Exploring Halong Bay in a Luxury Junk, Vietnam
Staying overnight on a junk in Halong Bay was a truly memorable experience!
“Are we there yet?” Ian asks. “No, just another three hour taxi ride!” I replied.
We flew into Hanoi and were picked up at Hanoi airport by private taxi and off we went to Halong Bay. Prepare yourselves for the long drive. What we noticed immediately was how the drivers in Vietnam were constantly using their horn. Beep Beep, there goes that horn again. Honking and beeping as they overtook not only cars and lorries but cyclists too. One thing that was unforgettable was the huge amount of traffic on the roads and never once did we stop in a traffic jam or experience any delays of any sort. The traffic just keeps moving as there are hardly any traffic lights, we saw no pedestrian crossings and roundabouts are practically non-existent. Pedestrians just walk slowly across the roads in Vietnam and the traffic just flows around them, its like a magical dance of man and machinery! As we continued on our journey the taxi driver meandered around the many, many large pot holes in the road, whilst we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful lush green countryside.
Halong Bay was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994
After the long drive we finally arrived at Hon Gai Harbour. I couldn’t contain my excitement as we approached the junk – I was like a kid in a sweetie shop. As we stepped aboard the Marguerite Junk, we were allocated our cabin. Our cabin was a good size, not big but not too small either, charming, elegantly furnished, simple wooden decor and a double bed. All the rooms were ensuite, fitted with a shower and toilet. Our luggage was placed in our cabin and we briefly unpacked then headed off to explore the junk.
The upper deck had several loungers to lie on arranged down either side allowing us to relax, if we wished, whilst enjoying the breathtaking views of Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. If it had been a bit warmer, I would have been the first one on the loungers to sunbathe, luckily we had sunshine later on. The dining room was spacious with long tables to allow guests to mingle and get to know one another. Who wants to be loners … not us!
Whilst having our lunch, we cruised along the pristine waters of Bai Tu Long Bay – a World Heritage Site which occupies three-quarters of Halong Bay. The landscape here was beautiful, serene and untouched. It seemed undeveloped here with 3,000 rocky islets and stunning white sand beaches. Here we were able to visit Vung Vieng fishing village and kayak the hidden coves. This is the ideal spot for nature lovers, as the Bai Tu Long Bay is home to many endangered species and wild plants.
Vung Vieng village sits right in the heart of Bai Tu Long Bay, nestled within the limestone peaks that protect the village from strong winds. It seemed like another era while watching the fisherman set sail in their fishing boats, casting their nets and going about their daily life. Listening to the sounds of laughter from the school children, with their beaming smiles and happily waving at us. Visiting the floating village allowed us to have a peek into their traditional village life and observe the culture and customs of the people there. The people at Vung Vieng village were very hospitable and friendly. Our guide mentioned that the families in the village have lived there for generations. The main income from the village is from fishing, in exchange for water and food which they’re not able to cultivate from the mainland.
After visiting the floating village, we kayaked to the hidden cove and lagoon. Paddling across the calm turquoise waters, we were mesmerised by the beauty and the tranquillity of the bay. Definitely recommend kayaking around the islets to see them up close and personal, as the larger boats aren’t able to reach these areas.
Next on the agenda … Ti Top Island (also known as Titov island), one of the larger islands located in Halong Bay. This island was named after the Russian astronaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov who accompanied President Ho Chi Minh to the island. Ti Top island is ideal for those who wish to relax on the quiet beach, or if you’re feeling active there’s swimming, snorkeling, kayaking or climbing.
Climb up the 427 steps to the top of the mountain and experience the 360 degree panoramic views of Halong Bay. It’s worth it! The views at the top were ‘postcard perfect’. However, we spotted many junks anchored around the island – well, it is a popular spot. Walking down the steps was definitely easier than climbing them. We didn’t fancy lying on the beach or dipping our toes in the water, as the sun had faded away again to leave a cool January afternoon. Boarding back on the junk, we then cruised to Dong Tien Lake and anchored there for the evening.
A cookery class was held in the late afternoon – oooh we were taught how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, my favourite! How easy were these to make. First thing first, make the filling. Then moisten the rice paper, add the filling, roll it into a spring roll and hey presto, it’s done. All the spring rolls which we made were fried in the kitchen and brought out with the various dipping sauces. ‘Oh My’ … these were goooood! Nice and crispy on the outside with the filling perfectly packed with flavour.
For the evening meal, all the guests sat on one long table and we found out that the majority of them were part of a tour. Dinner was a traditional Vietnamese feast of local dishes, which included hot and sour soup, crab, fresh prawns, fresh spring rolls and beef stir fry. Let’s just say that we were not left hungry.
Evening activities included squid fishing, which didn’t quite take my fancy. So we opted for watching Top Gear Vietnam Special – the episode whereby the presenters travel across Vietnam by motorbikes and finish at the floating bar in Halong Bay. After watching the film and chatting to the other guests, we decided to head back to the cabin for an early night. As soon as our heads touched the pillow, we were out like a light.
Up nice and early the next day we headed for breakfast, which was neatly laid out in the restaurant. Breakfast with a view! There was a fair amount of choice for breakfast, which included yogurt, pastries, omelette, pancakes and an unusual tasting fruit salad. This set us up just right until lunchtime.
Sung Sot Cave AKA The Surprise Cave is a popular tourist attraction located inside Bo Hon island. Climbing up the steep staircase in single file and holding onto the guide ropes, we finally reached the narrow entrance of the cave. Entering the Surprise Cave, the first thought which popped into my mind was that it was going to be overcrowded inside. Boy, was I wrong. The cave was pretty amazing, enormous inside and truly spectacular. It was lit in different colours giving a really magical sense of feeling. The pathway zig zagged in the chambers allowing you to explore the natural wonders of the cave including the impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.
After exploring the amazing Surprise Cave, we boarded the junk for lunch and leisurely cruised back towards the harbour.
What to Pack
Best pack an overnight bag, but as we came straight from the airport we had our luggage with us.
- Travel documents (passport, visa)
- If you’re travelling during May-October, shorts and t-shirts are fine. Otherwise bring a light jacket (His and Hers) or sweater as it can get a bit cold in the early morning and evening outside the Summer months
- Swimming gear
- Comfortable shoes or trainers (His and Hers) when inside the cave
- Clothes for evening and for the following day
- Adaptors to charge up batteries
Shop our favourites:
We booked with Halong Bay Cruises for a 2 day/1 night mid-range cruise on the Marguerite Junk for $120 per person (price correct as of June 2017). The price included:
- Meals (two lunch, one dinner and one breakfast)
- Entrance fees to the attractions
- Transfer to and from Hanoi hotel
The Halong Bay cruise is suitable for everyone; couples, families, groups, solo travellers, young and old.
The tour company were absolutely brilliant with arranging the visa on arrival, the private transfer to the harbour and even recommended which hotels to book in Hanoi.
Overall, we highly recommend booking an overnight cruise on a junk around Halong Bay. The meals were fantastic and the guides were very informative and helpful – an unforgettable experience. You won’t regret it!
Have you been to Halong Bay?
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