Local Insight: Halong Bay

attractions - Saigon/HCMC: May 31, 2016

Where the dragon descends

Places don’t get any more spectacular than Halong Bay. This beautiful 1,550 sq km bay has taken nature millions of years to perfect, it really is a terrific destination in which to lose oneself. The 1,960 islands and islets provide ample opportunity for exploration and excitement. In recent years Halong Bay was voted as one of “The Seven Wonders of Nature” in a global poll. 

The first thing you should bear in mind when you travel to Halong Bay is the weather. This is definitely not Ho Chi Minh City and in the cooler months of December, January and February it can get quite cool and feel a lot colder.

It is recommended to book a three day - two night cruise on one of the many junks and river cruisers that ply their trade here. Tours are shorter than you actually think. A two night tour only gives you one full day in the bay. You will be collected from your Hanoi hotel on the morning of the first day, for the long drive to the quayside. The second day is a full one, then the third day ends at lunchtime in order to drive back. The two nights - one day tours therefore, leave little time to enjoy the scenery and attractions

One of the lesser known things about Halong Bay is that it is one of the best places on earth to witness bioluminescent plankton. This amazing natural phenomenon occurs only rarely around the globe. It is astonishing to swim in the dead of the night and see the Plankton lighting up around you. Tell your tour operator in advance that you want to see this. 

For something a little different, try getting off the beaten track and doing things your own way. About 20 km from the harbour at Vung Duc Harbour towards the south of the bay,  you will find one of the best kept secrets of Halong. Mat Rong or Dragon’s Eye Island is a completely unspoiled island that virtually none of the tourist boats visit. Hire a fast boat from one of the locals and fit this into your itinerary. You will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful places in the country. The crescent shaped island is a 30 minute ride away, it has lovely beaches, a large lake in the middle and you can camp overnight. Just take a hammock.

Pearl farming has been steadily developing in recent years and the pearl farms are a  popular stop-off for tourists. Remember to take some spare cash if you want to treat yourself or your loved one to something rather special. It pays to know your pearls though. Unless you are an expert you will have no chance of knowing whether that string of pearls is a bargain or if you’re about to get ripped off. Whatever you decide though, it makes for an interesting and informative visit. 

Just a bit of a warning. The local people here are fiercely patriotic to and nationalistic about the North. If you want to engage with any of the locals, don’t speak the Southern dialect. You are likely to be met with a cold, if not downright rude, response. If you don’t know how to say cheers or hello in the northern dialect, speak English.