Where We Be
Shades of gray blend into a soothing backdrop
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay was right at the top of our list of
must-see sights in Vietnam. One of the "Seven
Natural Wonders of the World," it's a UNESCO
World Heritage site featuring thousands of
limestone karsts jutting out of a serene sea. If
you like natural scenery (and who doesn't),
don't miss the chance to take a two- or three-
day cruise here. We opted for three days and
loved watching the constantly changing vistas
from the top deck of our boat.

It was misty during most of our journey, as it
often is here, so the views looked as they do in
most photos: soft, surreal, with row upon row  
of ink scroll hills blending into a dream-like
backdrop. While the landscape of Halong Bay is
justifiably world-famous, solitude can be hard to
come by here: 500 or so boats ply these waters.
A good alternative for more privacy would be a
cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay just to the northeast.
Carina is a luxury ship with just nine guest suites on board. It used to be
named Pansy Cruise -- but we think they wisely changed the name.
We loved our roomy cabin with window and balcony --
not to mention rose petals and welcome-aboard sangria!
From the very beginning of the journey there is fine scenery to enjoy
Local boats are dwarfed by the limestone formations
Happy to finally be checking Halong Bay off our bucket list!
At the fishing village of Van Gia we board a small bamboo boat
rowed by a local woman for a one-hour tour of the floating village
These children are enjoying recess
on the deck of their floating school
This kid rows past us using his feet!
Eventually we realize this rowing style isn't just for kids
There's nothing quite like sipping wine on the top deck while watching the scenery glide by
Next morning dawns very misty. The scenery
becomes even more surreal and dreamlike.
Diving off the top of the boat is great fun
We actually see the sun pop out for awhile
Then the mist returns as we return to the Carina
These junks with traditional sails lend an exotic air to Halong Bay
Surprise Cave is a decent size and reasonably beautiful but is too popular
for its own good. The jostling crowds take some of the fun out of it.
We liked the view from the top more than the cave itself
All good things must come to an end -- but what a lovely journey
We barely missed out on our first choice -- a three-day Indochina Junk cruise aboard Dragon's
Pearl to Bai Tu Long Bay. Instead we opted for a three-day Carina Cruise of Halong Bay
($270 pp; route shown above, with Day 1 in red, Day 2 in blue, and Day 3 in yellow).
Back aboard Carina, we cruise past more dramatic scenery
We're treated to a short cultured pearl demonstration
. We board a smaller boat for a day trip around the quieter, less visited parts of Halong Bay
while Carina returns to its starting point to pick up more passengers. We begin by visiting
a pearl farm at Day & Night Grotto; all those black buoys are aquaculture oyster beds.
Then we continue cruising, enjoying the optically
confusing folds and layers in the mountains
Eventually we disembark at a beach on Ba Trai Dao (Three Peaks Islet)
and hike up steep stairs and a dirt trail to a fine lookout point
The views are definitely worth the effort
This perch offers some of the best vistas of Halong Bay from above
Whether learning how to make Vietnamese spring rolls or preparing to go kayaking, one of the best things about travel is making
new friends. It turns out the couple at right attended the University of Colorado in our home town of Boulder. Instant connection!
We drop anchor in a lovely cove near Soi Sim Island for some kayaking
We emerge into a scenic inlet with
limestone cliffs rising up all around us
We follow our fearless leader through three different caves (this one looks like you're passing through
a throat). The scenery is gorgeous but the amount of trash floating around the cove is distressing.
Back aboard, we move to yet another lovely location where we have the chance to go swimming
Did someone say swimming?
Most of the ships in Halong Bay are low-key
but this one looks like a floating casino!
Altogether there are some 2000 islets in Halong Bay,
many of them oddly shaped to say the least
We pass many scenes of daily life on the water. But change is in the air... We've heard this village
may be relocated in order to keep Halong Bay more pristine and reduce pollution concerns.
Eventually we drop anchor in a lovely bay next to our sister ship, A-Class Opera Cruise. We go for a swim,
take hot showers, dine on delicious Vietnamese cuisine, and even try our hand at line-fishing for cuttlefish.
Next morning we take a short boat ride to Surprise Cave (Sung Sot
Cave). This is the one cave just about everyone visits in Halong Bay.