Travel experiences: A boat in Ha Long Bay in front of limestone islands

Traveling in Vietnam: Ha Long Bay

When I was planning my trip to Vietnam, I knew I wanted to get out to the islands in Ha Long Bay. All the pictures I saw online looked unreal and I wanted to know if it could possibly be that beautiful in real life.

Let me tell you. It was.

Ha Long Bay

I booked my trip to Ha Long Bay with a tour group, knowing it was a cheap way to travel. Overall, the trip cost me $40 and included my transportation to and from Ha Long Bay, a boat tour, kayaking, entry onto one of the island beaches, entry into one of the island caves, and lunch. And with any luck, I’d be able to meet some other solo travelers or people traveling in pairs.

I was looking forward to my trip to Ha Long Bay so much, and I was so worried it wasn’t going to happen.

That’s because Monday morning I woke up to the sound of rain. And not just a light rain. Heavy rain. The kind of rain that happens in a tropical country during the rainy season.

Despite the rain, I got dressed and ready to go, applying sunscreen even though I probably didn’t need it.

Once I was ready, I went to the main road to flag down a Grab Bike. One of the difficulties of not getting a SIM card when traveling is that I can’t just use an app to call a ride. I have to do it the old fashioned way. Look desperate for a ride and wave my arms anytime I see a Grab Bike or a taxi. Since there were no Grab Bikes to be found, I resigned myself to a taxi, even though it would cost more than a Grab Bike.

The taxi driver dropped me off at the Old Quarter Opera House and I had enough time to get a coffee before my bus would come. I was also hoping to get something for breakfast, but the heat in Vietnam really killed my appetite. So I skipped out on breakfast and just had a coffee while avoiding the rain.

It wasn’t so bad when I first got to the Opera House, but as a I was standing, waiting for my bus, the rain started coming down in sheets. Then, the thunder followed. I hoped that it would clear up by the time I got to the coast. When the bus finally came, it didn’t seem like the rain would ever stop.

Driving to the Bay took just over two hours, and one of the first things the tour guide said when we got on the bus was we might get there and have to cancel. We don’t know until we get there. Sometimes the boats aren’t running if the weather is bad.

Uh oh. The last thing I wanted to do was ride two and a half hours out to the coast only to get right back on the bus and drive back another two and a half hours. Besides, I wanted to see the islands! I wanted to drink out of a coconut on the beach!

Fortunately, when the bus arrived at Ha Long Bay, the rain had finally let up. The sky was still overcast, but the rain had stopped, which meant we would head out onto the water.

When we boarded the boat, we started with lunch. Once lunch was over, we could head up to the top deck to take in the stunning view of the limestone islands that were surrounding us.

Our first stop in the Bay was Ti Top Island, where we could either hike or go to the beach. While I love a good hike, I do not love a good hike in incredibly hot weather. So I opted to spend my 45 minutes on the beach. With a coconut, of course.

From there, we headed to another island that had a large opening in the middle. At that island, I got into a smaller boat, and headed inside. Lush, tropical plants covered the island. Living in some of the trees were a family of monkeys. It was the first time I had ever seen monkeys in their natural habitat.

The last stop on the tour was the Sung Sot Cave. This island was huge, full of many cave chambers. Walking through the entire cave took about 15 minutes. We came out on the other side of the island where the boat met us.

From there, we had about an hour or so back to the harbor.

I sat and talked with other young travelers, mostly backpackers from America, but some from other countries. It was cool to hear about everyone else’s experiences. What countries they had already visited and where they were going next. Some had just arrived in Vietnam, while others would be moving on in just a few days.

Talking with backpackers always inspires me to try and see as much as I can while I have the chance. When we landed back at the harbor, I said goodbye to the people I had met and boarded my own bus back to Hanoi. On the way back, I thought about how I’d spend my last day in Vietnam, and what I would do when I landed in Bangkok. I was almost halfway done with my trip, but yet a part of it hadn’t even started yet. I couldn’t wait to see what each day would bring.

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