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Chinese Junk Boats In Halong Bay

Fog. A menacing weather phenomenon that grounds planes, dampens your suit en route to the subway, and causes vehicular pileups. But just as fog adds mystery to America’s Smoky Mountains, it makes Halong Bay’s topography extraordinary.

Junk Boats Scenery From Up Top

Kayaking Near Limestone KarstWe climb into the newish minibus in Hanoi joining a grinning Malaysian family of four and a friendly couple from India bound for Halong Bay. One of favorite tour guides of all time, Trung makes himself known. His enthusiasm is palpable, almost laughable. He is the classic people pleaser that refuses to utter the word ‘no’. By midday we reach our Chinese junk boat, the Pinta. Trung’s stomach convulses in laughter at my Christopher Columbus antics, yet he does not understand the references. We instantly love the guy. The Pinta gingerly departs the crowded harbor of junk boats and we are surrounded by a mine field of limestone karsts jutting from the salty sea. Riding on the open air top deck, Ash and I soak up the dreamlike scene.

Amazing Cave - View From Top Halong Bay - Sunrise

Amazing Cave - Greg's BullseyeNumerous junk boats present themselves on the horizon as the Pinta inches closer to Amazing Cave. Inside the limestone karst is a labyrinth of natural tunnels, towering stalactites, and growing stalagmites all lit in a soft yellow hue. Trung guides us through the cavernous enclosure signaling interesting spots with his red laser pointer. When I ask him to point it at my forehead, like a marksman’s scope, he becomes nervous to the point of fidgety. He relents and gets a good laugh after my vision remains 20 – 20. Outside we are aboard the Pinta once more and purchase water from a floating convenience store whose saleswoman’s helpers are two adorable young Vietnamese boys.

Amazing Cave Yellow Hue Boat Convenient Store Helpers

The overcast sky dims as the Captain tucks the junk boat into a secluded bay inhabited by a lonely pearl farm. Here, Justin (Indian) and I dawn our swimming costumes for a refreshing dip in Halong Bay’s turquoise water. Dinner is fantastic and is the prelude to two hours of riveting karaoke on a flatscreen television. Everyone takes a turn, some more willing than others. The Malaysian family favors the Beatles, Ash the 80s, the Indian couple soft rock, and yours truly Styx. Trung, well he loves it all, naturally. Sleep finds us after such a varied performance.

Trung! Halong Bay - Ash Singing Karaoke

Kayaking Halong Bay - KarstsWith fog enveloping the whole of Halong Bay, it is hard to pinpoint the sun’s arrival. In any case, I wake with the birds. With only myself to share the moment, I am in awe of the immense beauty coupled with isolation from the agitated world. The quiet is so intense that it seems the songbirds are outfitted with loudspeakers. There I sit, Ash still counting sheep, for ninety minutes. Then it is time for light exercise post breakfast with kayaking Halong Bay’s hidden nooks and crannies. We head straight for a watery tunnel beneath a hulking karst where on the opposite side is a paradise like no other. The water flat, karsts lofty, fog blurring our depth perception. Calmness fills our lungs, hearts, and minds. Ashley quips, “this is my kind of Heaven.” That about sums it up. Trung nearly ties a rope to our kayak in order to pull us back through the kasrt passageway back to the Pinta for the final time. We don’t want to go!

Kayaking Through Karst Tunnel Kayaking Halong Bay... So Peaceful

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Booking Chinese Junk Boats while in nearby Hanoi is difficult due to the hundreds on offer in every price range. It is a classic “you get what you pay for” excursion. Budget boats do sail, but prepare to share your bunk with freeloading rats. Luxury ships are beyond pricey. Opt for the middle road, a little extra money is certainly worth a good sleep without rodents.
  2. Rated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, trash floats while rubbish loiters in trapped bays all over Halong Bay. What’s more, most of this trash comes from the junk boat operators themselves. While I was enjoying the solitude of the morning, I watched in dismay as a neighboring junk boat dumped a filled trash bag overboard. What a hassle taking it to shore must have been! Do your part in places you love by discouraging littering.

  • Connie Hum

    GREAT post! I'm looking forward to getting to Halong Bay in a few weeks! Would you mind letting me know which tour operator you went with and letting me know the cost? Your experience sounds so nice, much better than the booze cruise options I keep reading about. Guess this makes me old? =)

  • fofs

    Connie – Ah, enjoy Halong Bay. We went with Columbus Adventures, they have an office in the Old City of Hanoi. The food was great, the boat was quite nice (Pinta Cruiser), and price was spot on. Check out this link for the detailed itinerary ($85):

    Ask for a trip with Trung, trust us, it'll make you smile!

    - Greg & Ash

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