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Vietnam (Day 12) Enchanting Halong Bay - The Stuff of Dreams

Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Halong Bay. Emerald water and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. This was the most amazing place!! A feast for the eyes, the landscape was truly breathtaking. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, it features prominently at the top of many Bucket Lists. 

My biggest worry after booking our 3 day, 2 night Halong Bay cruise was weather. I had heard that any threat of storm would result in cancellations. Having booked MANY months in advance gave me plenty of time to worry.  But, thankfully, weather  (though it made us nervous with a rainy start) cooperated for our sailing.  And yes, Halong Bay lived up to every expectation providing us with lifetime memories of breathtaking landscape and heart-stopping adventure!

On the morning of departure, we anxiously waited in the lobby of La Siesta for our Indochina Junk private transfer.  When our greeter arrived and escorted us to our luxury van, we were relieved to find total comfort and wi-fi for the 4 hour transfer.  We joined 3 other ladies on the van who were also touring with Indochina Junk, but on a different boat.

Our first rest stop was at an artisans market that supports the disabled, who create all the beautiful works of art.  After a couple of hours, we arrived at Yen Duc village.  It is a fantastic garden restaurant where you take a lunch break.  We were joined by other groups all arriving about the same time in different vans.  The tables were already set up nicely for each reservation with name cards.  We sat down facing the stage across water for a traditional water puppet show.  It was not long at all and the kids actually really enjoyed it!  Afterwards, we moved to our tables and had an awesome multi-course lunch.  With an accompanying beer, I was feeling myself relax.  The restaurant is in a nice setting and after we all used the facilities, I took the kids to take some pictures against the garden backdrop before it was time to re-board the van.

Everything was grand until the final 30 minutes that seemed to go on forever, but it was my own fault having that beer at lunch.  We arrived at the pier to a bit of check-in commotion.  Ignoring all that, I raced to pee the biggest sigh of relief.  TMI?  I returned to find everyone being instructed to remove all valuables from their luggage.  I had locked all our electronics away, but they were so adamant about it, that I decided to bust open each of our luggage and pull out all the iPads. I'm sure it would have been fine, but I guess better safe than sorry.  Our luggage was counted/marked and it seemed to be a big deal that they triple check each piece to the correct party before taking it away.  I had no doubts that all correct pieces would arrive to us!

The waiting area at the pier is comfortable enough with facilities (whew!).  We settled our balance due for the cruise and sat waiting to be called for departure.  When they called us, we had to take a golf cart to the area where you walk down the pier.  FINALLY!!!  We pulled up to our junk boat "Dragon's Pearl" via a tender from the pier and then proceeded to shout "WOW" 685,746,364 times as we came aboard. 

The Dragon's Pearl aka Home Sweet Home for the next 2 nights was a welcomed sweet breathe of fresh air.  We knew immediately that it was going to be the perfect accommodation for cruising the stunning scenery that is Halong Bay.  It's modeled after traditional Chinese junk boats of the past.

We went inside and started things off with a welcome drink and meet 'n greet with our cruise director before we got the green light to go to our cabins. I don't know what I was expecting, but for the first time in my life I could picture myself living on the water.  Feeling the "good life", we all ran around up, down, in, out and all around squealing in absolute delight. 

I had booked two cabins (one double for Rob and me, and one twin for the kids).  This was the BEST decision ever.  Their cabin was right next door to ours.  Almost immediately, the kids made friends with two other kids and it turns out that their 2 cabins were across from us.  So, we had all 4 cabins at one end for the only two families with kids. This boat is the perfect size with only 11 cabins, 3 decks, and indoor/outdoor dining area. The decor is beautiful with wood throughout giving an oriental antique look and feel - kind of reminded me of our hotel Vinh Hung Heritage in Hoi An, but felt more sturdy for the sea - ahoy, matey!

Be still my heart! Halong Bay is rejuvenating for the soul.  With my monkeys by my side (and husband to take pics), I felt my heart soar as we passed the endless limestone karats.  I still can't wrap my head around how long ago the towering rocks formed.  Puts a few things in perspective.

As cruised out leaving civilization behind, the rain stopped and the clouds started to break up.  There was an optional spring roll-making class that provided a fantastic snack!  The bar was opened and a festive vibe set upon our boat.  

We were mesmerized by the scenery as we cruised to where we would moor for the night. Then, we got word that we would be going kayaking and excitement spread throughout the whole boat as everyone went to change. As I was changing, I caught sight of the kayaks arriving and my heartbeat quickened.  Being a non-swimmer (yes, I know I've taken adult swim class 3 times, it's just not happening), I was very nervous.  But, there was NO way, I was going to miss this experience.  And, we were lucky that it was being offered again.  For a couple months, kayaking had been banned disappointing many who had scheduled for that time period.  See, this is what happens when you book way, WAY in advance - you get to see more fluctuations in your well-intended plans.  Luckily for us, the ban was lifted!  But, another ban that we saw come about remains in place and that is the dining in the cave. That one is replaced with a  BBQ on the beach and I will say it was a highlight of the cruise - we went in the caves, just didn't eat a meal in them so no biggie.  Back to the kayaking, which heads-up was THE highlight of the cruise for me.

I pushed through my nerves  pairing up Molly, while Rob paired up with Caitlin. Out of all of us, Rob is more likely to flip a kayak and so we gave him the most confident water baby.  So, that is how the two weakest links ended up together. If you travel with kids, you know there are always pros and cons to any pairing.  Hahahahaha.

Somehow, we ended up being the first to get into our kayak, meaning I had no learning curve from watching others.

It's so soothingly quiet between these towering karats and the view is otherworldly. It was our first time family kayaking and I can't believe this is where we got to do it. What a life treat!

I don't know why, but we are going into this deep, dark, LOW cave of one of the karsts! How do you think it went? Using EVERY muscle in my body to stay to the middle, I really hadn't quite figured out maneuvering, let alone turning.

See the light. Go towards the light. This was so freaking cool!!

Guess which kayak got stuck in the cave and required a rescue? ðŸ™ˆ It was a tight space!  You can stop worrying, we successfully emerged. Eventually.  

Eyes peeled on the lookout for King Kong. As far as my eyes could see, it was so far so good. I loved that the kids recognized the movie landscape.

We made it back to the boat as the sun was setting and I felt accomplished. Okay, just between us, I did get nervous (again) as we had fallen way behind the others and the quick setting sun made my imagination run wild.  I found myself hit with a burst of energy that boosted my paddling into higher gear.  Last kayak accounted for - all safely in!  Woo hoo :)   

Dinner was on the upper deck under the stars. Good food, good company (the kids quickly becoming good friends), good vibes.

I managed to take one pic at the beginning of dinner, but that was it before I found myself at the mercy of every delicious dish arriving, unable to do anything but envelope all my senses in the moment.  All the food was AMAZING!  So many course, so plentiful, so delicious.

This boat has such a laid back vibe.  There's plenty of space for wandering around as well as for sitting and doing nothing but staring at this breathtaking landscape.  Where are the kids? Hahahaha.

We went to bed completely relaxed and oh so excited for what tomorrow would bring.  I was already wishing that there had been a longer cruise option.  Seriously, I don't know why some people say one night is enough because on the first night, I kissed up the moon that we still had another night out here.

Up Next: Halong Bay Kayaking (Part 2) and Beach BBQ Oasis


  1. Can you please tell me which tour you took? Your blog has bumped our trip up one year!!

    1. Our Halong Bay cruise was one of our FAVORITE experiences of our entire trip! All the details are written up on Day 14 (after finishing the cruise), but we booked with Indochina Junk on the Dragon's Pearl. I highly recommend it!