Searching for pictures of Halong Bay and thinking that someday I would be there was dreamy. It looks magnificent, and it is! This was the second destination I got to know in Vietnam after Hanoi on this two-week trip to the north and center of the country. It had high expectations, and it did not disappoint.
I didn’t stay in the Halong city area, but that didn’t make the experience any less charming. I stayed on Cat Ba Island, which is less touristy and which many backpackers choose as their accommodation place. Getting to Cat Ba island from Hanoi is easy. Bus and ferry tickets are affordable, as is everything in Vietnam. The departure ticket to Cat Ba already includes the boat trip to the island and another bus that takes us to the hotel. At the pier, while waiting for the ferry to Cat Ba, I am already very excited to see so many mountains in the distance and what I see is still nothing compared to what I will see in the coming days.
Cat Ba island is very calm. Note that this area where we stay is prepared for tourists, but not many. It’s clearly the busiest part of the island, therefore, it is not a place where you will have much interaction with Vietnamese customs. That will happen by leaving the touristy center and exploring the island, which is big. Western music is heard here. The restaurants play it for tourists (I don’t understand why, as when I travel I want to know local customs and not hear what I hear in my country). But the reality is that these are the places that fill with tourists. Is it because they are tourists and not travelers? Weird…
Money on the floor?
And at night, there is a fire pit on the side of the road. Let’s take a look at what’s going on! The locals are burning fake money so that their departed loved ones can use it on the other side of life: after death. It’s also very normal to see fake money on the floor in Vietnam. It’s for sale in stores, so don’t be fooled if you visit the country and see 100 dollar bills on the floor. It is easy for foreigners to be fooled by this tradition, but always doubt if you see notes on the floor. These fake notes that are lying on the floor are thrown in funeral ceremonies. I think the idea is the same. Give money to the dead.
Halong Bay boat tour from Cat Ba
The next day, we set off for the tour of the famous limestone cliffs of Halong Bay standing in the middle of the ocean, which are the scenery of enchanted dreams. It is a sweeping landscape! I appreciate every second, some with eyes closed to try to absorb even more of what this place gives. The breeze, the sounds… It is possible to have abstract thoughts and only be grateful that you can admire this natural beauty. Several different bird sounds are heard. There are a lot of eagles around here, which I wasn’t expecting.
The first stop is Monkey Island, and guess what, they were put there on purpose for tourists to see. Ridiculous. On top of that, they are aggressive…
On Monkey Island we climb the hard raw mountains as they are, without ropes or supports, nothing. It’s you, your strength, determination, will, and the ground below, and the rest of the people who venture the same way. It is hard to climb to the top and knowing where to put your foot takes a few minutes. It is best to see what the front person does and do the same. Our guide is a volunteer, the same as I was in India. She guides tourists on this tour in exchange for accommodation and food. That’s why I say that traveling for so long is possible and easier than thought. Some money is needed, but not much. With the right spirit, ways of traveling are found at a very low cost. For example, hitchhiking. All it takes is being creative.
The climb took a long time as we have another group ahead of us. The way up is the same as the way down, and the top of the mountain with the best view is not that wide. So we wait for long minutes so that one by one people can take a picture at the best point with the best view. Still, the view completely makes up for the wait. It is inspiring. And that emerald blue water down there makes me sigh. What a beautiful view of Halong Bay! The climb was very tough and dangerous but totally worth it. Take good shoes with you as the rocks here are very spiky and I was able to see blood on them.
Kayaking in Halong Bay
Another stopping point was to go kayaking freely among the towering cliffs, lagoons, and some caves that make the place more mystical. We paddled near the banks hoping to see some wildlife, but all we see are birds. Beautiful and fairytale worthy birds. Everything else is silent, giving each minute a sense of incredible peace and balance.
We went kayaking all together and the volunteer guide was with us. We followed her as she already knows the area and the best spots. The area is so wide that I’m afraid I would get lost if I didn’t follow someone else. We had 1 hour to kayak freely and then return to the boat.
The boat is where we have lunch all together. A true feast with incredibly tasty food and delicious fish.
Swimming at the beach
The next stop is on a small beach planted under the cliffs. Some are in the middle of the cliffs, but never oversized. We stopped for a swim. Some people were jumping off the boat, others went to the sand, and some stood at the boat enjoying the wonderful surroundings. After this stop, we went to another spot in Halong Bay.
Halong Bay fishing villages
On the way back to the island we came across the mesmerizing fishing villages of Halong Bay. It’s amazing to see how people live there in the middle of the sea with the best view ever. The houses are very modest and they float at the surface. Each family has its own fishing spots and that’s how they make a living. Even dogs can be seen here. I thought this place was only there so the fishing nets get more efficient, but these people actually live there. Their home is the sea. I’m sure this is one of a kind landscape on Earth.
All the rest of the day is spent boating among this amazing landscape. I think I could stay in that boat for a few days just enjoying these relics that only nature can give us. Unfortunately, the sky has always been very cloudy. I imagine the landscape can get even better in good weather, but this place is nonetheless stunning.
Cat Ba sunset-watching viewpoint
The boat tour ends before sunset and we reach land before 5 pm. I would love to have a great sunset view, so instead of going back to the hotel with the rest of the tour passengers, we said we would walk. The surrounding landscape is so beautiful that makes no sense to not explore it on foot even tho that is tiring.
We decided to go to one of the viewpoints on the map and we didn’t regret it. The place is a stunner and stands as high as it is possible. Seeing the sunset from here was magical. It was truly beautiful!! I think this might be the best sunset viewpoint of Cat Ba Island. It is viewpoint no 2 – beach between islands, or nearby as the views until you reach the top are always changing and surprising. It is a must-visit spot in Cat Ba Island.
Here is my video of the Halong bay boat tour: