Kayaking in Ha Long Bay is more than an indulgence, it offers vistas not reachable by other means

9 12 2008

The setting cannot be more dramatic. Thousands of limestone peaks rise magically from crystalline emerald waters, dotted by islets and deep, mysterious caves.

However to access all of them, conventional boat tours are not the best way, say both experienced and greenhorn kayakers after doing their thing in the famous Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, and in the running for adjudication as a natural world wonder.

Over the last decade or so, kayaking has become a popular activity in Ha Long Bay, which covers an area of 1,500 square kilometers, offering many options for both the less and the more adventurous.

Fantastic treasures come to light inside one of the many splendid caves in Ha Long Bay.

With modern kayaking equipment, visitors can maximize on speed and maneuverability as they explore the open sea and many hidden lagoons and stalagmite caves that are difficult to access by other means.

After a day of paddling amongst islets, visiting hidden caves, lagoons, unspoiled beaches and floating fishing villages, they unwind on the boat and enjoy a sumptuous dinner.

Kayaking tours in the northern town of Ha Long offer tourists several different routes, overnight stays on boats, and different kinds of seafood.

With dozens of tourist agencies offering Ha Long kayaking tours, each one strains to make its service unique in some way.

Kien Tran, production manager of Active Travel Vietnam Company, says “we use private support boats when paddling to explore hidden and untouristy corners of Ha Long Bay. That makes our itinerary different from those organized by other tour operators who just use kayaking packages offered by the overnight boats.”

‘ii ou thought the hideout in the James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun” was spectacular, imagine a place where there are 3,000 such limestone islands clustered together in the East Sea of Ha Long Bay”, enthuses Kien.

As usual, a trip to Ha Long sets off from Hanoi in the morning.

On the three-hour bus ride, short breaks are taken for refreshment that are also shopping opportunities. A popular stop is a handicraft center where workers make jewelry, embroidery, lacquerware, stone carvings, and other artifacts on the spot.

Upon arrival in Ha Long, they board a wooden boat for a seafood lunch and a short cruise to Thien Cung Cave.

Mary says, “I don’t know that paying US$70 for our overnight cruise got us any better a boat than the $48 we were going to pay – but our crew and our guide were fantastic and I can’t even begin to describe the food we were served – it just kept coming and coming and coming!”

After a short exploration of the caves, the group begins its exploration of the bay paddling through an area of limestone islets.

They pass a floating village to reach the Luon Cave – which is a tunnel thrusting through a mountain, and then paddle through the tunnel to explore a beautiful secluded lagoon.

They finally meet the mother vessel, a Chinese style junk, anchored in front of the cave for dinner.

The second day at Ha Long, they start paddling to Van Chai Floating village and then continue to Dark Cave.

Tide permitting, they explore this amazing cave on the kayak.

The cave is a 200-meter long, dark tunnel thrusting through a limestone mountain.

The tunnel is the only entry to a secluded and beautiful lagoon.

“Our first stop were some amazing caves that were only discovered in the late nineties,” says an Australian tourist, Caroline.

Caroline’s brother David says, “I had never done it before. Caroline had once, so she was deemed the expert and took the lead in the front seat.”

“I saw lots of massive jelly fish everywhere which rather put us off this idea of swimming.”

After lunchtime, the group paddles to the Ba Trai Dao Lagoon, along a stunning and fairly rough sea channel, to explore its beautiful beaches.

Ben, 30-year-old British musician, who has returned to the hotel in Ha Long Town, says: “I went kayaking just to fulfill one of my Vietnam dreams. Paddled through limestone pillar islands, explored deep dark tunnels emerging in isolated lagoons or to be faced with fresh, new karst island formations. It was brilliant.”

He recalls: “The second night at Ha Long, my friend Danny and I were the only folk on deck and it was only 9:30 – a night swim was the only answer. It was a good idea.”

“The water was deliriously refreshing in the tropical heat and gave my fading brain a much-needed wake up call. The idea of swimming to party at one of the other boats docked nearby was raised, but there was nothing going on there either. So jumping off those sweeping Junk boat eaves was really the only answer.

“Off the first deck was easy, the second a little daunting and the third, climbing up on the roof, well… there’s really no better way to feel like you’re truly living again. If ever there was a thing to do with your favorite party people, 16 of you in a 6 cabin Junk boat on Ha Long Bay – cruising, kayaking, visiting beaches and exploring caves and tunnel networks by day and partying on deck by night – is really worthy of consideration,” says Ben.

Getting there

The best way to get to Ha Long Bay is to rent a car from Hanoi from a professional tour organizer. It costs approximately $100-$120 return.

There is also a tourist open bus service offered by travel agencies around the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Cost is around $8 net/person/way.

Public buses leave from Long Bien Station to the Bai Chay Station (other side of Red River, five km from Hoan Kiem Lake) every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and cost VND50,000 ($3) per person each way. This is not recommended for foreign travelers, as these buses are often crowded, slow and unsafe.

When to kayak
You can do kayaking on the bay all year around but the best time is between October and June.The kayaking day
A typical kayaking day starts at about 8 a.m. after breakfast. Lunch will be served on the support boat. At the end of a kayaking day travelers return to the junk by 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m.
Tourist should bring Sun block, hats, anti-insect repellents, sunglasses, raincoats original passport.

Recommend more halong bay travel guide:
www.kayakhalongbay.com for kayaking travel guide
www.indochinasails.com for cruise trip on halong bay
www.halongdiscovery.com for junks boat on halong bay
www.halongbayguide.co.cc for halong bay guide


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