1YoT: Ha Long Bay

Inna and I had one last stop in Vietnam, and it was one of the most beautiful spots in the world, right up there with Glacier, Daintree, and South Island New Zealand as the most beautiful destination on our trip. This location is Ha Long Bay.

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Ha Long Bay is a huge bay in the South China Sea that contains just under 2000 islets, all forming over the last 500 million years. The bay is most known for its massive karsts (shown in the distance in the above photo), which began to form ~20 million years ago.

The only way to experience Ha Long Bay is by boat, with tours ranging from half a day to three days and two nights. Inna and I splurged on the longest tour and we are glad we did; the shorter tours allow you to see Ha Long Bay but to fully experience it you need to escape the crowds, and that only occurs on the three day tour.

Here we are inside Ha Long Bay. This place was beautiful, surreal, powerful and so peaceful. It almost felt like Pandora (or how I imagine Pandora would feel); I definitely think this the closest to Pandora you can get on Earth.

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Our first stop in Ha Long Bay was Sung Sot Cave, a cave similar to those at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park but a lot more crowded. Still, it was beautiful, especially this view from the exit.

Inside Dau Go Cave, which, like Paradise Cave at Phong Nha-Ke Bang, was beautifully lit and featured crazy-awesome stalactites and stalagmites.

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Convenience store boats visited us throughout our Ha Long Bay experience. Where there are tourists there is money to be made, even if we’re far out in Ha Long Bay.

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For our second stop we went swimming! The water wasn’t too cold and was incredibly refreshing, but even so, I was one of only a few people who went in.

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Inna did not go for a swim. She was too busy catching the sun in her hand.

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And there it goes. Time to get ready for night.

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Spending the night on the bay was incredible, at least one night here is a must. It was so quiet and peaceful, the boat lights reflecting in the water; this was one of the greatest places Inna and I have ever been.

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For our second day, Inna and I joined some other three-day two-night adventurers and trekked deeper into the bay. There weren’t a lot of us and the bay is huge, so we got to be super-secluded. It was awesome.

Also, do you see the face (profile view) in the karst above?

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Time for some kayaking! Super peaceful, super tiring, super fun; a super enjoyable experience.

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We also went fishing, Ha Long Bay style. This style of fishing involves a long rectangular net, with two corners weighted and two corners floating so that when placed in the water the net creates a wall. Then, using the boat shown above, we drove in circles around the net while banging wooden mallets on the floor. The noise from this banging scares the fish, and in their panic they swim away from the boat, some of them straight into the net. We did this for about twenty minutes and caught one small fish (when locals fish this way, they do it for 8+ hours at a time).

After fishing we had lunch, where the crew put these beautiful centerpieces on display.

After lunch, we went swimming. We even got to jump from the top of our boat; it was about a twenty foot fall and it was tons of fun. Inna took a video of two of my jumps, but unfortunately, we lost them.

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We actually don’t have too many more pictures from our second day in Ha Long Bay, mainly because it was so relaxing and peaceful that we fell asleep on the roof of our boat! Here is one of the few pictures we took before our nap.

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Luckily, we woke up (or were we woken up? I can’t remember) on our way back, otherwise we would have slept through this pearl farm visit.

Ha Long Bay’s pearl farm was quite an impressive operation, with thousands of pearls being grown from mussels like the ones shown above. In the bottom left photo, a pearl “surgeon” is imbedding the beginnings of what will one day be a pearl into a mussel before the mussel is placed back in the water. Our guide told us it takes something like two years of training to become a pearl surgeon.

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Two years of training, tons of work and effort and patience (each pearl takes between two and eight years to grow), but the results are worth it.

One of the most interesting things about pearls is that you never know what you are going to get. Color, size, shape, quality, all these are a mystery until the pearl is extracted from the mussel. Therefore, it takes lots of pearls to make necklaces like the ones above, as most pearls don’t match and are used as individual jewels. 

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After the pearl farm we went back to our cruise boat, now filled with new one and first-of-two night passengers. For Inna and myself, our second night was pretty much the same as our first, but it was so beautiful that I’m showing it again.

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On day three, it was time to head back to the mainland. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the bay as we leave!

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On our way out, we rode by a bunch of half-day tours, all crowded around the same few sites that can be reached in only a few hours. In our opinion, this is not the way to visit Ha Long Bay; sure you get to see it, but Inna and I did more than that: we had an experience.

Plus, it’s Vietnam, it’s not like things (minus the pearls) were expensive. Where else can you go on a three-day two-night all-meals-and-entertainment-included cruise through one of the most beautiful places in the world for only $210 per person?

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One last shot as we leave the bay…

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Goodbye Ha Long Bay! We had a great time visiting you!

Ha Long Bay was such an amazing experience, definitely a great way to end our Vietnam visit. But our travels continue! Up next is Bangkok, one of the most fun, crazy, and amazing cities on our entire trip.

Also, if you haven’t checked it out, be sure to check out our post on the Vietnam War, a must for anyone interested in Vietnam!

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