Hạ Long Bay

We were a little nervous after we learned—a few weeks before our cruise—that a junk boat sank in Hạ Long Bay (also spelled: Halong Bay) killing 12 people (11 of them foreign tourists). We’ve put a lot of things at risk by going on this adventure, our lives not consciously being one of them.

Water buffalo on the way to Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Water buffalo on the way to Hạ Long Bay

We reassured ourselves that the high cost of our tour ($250/per person for three days and two nights on the bay) compared to the cut-rate boat that sank, was an indicator of quality. We chose one of the smaller luxury junk boats that ply the bay, the Prince III, part of the Indochina Junk family, with only 4 double cabins. Cruising with us were two couples our age, one from Singapore and one from Australia, and an older, but no less energetic couple from England. Everyone got along swimmingly.

The Prince III junk boat, part of the Indochina Junk family
Our junk, the Prince III
Carrot garnish lesson on Hạ Long Bay: plane versus crane
Carrot garnish lesson: Justin’s plane vs. chef’s crane
Floating houses in a Hạ Long Bay floating village flying Vietnam flags
Floating houses flying Vietnam flags

It almost goes without saying that the bay was magical. Every view was jaw-dropping. We’d entered a world that could only have been conjured by Miyazaki. At the same time, I continue to find organized tours somewhat mechanical, even expensive ones for small groups. It was efficient to the point of being regimented. For instance there were deck chairs on the boat that would have been lovely to spend a few hours lounging on, maybe reading a book, if only we’d had a few free hours. Between eating, kayaking, eating, floating village touring, eating, garnish lessons, eating, kayaking, and eating, the schedule was all spoken for. I suppose we were somewhat spoiled by our itinerary-less 28 day “cruise”

Colorful Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Colorful Hạ Long Bay
Monochromatic Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Monochromatic Hạ Long Bay
Sunset Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Sunset Hạ Long Bay

That said, the food was quite good, if somewhat over-the-top: multi-course meals of small plates until we were all bursting at the seams. Alcohol was not included, and at $25 for a bottle of house wine, it was not cheap either. The highlight for me was a beach barbecue that was like something out of a fantasy credit card commercial: table with white tablecloth set up in the middle of a remote sandy beach with our own personal chef.

Table on beach for lunch barbecue in Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Table on the beach all for us

And of course there were the captivating islands all around. Spring was just beginning to blossom, and though it was cool, when the sun came out, it could be quite warm. Periodically it was overcast or foggy, which made for some very atmospheric views of the bay. I could have taken pictures like these all day long.

Rorschach Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Rorschach Hạ Long Bay
Misty Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Misty Hạ Long Bay
Abstract Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Abstract Hạ Long Bay

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