Tuesday, August 5, 2014
By Lina Eroh
Halong Bay, with its 1000s of limestone cliff "islands," is a must for any visitor to Vietnam. Seeing the pictures is one thing, but actually looking up and around you and seeing nothing but sheer rock coming out of the water is quite another. If it's solitude or adventure you're after, it's all here at Halong.
The one must that your tour should provide is kayaking Halong Bay. This is, rightfully, almost everyone's favorite activity as it allows you to freely explore the caves and grottos carved out by the water. We kayaked into the "James Bond cave," which was featured in Tomorrow Never Dies, and then spent another hour just exploring the various nooks within the rocks.
If you want a more adventurous trip, opt for a one-night on boat, one-night on island package. That way you can do some trekking and additional kayaking in a different bay.
If you want a more relaxing trip, opt for two nights on the boat. I actually wish we had done that, because all the transfers on the second day take a while and kill the atmosphere a bit.
Our trip, with Monkey Island Cruises, took us to Monkey Island the second day. It was okay, but the water around it was filled with trash and the "superior" bungalows were tiny and lacked any view. The pouring rain didn't help matters.
One benefit of all the transfers is the drive through Cat Ba Island, which is the only populated island in Halong. Lonely Planet calls it "something straight out of Jurassic Park," and in this instance, they're right. Besides for the one town and road, the locals have largely left Cat Ba to the elements, which means it's a mix of jungle, rock, tropical rainstorms, and fog that rivals San Francisco's. In short, it's a hell of a 40-minute drive, and probably the best part of our trip to Monkey Island.