The Long Wander in Vietnam © Sahand Sedghi

A Chatty Crew

Halong Bay, Vietnam


Designated as Vietnam's second World Heritage site by UNESCO, Halong Bay is a spectacular natural wonder featuring more than one thousand awesome limestone karsts and islands of various sizes and shapes along a 120-km coastline in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Every Halong Bay tour comes with an itinerary page. It is meant as a selling point that describes your three day dream vacation, on a picturesque traditional junk boat, among idyllic Halong islets.

This was our tour:

HA LONG BAY - CAT BA ISLAND 3 days with a Sea lovely night and an Island night


The only way to get a great time and stunning seascapes is Join a Sea Cruise through the
World Heritage Site of Ha Long bay with Vega Travel

DAY 01: Ha Noi -- Ha Long bay (Lunch and Dinner)
Round 08h15 pick up your hotel for a 3-hrs drive to Ha Long boat station

Junk boat in Halong Bay © Sahand Images

We are a chatty crew. The entire bus ride from Hanoi to Halong City is filled with travel talk. Where we've all been, how long we've been out (of our respective countries), what the weather is like in Argentina. The couple from England tells us they are weather cursed. We tell the bus driver to let them off at the next stop. The pair from Paris are on vacation. The Australian guy from Thailand tells us about being served beer in his own bar in Phuket. Police draw a clear line between ownership and employment in Thailand. Tyler and Alexander are college buddies fulfilling a pact to travel. When Tyler spouts off a long, gushy line about the cosmos aligning and everything being interconnected, I sympathetically pat his shoulder saying, “You hippie.” He bursts into laughter and tells Alexander I beat him to it. Kate is from Britain; she's leggy and has an enigmatic smile. She's teamed up with Tyler and Alexander for a while per solo travelers and fascinates us all with her tale of swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand. Until Sahand one-ups her about his story of being charged by a bull sea lion.

The ride from central Hanoi lasts several hours before we arrive in a tiny port with dozens of large luxury Junk boats awaiting their passengers. There are hundreds of Vietnamese running around all making sure they get a piece of the action of the hundreds of foreign tourist sitting idly on their luggage waiting to board their designated Junk boat. Like a line of ants on a picnic table we juggle our bags to our boat.



Anchor among Bai Tu Long bay, Ha Long bay and Lan Ha bay for you dinner and enjoy a silent lovely night by the sea that your have never experienced.

The first night on the boat we follow a dry dinner (all Halong tours exclude the cost of beverages) with drinks on the roof. Tyler mixes a god-awful concoction in a 1.5 L water-bottle and it makes the round of our circle twice before it is drained. The bottle is refilled. Our crew breaks into teams of conversationalists. The burly, bearded Alexander is straining a lawn chair opposite me and I tell him he resembles a logger. He laughs and tells me it's because he grew up chopping trees with his father in New England. He asks me what comes after travel and I am baffled. It's the million dollar question, after all. I babble some crap about writing degrees and catch-22's and he agrees and somehow finds a blessed segue to world politics. I am saved. Conversation makes a nuanced fade out until only the i-pod serenades the moon rising in imperceptible degrees from behind one of the islets. It reveals a face only a sliver short of full. We are all hypnotized for ten minutes. Once the moon is up, the clouds creep in to put the stars to bed and we all follow suit.

DAY 2: Halong bay - Lan Ha Bay -- Cat Ba island (Breakfast , Lunch, Dinner)

The highlights of this day devoted to Mountain Trekking, Sea Kayaking and Swimming

Limestone formation in Halong Bay © Sahand Images

Hiep is our guide. He wears the same clothes everyday. The day we go hiking on one of the islands he is still wearing his slacks, button up shirt and brown oxfords. He leads us calmly onto a path from the paved road that I would have walked right past. The terrain changes every twenty meters. We head straight up the side of a substantial hill for twenty minutes then drop into a lush little valley. We pass through a garden of corn and beans and find an elderly woman waiting under a mango tree. She serves us tea and then retires to her hammock. Hiep gives her 20,000 dong. She retrieves herself from her hammock to unceremoniously bid us farewell and I glance back in time to see her sink back into the hammock's netted folds. We pass her fishing traps in a lake another 200 meters on, just before we head to our pickup point at the edge of the island. I feel like I've just had a waking dream.

My skin is blinding, even in my dim room. When I step into the sunlight, it becomes nuclear. I rush to the ladder that leads to the roof of our boat, climb to the top, step over the railing and fly for half a second before I am immersed in the bay. I come to the surface spitting and coughing salt water just as Tyler does something that resembles a cannonball from the roof. I wait for him to emerge and then I am possessed by a twelve-year-old and I dunk him. Our crew spends the afternoon lounging around on the boat, off the boat, and in kayaks. Twice I swim to the far edges of the cove we are in, surrounded by tree-covered, limestone islands that jut out of the water. Halfway to the edge of the cove, with the boat 200 meters away, I remember the story that there is a monster dwelling in this bay and I swim a little faster.


Day 03: Cat Ba Island - Bai Tu Long -Ha Long - Hanoi (Breakfast and Lunch)

Another cruise through on a different route for more seascape views of the bay. On another route leading you to Bai Tu Long bay that known for its fabulous seascapes, also place to be untouched yet and less tourist and here we enjoy a final relaxation and silent swim of the trip before making a good landfall to ha Long city for lunch then driving back Hanoi. Arrival at 16h30, the trip ends!

Kate and Tyler vow, over dinner, to wake up at three in the morning to watch the Arsenal game on ESPN. The World-Cup is around the corner and Kate is British to her bones. Everyone is sun-soaked from this afternoon and remains quiet during the meal, except for Kate and Tyler, who have a constant volley of jokes passing between them. After eating, we all retreat to our rooms to recover in the luxury of cable TV, air-con, water-pressure, and the absence of engine noise. Tomorrow we will return to Hanoi.

In the morning, Kate confesses that they slept through the game. She renews her vows, this time its no scores till she can catch the rerun of the game. The trip from Cat-Ba to Halong City takes four hours. Tyler has found his match at Spit. He and Sahand play an eternal game at one of the tables. I take a shower below deck and apply aloe to my stinging thighs. When I emerge we are docking. Sahand and Tyler are still dealing and slapping and they call it a truce, shake, and we all make a quick transition from boat to bus. The ride home is all idle chat and nodding heads until we cross the Long Bien Bridge back into Hanoi and the traffic, with its motorbikes and air horns, snaps us all awake. At the Vega office, we 'make picture here' in front of the steps and make plans for beer later. Backpacks are donned and our mishmash crew scatters like sailors at port.


We booked our tour with Vega Travel formerly known as Fansipan Travel in Hanoi. We are not tour people, but there is no other way to see Halong Bay. There are literally hundreds of tour operators, most are a bit dodgy. They setup booths in the tourist districts of Hanoi with fake signs of which ever company the Lonely Planet recommends.

From the Photo gallery

Click here to see the Vietnam photo set.