When people think of Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t of a remarkably beautiful country with astounding vistas; which is a shame because the country is a great travel destination. The upside of that is that you can avoid a lot of the ubiquitous tourist gimmicks that plague so many other destinations. Vietnam is a land with unique culture, cuisine and a long, rich history.
A true jewel of Vietnam — and the world really — it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Ha Long Bay. An archipelago made up of some 1,900+ limestone islands and islets, Ha Long Bay is remarkably stunning. Some of the islands are inhabited and many more are completely devoid of development, thickly forested, refuges for wildlife. This forest of islands with emerald water, lush vegetation and a tropical climate is of unequaled beauty. To imagine them as traditional islands undervalues their beauty. Many of them are spires of limestone, covered in jungle vegetation, rising above the surface of the water as fingers of an impossibly giant hand holding the bay in its palm.
While Ha Long Bay might not be too well known in the West, it is growing in popularity and there are some real tourist traps here. The island of Cat Ba is one of the most popular destinations here and there are a lot of ways to waste your money on the island. However, there is a lot to be had here such as a national park and caves to explore that are illuminated. If you are looking to lay on a sandy beach and soak up the sun, Lan Ha Bay just off Cat Ba is a perfect place to do so with numerous beaches.
The best way to take in the beautiful scenery here is to opt for a cruise. There are day cruises, overnight cruises and even two-night cruises that range from the budget day cruise to the luxury of a two-night private cruise. When you are visiting Ha Long Bay, and you plan on staying overnight, you will want to opt for one of the overnight cruises as Ha Long City is not the attraction you are after. It consists of the type of unremarkable high rise hotels that you can find anywhere and the painfully kitsch gift shops that take root anywhere there’s a foreign dollar to be had.
When planning your trip, if hot tropical weather isn’t what you’re after, consider going during the cooler season from February-April. The weather is often foggy with a light drizzle that can lend even more of an otherworldly air to the scenery. Plan well-ahead with a reputable cruise agency when visiting and take time to consider the type of cruise you want. You can opt for the luxury route, budget day trips or you can even take a cruise through the bay on a traditional junk.