Next up on our Vietnam guide series is Halong Bay (or Halong-a, as my guide pronounced it), a conglomerate of tiny islands constellating the Vietnamese shores and creating an absolutely stunning set up for locals and foreigners looking for some peace of mind. Here is a short video I put together, with clips from the trip and creepy background music because I thought it was funny.
We started our journey on a bright Monday morning, with a shuttle boat that quickly drove us from the Halong bay coast to our home for the next couple days – a fancy cruise ship designed to take us through a 48-hour trip through the Vietnamese coastline. After waiting a good half hour in the queue, we finally managed to reach the ship and settled in our suites, which were nicer than we thought to our great enjoyment, although the imbalance between temperatures outside the cabin (hell-like) and inside (icelandic) was quite a shock.
Our first stop was a fishermen village entirely on water. As we floated through it, I was amazed by the disparity I could clearly discern from our normal, Westernised ways of living compared to the people inhabiting the bay. The houses were quite small and its people lived almost entirely on sea food, fishing everyday for sustainment and rowing the waters daily to reach different spots along the coastline in order to get anything else they might need.
One thing that struck me was a whole family living on a boat, that I witnessed as we took a boat tour around the village. The entire family – made up of four people – was living on a small rocking boat, merely presenting a small room (which I guessed is where everyone slept, tucked together under the blankets), and a small outside area where their clothes were air drying in the Vietnamese wind. I thought of all the places I have lived in before and all my usual standards for living, realising how incredibly different not only my habits, but also my entire conception of a home, were from this.
Travelling to such different places in the world, one of the things that never fails to amaze and interest me is the way that people approach lifestyles, from daily routine to mere accommodation situation. That family didn’t look unhappy, didn’t look dissatisfied with their home, but was merely living in the moment and happily accepting what the future had decided for them. It was quite a shock because – especially in the West – we are always striving to do more, achieve more, become more, whereas these people had the ability and perseverance to accept the place they were born in and face life like that, with a kind of internal calm that I feel people in EDCs are sometimes missing. It was bizarre and refreshing at the same time, reminding me of the reasons why I travel so much.
As we proceeded in our tour, we were taken to the edge of the bay, after which the open sea enveloped everything around us and made the land its own. As the floating villages constellated the entire area, this meant that the waters weren’t always clean, often presenting rotten food or used utensils that people didn’t need anymore. I was also shocked by the incredibly high number of jellyfish happily swimming through the waters, some of which were inhuman sizes which I wasn’t even aware existed. (Thankfully?) we were informed that tourists are not allowed to bathe in these waters, much to my psychological wellbeing as swimming alongside these terrifying creatures would have probably scarred me for life.
We spent the rest of the day chilling on the cruise ship and enjoying the weather – turns out the Vietnamese humidity is sufferable when you’re laying on a reclinable chair in Halong Bay, with wind in your face constantly refreshing you. If you are in Vietnam or close-by Halong Bay, I highly suggest you take this tour. Just sitting there, with a book in hand as the ship drove me through the bay, was an experience I could never forget. I would have happily stayed there for days, even weeks, admiring the calm and stillness of everything and enjoying the environment. There really is no place like it.
On the second – and last – day, we took another boat tour to the Dau Go caves, a beautiful underground spot that attracts thousands of tourists each year. These are situated in one of the small islands along the bay, whose small hill overlooks the nearby isles and the passing ships which cruise over the bay every day. Although the warmth was already bad as it is, the cave ended up being a small corner of hell, as the high number of people breathing and sweating in such a relatively tiny space made survival almost impossible and left me weak and light-headed. Despite that, the caves were actually a little gem in the bay that I am glad I got to see. At the end of the inside path, tourists are welcomed by a small alcove surrounded by trees and nature, which never fails to bring out the worst selfie-craze in people. This makes actually enjoying the view a bit difficult (especially if, like me, you are not a massive selfie fan and can’t help raging at people deeming their photos more important than the actual situation), but not impossible.
As we walked down, a small beach opened up to us, where people were just sitting together, chatting and chilling (and taking more photos). We were sadly informed that tourists are not allowed to bathe in these waters either, which again is fair enough because a) the waters were a bit dirty and b) that would probably ruin the scenery, as hundreds of tourists constellate the bay with their mostly naked bodz. #loveyourbody
The trip concluded our two-day cruise along Halong Bay and made the memories unforgettable. It was honestly one of the best part of my visit to Vietnam and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone in the area. The peace you get while sitting in the sun, enjoying the wind in your face and the beautiful scenery in front of you is something that cannot be completely explained – you need to live it.
For more information, visit Lonely Planet, which provides good and useful articles on what to do in the bay, what to see and useful things to know before going.
Until next time!