Cruising Halong Bay on a Junkboat
There is a saying in Vietnam, “If you have never been to Ha Long Bay, then you have never been to Vietnam.” After a couple of days in Hanoi, Kaori and I headed to the bay famously known for its enormous rock formations that jut out of the water as far as the eyes can see.
We really do not like to do tours for anti-tourist reasons, however in hindsight, we were very happy that we did, as it is very difficult, unpredictable, and expensive to see the majesty of Ha Long Bay without a tour.
We were picked up on time (huge surprise in Southeast Asia) at 8 AM in front of our hotels in a minivan. Our tour guide spoke perfectly good English and even had some jokes of his own. We took our first break, which happen to be a handicraft shop with products made by handicapped people. Although, everything was ridiculously overpriced, it was nice to know other tourists would buy souvenirs from the shop.
After taking a quick nap, next thing I knew, we were being dropped off at the pier in Ha Long City. The tour guide quickly brought us to our boat like VIPs. We were welcomed onto our junk, which is a traditional wooden boat, with a beautiful dining area, a very nice bedroom, and a sun deck.
After settling down and dropping off our belongings at the bedrooms, we had an exquisite lunch which included fresh seafood. It was more food than any of us could eat; even the presentation was nice. The only downside was drinks were not included and were on the more expensive side, nor were you allowed to bring drinks from the outside or would be charged a “corkage fee.”
We sailed past many cliff formations to an island (unfortunately, my memory cannot recall the name of the island). However, there was a brief tour through the caves of this island which included beautiful viewpoints of Ha Long Bay. Afterwards, we spent time kayaking around the area. Kayaking was calm and serene as it was just us with a breath-taking panoramic view of Ha Long Bay. We had the option to go to the beach but the majority of the people did not want to go as it was cold. Instead some of us jumped from the three-story junk and into the water.
Dinner was incredible again, with enough food to go around three times. It has been a while since I was actually “full.” The night was spent drinking, doing karaoke with the other Vietnamese folks and passengers, and squid fishing.
We woke up to a surprisingly amazing breakfast. (Good food that is included with a tour surprises me.) After breakfast, we had an hour of quiet, relaxing on the sun deck time, and then we boarded another smaller junk.
We stopped by at another island and rode bikes through a bamboo forest to a small village. From there we hiked about a kilometer to a former Vietcong ammunition depot.
After the exhausting biking and trekking, we reboarded the boat, which took us to Monkey Island. Yes, there were monkeys, and they were vicious. They even attacked a member of another boat.
We were brought to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the Ha Long Bay area. Our hotel was a spectacular 4 star hotel with a beautiful view of the harbor and the sunset. Unfortunately, the town itself was bland and crummy at best. We were there on a day when the night market was closed. My girlfriend got a massage in a bar (which meant I drank with a couple of folks we befriended on the ship).
Again, dinner was included and it was grand. We were so full afterwards and combined with the physical workout of the day, we all slept very easily.
Unfortunately, there was really not much to say about day 3. The minivan came and picked us up very early in the morning and we were brought to our old junk. From there, we sailed back to Ha Long City and had our one last feast. Afterwards, we all said our goodbyes and were brought back to our hotels in Hanoi.
After speaking to many people, the best bet is to dish out anywhere between $80-$100 for a junk. It should be a two night three-day tour (anything more is too much, anything less is too little), which should include the following:
- one night aboard a very nice junk with very nice accommodations
- one night at a 4 star hotel on Cat Ba Island
- activities including biking, kayaking, trekking, and messing around with monkeys
- 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners; all very good portions and tasty
- minivan ride from and to Ha Long City