Asia, Ha Long Bay, Travel, Vietnam

Vietnam II: Ha Long Bay

We had a long list of places to see before Vietnam was finished but Ha Long Bay was number 1 on my bucket list. We used BC Family Tours for this two day overnight leg of our trip. (Note: We were not exactly on time to be picked up by our tour bus so they left to pick up everyone else before coming back to get us, which means we didn’t have the best seats. Make sure you’re on time with these guys or you’ll end up scrunched in one of those kiddie fold out aisle seats like I was.)

On our second morning we took a two-hour bus ride from Hanoi to Bay Chai Pier where we waited in a group for a boat to shuttle us out into the bay. Several boats and their operators waited, engines gurgling, as different groups headed down the steps to their ride.

Bay Chai Pier
Bay Chai Pier

I was able to get a couple of shots when we were finally on the water. I noticed right away the women with their small boats and consumer goods paddling right up to edge of the bigger boats.


A vendor on Ha Long Bay approaching our boat
A vendor on Ha Long Bay approaching our boat

When we finally got to our boat they showed us to our rooms which were really nice – two twin beds and our own bathroom. Unfortunately we never figured out how to get the hot water working but we had a great view of the water right from our window…

View from our cabin
View from our cabin
Our cabin on the boat
Our cabin on the boat
Outside our cabin door

…and from the top deck.

Land of the Ascending Drago


After we settled in we went to the dinning cabin for lunch. They served us a delicious spread of prawns, cauliflower, fried calamari, fries, fish, and tofu. I remember thinking it was the best fish I had eaten in over a year, but this would be disproved more than once during our trip.

Lunch on Halong Dragon Cruise – BC Family Tours
Lunch on Halong Dragon Cruise – BC Family Tours

After lunch the boat cruised towards Hang Sung Sot, also known as Surprising Cave. There were many other boats on the water and I was surprised at how touristy it was. It took a bit of time to get through all of the caves because there were so many people so we were at a crawl for most of the time. Different formations inside the caverns that mimicked the outside world – a monkey, an elephant, a sitting person, a phallus, you know, the usual unusual rock formations – were illuminated by colorful spotlights. But occasionally the path would lead us out into the light and there would be a great view out onto the water.

Inside the caverns of Hang Sung Sot (Surprising Cave)
View from Hang Sung Sot (Surprising Cave)

When we left Surprising Cave it was almost sunset but we had one more place to go before dinner time.

Sunset on Ha Long Bay
Almost sunset on Ha Long Bay – Our tour guide (BC Family Tours) on the shuttle boat heading back to our cruise.

They took us to Soi Sim Island which is popular for its monkeys but we didn’t see any while we were there. Before resting on the beach we climbed up a ton of stairs for an amazing panoramic view of the Bay. Up until this point I had been a little disappointed with the level of pollution both in the air and on the water but the view at the top gave me an opportunity to take it all in and really scratch it off my bucket list. From there you can see the layers of dragon humps that seem to go on and on as the sun disappears behind them. It really is the land of the ascending dragon.

Soi Sim Island at sunset
Soi Sim Island
View from the top of Soi Sim Island
Soi Sim Island – Sunset

We had a refreshing snack of wine with fresh melon back on the boat and learned how to make spring rolls as an appetizer for dinner.

Later that night while Linh and Karen went squid fishing, Chantal and I sang Mama Mia and Dancing Queen on karaoke with a couple of new friends. Liban and Yann were both the children of refugees that immigrated to Norway. Yann’s parents  were from Vietnam and he came back to Vietnam to meet some family that lived in a fishing village. All of this he told us over cocktails and at the end, when we had sorted all of our stories out he laughed wide and loud and said “Nice to meet you crazy fucks!” During the rest of the night and into the next day, anytime he learned something new or interesting about us he would say it again.

Linh and Karen fishin for some squid
Linh and Karen fishin for some squid

The next day we skipped kayaking and slept in until it was time to go to the floating live pearl farm where we saw the largest oyster shell I have ever and probably will ever see.

Our tour guide said this is the largest oyster shell in the world. It's big enough to fit a toddler inside
Our tour guide said this is the largest oyster shell in the world. It’s big enough to fit a toddler inside

While we were there they showed us oysters in different stages of development and how they seed pearls within them before putting them back in the water.

18 month old oysters
18 month old oysters
Learning how to seed pearls.
Learning how to seed pearls.

And they showed us how they harvest them too!

DSC02083 DSC02085

We had a pretty low-key ride back to Bay Chair Pier after that. It was already time to gear up for our next adventure to Hue. As we prepared to get onto the bus that would take us back to Hanoi we said goodbye to our new friends Yann and Liban, and just as expected, we could hear Yann shout “Nice to meet you crazy fucks!” before we embarked.

Nice to meet you too, friend.

nice to meet you
Photo Credit: Liban Dehay

(For a full itinerary of my January Vietnam trip go here.)

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