Ha Long Bay is a bay in northeast Vietnam. Located about 170 km east of Hanoi, it is famous for the thousands of limestone karsts and islands in various sizes and shapes. The name Ha Long means the ‘descending dragon’ as the lines of the rock formations and islands looked like the back of a dragon and according to the local legend, the gods sent dragons to help protect the Vietnamese during the formation of their country, and after the battle, the dragons decided to live peacefully and settled in the bay.
Today Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular tourist destination in Northern Vietnam. To visit Ha Long Bay, you would need to travel to the port in Ha Long City, and then get on one of the many junk boats that offer tours of the bay. The quality of the experience vary widely depending on how much you’re willing to pay, how long your trip, and which company you use. You can be on one of the boats where they just packed as many visitors as they can, or you can get the whole boat for yourself. While cruising in Ha Long Bay, popular activities include swimming, kayaking, visiting caves, and visiting floating villages.
When we were planning our trip to Vietnam, a visit to Ha Long Bay was definitely one that we did not want to miss. After reading about some horror stories that people experienced when they tried to ‘play it by ear’ and just select the junk boat to take when they got to Ha Long City, we decided to go on a safer route and try to find reputable tour company to arrange our trip. We also had limited amount of time, so we didn’t want to risk spending too much time trying to arrange our overland trip from Hanoi to Ha Long City prior to visiting the Bay. Fortunately many tour companies arrange trips that are all inclusive the transportation to and from Hanoi.
The tour company we booked the Ha Long Bay trip with was Buffalo Tours. It is a local Vietnamese tour company that was internationally known, and they had organized trips even for someone like Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern during his visit to Vietnam. While I was confident it’s a good choice from reputation standpoint, in the beginning I wasn’t sure if this would work out as I didn’t know whether the trip cost would fit within our budget. I checked with them via email, and found out that the price was quite reasonable (about USD250 per person for 3 day, 2 nights all-inclusive cruise). It turned out that Buffalo Tours in turn had a company called Indochina Junk that operated several junk boats (you can look them up with their boat names, either the Red Dragon or the Dragon’s Pearl) actually provided the service for the cruise.
On the photo below you could see one of the Dragon’s Pearl boats moored at a lagoon in Ha Long Bay. We passed this boat during the first day of our cruise. Ours was almost identical to this.