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Island Hopping

Halong Bay | Sailing on the Gulf of Tonkin

The mystical legend of Halong Bay tells the story of a dragon descending from the mountain, and as it plummets into the waters, its lashing tail furrowed the massive land leaving only its sharp crests. Today, this myth has drowned into the abyss as hordes of tourists sail endlessly on the placid Gulf of Tonkin, northeastern coast of Vietnam.

Cruising along Halong Bay is one of the staple activities among tourists who come to Vietnam. Thousands of million-year old limestone islets rising on a still water, a wildlife sanctuary and its stories of grace are what makes it enchanting. In 1994, it earned the most prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition and once held a spot in the 7 Wonders of Nature in the World.
Its 120-kilometer coastline that stretches from Cat Ba to the East Sea is densely dotted with monolithic stone islands, jungles and caves with interesting lakes inside. Shaped by climate changes over 20 million years, these natural geological formations created a spectacle and drawing crowds of wanderers around the world.
Aside from the cruise, other activities may include (depending on your tour package) cave explorations, kayaking, snorkeling, biking and trekking. A visit to an on-shore fishing village also provides an interesting experience of the lives of the seafarers. 
However, much to the ancient poets’ allusions of its beauty and serenity rest the realities of mass tourism. The water is not so clean and oftentimes with itchy post-swim feel. If you are thinking of wafting some fresh air during the cruise, you have bear the uncomfortable smell probably coming the water’s filth brought by the hundreds of junks sailing around all the time. Also, contrary to the thousands of isles around, there are only a few stunning beaches to swim on and these are found hemming some of the pretty coves outside the regular cruise route.
The dragon may just live as a folktale and the poets’ words of some 500 years ago may be forgotten but the million years of rock spectacle continues to be a wonder. There may be filth but there is nothing flawless in this world and this is how we all live.
  • Halong Bay tours are one of the messy cruises any traveler could ever imagine: scams, rude barkers and confusing fees. So better save yourself from the hassles by joining group tours.
  • Even with travel agency arranged trips, make sure you are not cheated as scams abound in Vietnam as much as the bounty of tourist attractions. Book through reliable travel agencies.
  • There is no fixed price for each tour package. So don’t be surprised if you meet someone who paid less or more for the same package.
  • Daytrips normally range between $20-$30 and overnight on the junk could be about $45-$60. Longer than 1 night may soar up to $80-$100.
  • Prices vary according to the number of nights and type of boat (called junk) you will sail on. From budget to luxury junks, Halong Bay never runs out of it.
  • Your tour operator may also offer a mix of junk sleep over and a bungalow in the islet.
  • Bringing of food and drinks on the boat are not allowed. You have to buy it onboard, otherwise be ready for a levy of heavy corkage. Food is terrible on the boat. It looks like rubbish and it surely doesn’t taste good. This is something you have to bear. If you have very discriminating palate, get a luxury junk and make sure you arrange your dietary requirements ahead of time.
  • Most people running the whole thing in Halong Bay City from the ground staff to the on-shore crew are rude especially to the daytrippers. Be ready to hold on to your patience. It’s no use arguing with someone who only speaks Vietnamese.
  • DIY to Halong Bay? Sure, it is possible. Hop on a bus bound for Halong Bay City and drop off in the Ferry Terminal (this is within route). The trip takes about 4 hours including stop over. In the terminal, pay applicable fees and wait ‘til you are joined with other tourists. The hitch here is that it’s a messy transaction and sometimes they make you hop from boat to boat (note that boats or junks are privately owned and each one has its own interests).
  • To everything that are stated above always remember, there are always exceptions to it, using your charm and forgoing of logic most of the time works to your advantage.

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