Halong Bay is a photographer’s paradise, and that’s one reason why we booked a family trip to Halong Bay. Visitors to Vietnam usually make the effort to journey 165 km from the vibrant streets of Hanoi to this idyllic setting in the far northeastern corner of the country, if even for one night.
The only way to explore the 1,600 limestone islands, caves, beaches and arches is to hire a seafaring vessel. You could take a kayak out or rent a tourist boat for a few hours but to scratch beneath the surface, you really need to book a cruise. Niteo arranged for us to travel by private van from our hotel in Hanoi to the port where we boarded our overnight cruise. After a short reception, we dropped our bags in our room and then headed up to the main deck to enjoy our first feast in the dining room with panoramic views. A delicious lunch included a seafood platter, a creamy pumpkin soup, fried spring rolls with dipping sauce, fresh bread, a Vietnamese entrée, and seasonal fruits.
Despite the annoyance to my family, I couldn’t help but jump up to run out on the deck to capture a photo in between bites!
Besides the spectacular views of sculpted nature that were constantly changing in the light of the afternoon skies, the cruise included several excursions. Locals from a fishing village quietly paddled us around on smaller boats and got us up close to the limestone rock formations weathered by wind and sea. One of our sons tried his hand at rowing but after a few turns in a circle and some good-natured ribbing from a boat of Canadians for falling behind, he handed the oars back to the local expert. After a warm and sticky afternoon, we had a refreshing swim in the Gulf of Tonkin before returning to our boat.
When the scenery disappeared into evening’s darkness, we enjoyed a candlelight dinner. At the end of the meal, the staff delivered a beautiful flower arrangement to the table next to ours where a young couple was celebrating their honeymoon. I thought about how romantic the evening would be if we didn’t have three teenage boys sitting at our table. Next time.