked included a private boat transfer to Cat Ba Island on the second day. I assumed this would be a quick transfer and began to panic when we were the only two passengers on a large boat with only two crewmembers, neither of whom spoke a word of English. I pulled out my guidebook to see how far Cat Ba was from Halong City and read a passage stating that some government ships offered passage that took approximately five hours to get to Cat Ba from Halong Bay. Panic intensified. I think this is the point in the trip when Zach began acting nervous just to see how much more worried it would make me. Apparently the irrational worry trait in our family transfers from female to female only. Zach was right, there was no reason to be worried. An hour later we arrived at a pier on Cat Ba and had a driver waiting to take us to the hotel.
The Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is the “smartest” on the island according to Lonely Plant. While I wouldn’t classify rock-hard beds as “smart”, it was a pleasant resort in terms of quiet relaxation. The resort is set on a long stretch of white sand beach and looks across a bay studded with the same limestone towers as Halong. There was a spa that offered 90 minute massages for just $12, presumably to make up for the backache caused by the beds. This was a perfect location to wind down the Vietnam leg of our SE Asia travels.
If you haven’t already, check out my Sapa and Halong Bay album here!