Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam

Photo: Indochina Sails
Photo: Indochina Sails

You just arrived at one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Yes, the entire world. Hạ Long Bay is full of limestone karsts and emerald green water. Caves and grottos, stalactites and stalagmites hide within the islands. White-sand beaches ring them. While floating villages are tucked in sheltered coves. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is surreal and seemingly magical. A day trip just isn’t going to cut it.

Hạ Long Bay is a four-hour drive from Hanoi in Northeast Vietnam. You woke up before the sun to board a shuttle bus heading east. Napping was impossible during the cramped, bumpy ride. You started regretting your travel decision less than halfway through the trip. But all is forgotten as soon as you reach Bai Chay, the private pier from which Indochina Sails departs. A long, sandy beach and a refreshing sea breeze welcome you. A wooden junk, your home for the next few days, bobs in front of you. While the breathtaking islets, created by dragons according to local legends, stand in the distance.

But back to that wooden junk. It’s a lot more luxurious than it sounds. The traditional boat offers overnight cruises around Hạ Long Bay. Modern cabins feature go huong (aromatic wood) decor, large picture windows, and comfy beds. Freshly caught seafood and Vietnamese specialities are served in the elegant dining room. Happy hours are held on the rooftop sundeck. Plus the itinerary includes spots you’d never be able to see during a simple day trip. Actually, one night doesn’t even seem like enough. You’re going for two.

Photo: Indochina Sails
Photo: Indochina Sails

You’re welcomed aboard the boat with a cold drink and a short orientation. Lunch is served as you start to sail north toward remote Bai Tu Long Bay. The day cruises are quickly left behind. Board a hand-rowed sampan (small bamboo boat) when you reach Cửa Vạn. The floating fishing village is anchored in a cove at the base of a tall mountain, which offers natural protection during the raging typhoon season. Return to your own boat for a cooking demonstration and happy hour, before an extensive buffet dinner is served. It’s followed by a second happy hour on the upper deck. Learn how to fish for squid or play cards under the stars before retiring early. You have another early wake-up call in the morning.

You don’t get up in time for coffee and pastries at 6:45 am, but you hurry to join tai chi as the fog starts to lift off the water. After a quick breakfast, transfer to a day boat to explore areas the big boat can’t navigate. Spend the day swimming, kayaking, and taking way too many photos. It’s hard to stop when each one is more beautiful than the last. Then return to your floating home for dinner and more happy hours.

Your final day in Hạ Long Bay starts on Titov Island. The island is a popular, but very necessary stop. Climb 427 stone steps to a pagoda lookout point. You’re out of breath by the time you reach the top of the mountain. A 360-degree view of the bay surrounds you. The limestone islets, the clear green water, and the endless blue sky are absolutely stunning. It’s enchanting, dreamlike, and definitely something you shouldn’t have missed. Now you just have to psych yourself up for the long ride back to Hanoi. A phở (Vietnamese noodle soup) breakfast should help fortify you for the trip.

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