Cruising the fairytale world of Ha Long Bay

A visit to Vietnam would not be complete without a visit to Ha Long bay, this UNESCO word heritage site was declared one of the new natural wonders of the world in 2012. The bay is a collection of thousands of karst mountains and small islands all rising from the sea. For most tourists the bay is their main reason to come to Vietnam. In my experience that could mean this would be one of the highlights of my trip, or the exact opposite.

Visiting the bay can be done in many ways, there are cheap day tours from Hanoi, very expensive luxury cuises or you can explore the bay by yourself by going to the bay┬┤s largest island: Cat ba Island. After doing some research and going to various travel agents I decided to book a place on the Oasis party cruise. They told me that there would be plenty of activities and relaxing and some good partying in the evenings. But unlike certain other cruises where young backpackers don’t even remember what they’ve been doing for three days, here the partying should be of the more ‘relaxed’ variety.

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I was picked up on the first day at my hostel and in the bus I met my cruising companions for the next days. Our tour guide Hua, who clearly learned English from watching youtube videos judging by his all over the place accent, thought it would be a good idea to play a name game and give everyone nicknames. Clearly most people weren’t to keen on playing as they’ve been partying the night before and were facing a 4 hour bus-ride on a hangover. Lame as it was, the game made me remember the names in the group, normally I would have forgotten them after a few minutes.

As our guide kept telling impossible to follow stories about Vietnam and Ha Long bay, we finally arrived at the harbor in Ha Long City. Here the typical Vietnamese game of miscommunication and a complete lack of organization began as we waited for a small dingy to bring us to our cruise boat.

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Once I got on the boat I was shocked to see how luxurious and well maintained the boat was. We all had private rooms, there were tanning beds on the deck and the crew prepared some amazing food. We enjoyed a great lunch while terrible 90’s pop music blared from the speakers.

Thankfully someone hooked their iPod to the sound system and we had some better music to enjoy our entry into the bay.

The landscape is truly breathtaking. No matter which direction you look you get great views. We spend the rest of the day enjoying the magnificent scenery, letting the sun scorch our skin on the tanning beds and finally we went for a kayaking trip.

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We kayaked through a small cave and ended up in a small lagoon enclosed by karst mountains. The peace and silence in this place was wonderful. Especially after all the noise and chaos of the capital. We ended the day jumping off the boat and swimming while the sun was setting. The swim was not as relaxing as I thought it would be because it’s like jumping into a hot bath, a refreshing swim this was not.

Finally after sunset the activity that the cruise gets it’s name from got started: Partying. With happy hour cocktails, drinking games and good music we had a great night even though mosquitoes were attacking me from all directions.

The next morning we continued our cruise through paradise with a small hangover. But a good breakfast and another jump into the bathtub waters cleared that right up. We continued our cruise to ‘Freedom Island’ where we would spend the night.

The island has a private beach, a volleyball court, hammocks to relax in and of course a bar with more happy hour drinks. We were joined by 10 American sorority girls who were very keen on playing drinking games. Unsurprisingly they all passed out long before midnight.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the trip occurred once the party ended and the lights went out. We went for a midnight swim hoping to see some glowing plankton. At first we didn’t see much but as we went further into the water our bodies started to light up. Every movement we made the plankton followed. It truly made this trip even more fairytale like. We spend hours in the sea playing with the water like a bunch of children.

The next morning we were supposed to start our long journey back to Hanoi, but some friends and me asked if we could be dropped off on Cat Ba Island instead. Cat Ba is the biggest island in the bay and a great place for some beach time, driving a scooter around the amazing scenery. We spend one extra, unplanned day in paradise.

Finally it was time to start the journey back to Hanoi, but we made the foolish decision to finish two bottles of hard liquor the night before. Which made this return journey particularly challenging.

In the end it was an amazing trip that was exactly as good as promised with some amazing surprises on the way. If you want to visit Ha Long Bay I strongly recommend the Oasis party cruise, it’s great fun, wonderful food and the bay is very much a wonder of the world. If you can, stay at least one day on cat ba island, or more if you have time. Because why would you rush your way out of paradise?

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