Floating on Halong Bay, on my last visit to the World Heritage site of Halong Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh Vietnam, my friends and I decided to take a five-hour tour of the bay in a boat.
An increasing number of tourist boats are basing themselves in Halong Wharf to take visitors around the famous bay. It is almost impossible to count the number of boats here now, and many small boats are so similar it is difficult to tell them apart.
Many of them are two-story wooden boats that provide basic services for tourists taking short day tours around the bay.
For visitors who want to stay overnight the boat’s staff will arrange meals, accommodation and entertainment, such as music and art performances, or parties on the boats. From the boat, travelers can paddle by small boat to visit caves, and to beaches for swimming.
At the beginning, we felt unlucky because the weather was so bad. It was a cool and gloomy day so we missed an interesting chance to enjoy the sunset from the second floor outside area of the boat, and also missed the chance to take some beautiful photos.
However, the weather was much better when we were floating in the bay. Many travelers had delayed their trip due to the bad weather and, as a result, the bay was quiet and our group avoided the unpleasant smell of exhaust gases from boat engines.
We had booked a detailed five-hour program, however, a staff member from Hai Long Dream Junk, our boat, told the passengers that if we wanted to change the itinerary, or wanted to see or do something special, they would try to accommodate our requests.
We decided not to take the optional trip to paddle a small boat, or to visit the caves. We just wanted to visit the Thien Cung Cave (celestial palace), one of the caves of the bay, some 25 meters above sea level and considered to be a veritable museum for beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, and spend the remained of our tour floating around Halong Bay Vietnam.
We were surprised to find that several lights have been placed in the caves. Some local travelers are pleased with the lights because they make it easier to see and take photos of the stalagmites. However, many foreigners have said that they don’t want Halong Bay’s management authority to add too many lights here.
“Because we want to see this special cave in its natural light. The artificial lights will make Thien Cung less beautiful,” a European traveler told me. He was traveling alone and took several photos with his camera.
He has visited Halong Bay many times and is pleased with natural value of the world heritage site but he also afraid about: “to many power boats on the bay, anchoring next to beautiful caves. I saw much black boat smoke, and waste from the tourist boat. It will have a bad impact on the heritage site,” he said.
Our group found it more interesting to be in the outside area of the boat for sight seeing. Every member stood out in the chilly wind to see the whole of the bay, enjoying hot coffee and tea and the quiet of the bay together.
Lunch on the Hai Long Dream Junk was the best lunch our group had in Halong City. The chef, a middle aged, quiet man made typical dishes like spring rolls, fish, shrimp, and soup. However, with professional skill and experience in preparing dishes for travelers from the South, like our group, he made a meal that we all ate with enthusiasm. My friend even went to the kitchen to watch the chef cooking.
Visitors who were floating on the bay at the end of last year would have seen some banners with slogans calling for people to vote for Halong to be recognized as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Our group just had a few hours to spend visiting the bay, so we could not stay overnight on the boat to fish, or enjoy the nigh time musical performance, or extend the tour to Cat Ba Island in Hai Phong Province. But we will come back to Halong Bay to experience all that the bay has to offer.