It is 6am and we are on the tiniest of boats, crashing against the early morning waves of Ha Long Bay. Our 16-strong tour group, along with our remarkable local guide Duc, is on the way to Ti Top island. We’d spend the next hour or so climbing 469 steps…
I’m not usually even a fan of climbing the stairs in my own house at any time before 7. But this was all part of our effort to discover the authenticity behind Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination.
Everyone who’s anyone in the travel industry knows that Ha Long Bay has been the backbone of Vietnam’s tourism industry for a good long while. In 2011, 5.5 million tourists visited the Bay. This number is only growing, leading to an increasingly overcrowded UNESCO World Heritage site.
Of course, no trip to Vietnam would be complete without a cruise through Ha Long’s emerald waters. But we wanted to do something different. We wanted to see the unspoilt side of an otherwise crowded tourist attraction. So, we hopped on a boat with fantastic tour operator Vega Travel for a 3 day, 2 night cruise – taking in Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island (yes, all of them).
Ha Long Bay
After a 3 hour minibus ride from the chaotic city of Hanoi, we were finally greeted by an open expanse of water. At first, the bay seemed extremely crowded. We were slightly worried we’d be spending the next 3 days moored alongside endless amounts of fellow tourists.
True to style, Vega Travel pulled through and led us out to a stunning mooring place.
During the first day of our at-sea adventure, we feasted on a welcome lunch and hiked through Surprising Cave Hang Sửng Sốt. We then threw ourselves into kayaking through a shimmering deep blue lagoon. The day was rounded off with our very own cooking class.
Cat Ba Island & Lan Ha Bay
After our 469 step climb up to the top of Ti Top island, we boarded another boat and bus to reach the remote Cat Ba island. Admittedly, we did have a slight scare that our activities would be cancelled and we’d get stuck on the island due to a tropical storm.
However, all’s well that ends well and the day ran exactly as planned; a serene bike ride through the hills of Hai Viet village, a jungle trek and even more kayaking – this time in the deserted Lan Ha Bay – followed by some well earned R&R at a hotel.
Every tourist who has ever visited Vietnam probably says that Ha Long Bay was their highlight. For me though, this truly was the most memorable part of the trip – our cruise did much more than just check the box on my bucket list.
If you too want to experience an unspoilt, adventure-filled version of the infamous Ha Long Bay, I highly recommend booking Vega Travel’s 3 day, 2 night cruise. Their extraordinary tour guide Duc will make your trip!