Thousands of Towering Limestone Islands
It’s only been the fifth or six time that I’ve traveled to Asia and only to Vietnam. This time, I didn’t just remain at my lovely grandma’s house— I made a ridiculous amount of effort to fly up to the north side of Vietnam to Hanoi within an 8-day window vacation from Ho Chi Minh City, to visit Halong Bay. Halong Bay is known as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. To give you a bit of a run down, Halong Bay spreads on an area of around 1,553 km², including 1,969 islets (small islands), most of which are limestone topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the emerald-coloured ocean. Despite the celestial blue skies, Asia is unimaginably humid compared to your average sunny destination, but between the little islands of Halong Bay, the salty breeze carries you through the waters.
It goes without saying that there was no better way for me to experience the majestic views than on a cruise boat floating through the whole thing— I was constantly exposed to photogenic views and magic. I was married to my camera and smart phone. Coming back to Vietnam has always been made up of beautiful memories spent participating in family feasts, festivities and staying close to relative’s homes. My experience was not like other people who have actually traveled through this very country. Before my recent visit, I have not been to Hanoi, Mui Ne, Hoi An, Nha Trang, or Con Dao, let alone Halong. Not until April 25th, 2017, did all that change. It was a constant battle trying to make the trip take place but eventually it happened. I hopped on a plane for a 3 hour flight* from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and was on my way to Phu Quoc.
*Note: I strongly recommend not flying with Vietstar airlines— as you’ll experience ALOT of delays. I would pay the $40 extra to fly with Vietnam Airlines to avoid the troubles. Another tip people don’t tell you is if you’re traveling around Vietnam on tours, in hotels and on cruises, Vietnamese residences pay only half of what you pay for. So if you’re lucky enough to know someone who’s a resident in Vietnam who can come with you, kindly ask and have them book your travels and accommodations around the country as it’s half off! (They will ask for their Vietnamese resident card or passport to validate.)
Food was all inclusive during this trip. From the hotel‘s breakfast buffet we stayed overnight in Hanoi, to the snacks and refreshments they provide you before you board the boat as well as lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again. It’s almost insane to say that I was not successful with taking any photographs of my meals* on this beautiful boat as I was too busy eating and taking in the stunning views. Food was absolutely amazing on this boat, as it was not only all you can eat (with a la cart for dinner) but it was a harmonious blend of Vietnamese and French cuisine. From sea bass to filet mignon, surf and turf all the way to their scrumptious desserts.
*Note: I may re-edit this post and add some iPhone photos of my food!
During this trip, the more I ate, the more I felt the need to be active. Thankfully Paradise Cruise offers a cool itinerary to keep their visitors busy. We had the pleasure to visit the Surprise Cave (Hang Sung Sot in Vietnamese) on the first day. The surprise cave is the largest cave in Halong Bay discovered by a group of French explorers in 1901 and received its’ name for being one of most amazing caves in Halong Bay. The second day, we visited an islet called Titov Island, named after the Russian astronaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov during his first visit to Halong Bay. Titov Island remains the only island which has a beach in the bay with a 200-step path that leads to a spectacular view point of the majestic World Heritage Site.
What does one wear while visiting Halong? Sandals for the sand and trainers for the hikes up the islands. Perhaps a pair of heels if you plan to stay overnight on a boat. A button down blouse to wear as a cover during the evening. And the usual basic essentials, hat, sunnies and lots of flowy pieces. Wearing white is always a good summer go-to solution too. However, somehow and some way, inside my carry-on consumed with what looks like all-white is one navy outfit I managed to bring.