Vietnam By Train: Cruising Halong Bay
All week long our roving correspondent Claire Duffett will be sending back her travel reports from Vietnam. Any questions or suggestions? Let us know and we'll have Claire answer them for you.
From Hanoi, we headed east to Halong Bay. More than 3,000 limestone islands jut out of the Gulf of Tonkin, so it's often compared to Krabi in Southern Thailand, though I visited there in November and Halong’s landscape is far more impressive. It does, however, lack the sandy, white beaches.
Like many UNESCO sites, the beauty of Halong Bay is constantly at odds with the ugliness of heavy tourism. Its adjacent city is the worst of rapid, unchecked development, with hideous high-rises abutting massage parlors and slums. The bay itself is littered with “junk boats,” heavy wooden boats that ferry tourists through the maze of islands.
While the antique boats themselves look quite beautiful lumbering through the water, there is simply too many of them. Often, the iridescent glean of oil is visible on the water, and I floated past empty bottles and debris.
Tours through Halong usually cost between $32 and $56, and include three meals, transport from Hanoi, and an overnight junk boat stay. In our experience, there’s little difference between the cheaper and pricier rates. The only discernible distinction on our boat was that the first-class group was served a shrimp cocktail with their meal. Unless you’re willing to pay $30 for a shrimp cocktail, go cheap.
Tours also include stops at one of the bay’s many cliff-side caves and the use of kayaks. Paddling your slab of buoyant plastic away from the crowds is probably the only time you’ll be able to appreciate Halong’s beauty without throngs of fellow tourists.
But the place is so freaking gorgeous, it makes sense that so many people trek out to see it. After all, I went, and I don't think I'll ever see anything quite like it again. For those of us who don't believe in a higher power (myself included), floating amid a sea of frozen lava geysers is an awe-inspiring sight.
Vietnam Travel Guide [Jaunted]
· Vietnam By Train: Ahoy Hanoi!