I’ve been haunted by Halong Bay for years. This beautiful spot on the north coast of Vietnam screams ‘dream holiday’ from every photo, with its famous blue skies, clear seas and towering limestone columns.
We ignored the hundreds of touts offering organized tours and arranged an independent trip from Hanoi. Our reward was a personalized, cheap and flexible weekend, minus the crowds.
Transport was easy to arrange. We bought a local bus-boat-bus combination ticket from Hanoi’s Luong Yen Bus Terminal to Cat Ba Island. To return, we organized a speedboat and bus trip which took us directly to Ninh Binh. Our bumpy bus rides passed beautiful rural scenes and we felt like pirate explorers when our boat approached Cat Ba Island – the first views of around 1,600 islands and islets are dreamlike.
Budget accommodation was readily available on the sea front and our evenings were spent exploring the many restaurants which sell delicious sea food and Vietnamese dishes at low prices.
On our first day we hired scooters and traversed the length of Cat Ba Island. We stopped off at the national park and went hiking for hours, listening to the call of monkeys and tropical birds. At sunset we went to the public beach – a glistening expanse of white sand and turquoise waters.
The second day was water based, with a boat tour round the islands by a local fisherman. We stopped off at a floating village to marvel at life-lived-on-water and share some rice wine with fishermen.
Did I mention the weather? Sadly, it being January, there were no blue skies and not a drop of sunshine. Testament to the wonder of the place, the poor weather did not detract from our experience. Whatever the conditions, Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places on earth to visit.
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