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Hip Hop Hooray for Ha Long Bay

It was quite the journey for Skott and I and his parents to get up to Hanoi (check out Skott’s blog for details) but we knew it would be worth it once we left the shores of Northern Vietnam for a 3 day cruise in Ha Long Bay.

Nearly everyone who ventures to Ha Long Bay uses Hanoi as their launch pad and the various tour companies have worked out the logistics of this adventure down to a tee. But there are certainly a wide variety of experiences to be had from VERY basic party boats where the karaoke goes long into the night or cushier boats with great seafood dinners and nice linens (this is the experience we were seeking…although I would have enjoyed seeing Rick get up there for a karaoke tune or two). We had a great recommendation for the company Oriental Sails from fellow travel bloggers Positive World Travel, so we were able to skip through the research phase and simply choose a boat. We went with the Calypso Cruiserand we were thrilled with our experience. Our guide had a great sense of humor and was really informative, the staff on the boat were friendly and attentive and the boat was sparkling clean. As Skott would say, we were looked after pretty darn good!

One of the Oriental Sails vans picked us up bright and early to take the 4 hour journey from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. The van was comfy and the ride was easy-peasy once we all actually made it on (we had a little bit of excitement in the morning when I went to the store, got lost, was late for the van, left the camera bag at the hotel and then Skott had to go back for it and wait for the van to pick up all the other passengers before returning for him…at which point Jackie and I already required a bathroom stop before we left the city). Oops!

Heading over to the Calypso Cruiser

Once we arrived in Halong Bay we boarded the Calypso Cruiser and got settled in our rooms. I felt like I was Rose from Titanic-although the room was a little smaller than hers, it felt very luxurious and we even had our own little bathroom with a very nice shower.

Queen of the World!!

We were really glad that we went with the option of 3 days, 2 nights-otherwise it simply wouldn’t have been enough time to take in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay is a relatively small area (1,553 sq. km) but it’s gorgeous turquoise waters are spotted with nearly 2000 emerald green isles and islets (most are made of limestone). The beauty of this natural wonder is humbling.

Over our three days on the waters of Ha Long Bay we explored one of the main caves, Hang Sung Sot Grotto, which our guide Mrs. Kilos translated to A-MAZING CAVE, in a fabulous accent. It is a HUGE cave-so magnificent that I was finally inspired to understand the difference between stalactites (has a “C” in it and comes from the ceiling) and stalagmites (has a “G” in it and comes from the ground).

The whole family heading into the cave.

Inside the Amazing Cave

Check out the ceiling. Those circular divets are made from years of waves splashing against the roof when the water was higher. Apparently this is the only cave in the world like this.

Is that a stalactite or a stalagmite...or what does that look like to you?

Does that look like a guy's feet hanging over the edge?

This guy's grandparents discovered the cave.

On our second day Skott and I joined a group from the boat for some kayaking in a small cove. For me this was the best way of taking in our surroundings. The water was so clear that we could see sea urchins and coral along the bottom.

Preparing to kayak in the rain.

A tiny opening into a beautiful cove.

One happy kayaker

One of the coolest places I've paddled!

Our time on the boat was also enhanced by the fresh seafood that they served at each meal. Every dish was decorated with intricately cut veggies and I think every meal had about 7 courses. We got brave and tried some squid and mussels which we all agreed were actually quite tasty the way they served them.

Fancy shrimp...true story!

Spring rolls

On our last day on the waters we took a hike up one of the islands for a panoramic view of the Bay (I think Jackie counted over 400 steps to get up there). Even photos could not do justice to the breath taking views from the top.

See that hut on the top of the island on your right hand side? We climbed all the way up there!

Stair number 350....are we there yet?

Worth the climb!

I swear that island at the back looks like it has a Hughes nose.

I didn’t expect the weather on Ha Long Bay to be so cold-we actually froze our tails off during most of the outings (I even had a chance to wear the winter coat I had made in Hoi An). However, it didn’t matter one bit because this is a site that we all agree we’ll remember forever.

Want to join the adventure? Click here!

Trying to stay warm

A local home in one of the villages on Ha Long Bay. Villagers grow pearl farms and oyster gardens.

The crew had a special surprise for us "honeymooners". They had green strobe lights and romatic music going while they got us to cut a cake to serve to everyone on board. Skott poured out wine in glasses stacked in a pyramid and they presented us with traditional art. So thoughtful!

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8 Responses to “Hip Hop Hooray for Ha Long Bay”

  1. Gillian @OneGiantStep March 6, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    Sounds like you managed to find just what you were looking for! Looks like a great time, and not too much karaoke!! Cheers!
    Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Monday Moment: Bali, Indonesia

    • Skott March 10, 2012 at 3:39 am #

      Is there EVER a such thing as too much karaoke??? Thanks for saying hi, Gillian!

  2. Anthony @ Positive World Travel March 6, 2012 at 3:38 am #

    Sound like you had a ball guys! We are so glad you did enjoy yourselves as we usually only hear bad things about Halong Bay and bad tour companies up there. We were thrilled with Oriental Sails and we are glad we could head you in the right direction to avoid the not so good boats out on the water. Now go grab a motorbike and cruise down the coast if you have time ;)
    Anthony @ Positive World Travel recently posted..Couples’ Travel eBook Review

    • Skott March 10, 2012 at 3:45 am #

      We are already hanging in Bangkok, and I am not daring enough to jump on a motorbike here…. maybe this waits until N. Thailand? But yes, your recommend was spot on for Halong Bay and I think this should keep your credibility in check (at least for a little while longer :) ) Thank you so much guys – it was perfect!

  3. Vicky March 16, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Great to know that there is a good option for the Ha Long Bay tours — I’ve read some horror stories. Any particular reason you chose the Calypso Cruiser over the Oriental Sails boat?
    Vicky recently posted..Daring Cooks March 2012 – Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

    • Skott and Shawna March 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Actually this was a situation where we believed we would get what we pay for…although we didn’t know of any reason NOT to take the Oriental Sails boat (as they were both from the same company), we figured that the price difference would allow us a bit more comfort and enjoyment, which is what we wanted when travelling with M&D. I doubt you would have a bad time on either boat however. Let us know if you have any more questions!

  4. Jennifer Burton March 23, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    I found a nice quote that you two might enjoy:

    Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad of new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.
    Jennifer Burton recently posted..On meaning and purpose

    • Skott March 28, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Thanks Jennifer – that is a beautiful quote!

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