Living the high life in Ha Long Bay
According to local legend, the two thousand mountainous islands that rise out of the dark teal waters of Ha Long Bay began as pearls thrown to earth from the mouth of a dragon. An island sprang up where each one fell, blocking the enemy ships that threatened the native people and giving the area its name, which means “Descending Dragon.”
As the only package tour we booked and with the price doubling our average daily budget, three days exploring Ha Long Bay with Handspan was clearly going to be a step up from the last ten weeks. We didn’t expect it to be downright luxurious.
After a van ride from Hanoi, our group of eight plus our guide boarded the Victory Star, and we immediately knew this tour was a good idea. A four-story wood-paneled ship with an elaborate dining room, cabins with private balconies, and spacious sundeck, the Victory Star was incredible. The room was one of the nicest we’ve ever slept in, not even including the bonus points it garners for being on a boat.
The luxury of the ship only complemented the natural beauty of Halong Bay as we headed further into the watery labyrinth. Hundreds of enormous karst pillars slid by, ghostly and muted in the mist that settled over the bay. We watched for hours.
An elaborate five-course dinner was served at 7, and we reveled further in our sudden change of lifestyle. As evening fell and we anchored for the night, the light of other ships glistened on glassy water, and faintly illuminated the karsts lurking behind.
Most of the second day was spent kayaking. Our guide, Manh, led us through channels and narrow tunnels into isolated lagoons where monkeys foraged among the jungle-clad cliffs. It was otherworldly. Dinosaurs would have been at home here.
The calm water and quality kayaks made for easy paddling, and we covered a lot of ground in two two-hour sessions. The views were beautiful, but the slower pace and closer look revealed the one blight on the experience: the garbage floating in the bay. A wide variety of refuse dispersed from the nearby fishing villages and domestic tourists seemed to highlight an issue we’ve seen everywhere in Southeast Asia. Though there are countless issues behind the problem, it’s sad to see such a unique, beautiful place marred by human carelessness.
We had been sad to leave Victory Star, but our new appetite for refinement was satisfied as we pulled up to Sunrise Resort on Cat Ba Island. Tucked in an isolated cove on a long stretch of sand, the four-star resort once again far surpassed our expectations.
After another dinner involving an extreme amount of delicious food, we took a stroll on the beach to ease our bursting stomachs. As the waves crashed into the sand, flashes of electric blue lights illuminated the line of surf—phosphorescent plankton. It was mesmerizing.
We had until noon the next day to soak up the last of our stint as high-class travelers. We spent it taking in the views along a winding walkway halfway up the mountainside, plunging into the remarkably cold Pacific waves, and lounging on our balcony. In the afternoon, it was back to reality, as we boarded a crowded public bus and ferry back to the mainland.
As we keep saying to ourselves over and over, we’re so glad we took this tour. Ha Long Bay is a truly incredible corner of the world an we are happy to have done it in style.