Are you looking for stunning, dramatic landscapes? Maybe you’d like to wander sandy beaches next to crystal-clear water or tour floating fishing villages? If you’re looking for a family-friendly adventure that mixes traditional experiences with all the modern luxuries, then Halong Bay is the perfect place for you! During my life, I’ve seen many breathtaking pictures of Halong Bay’s stunning landscape. When my family planned our trip to Vietnam, visiting Halong Bay wasn’t an option, it was a necessity.
Our two-night, three-day cruise arranged a luxury van to pick us up from our Hanoi hotel early in the morning. We reached Halong Bay in the early afternoon, and then the adventure began. From hidden caves to panoramic views, Halong Bay is a must-see for adventurers of all types!
As soon as the cruise began, we started to see magnificent limestone formations — called karsts — all around us. There are more than two thousand in different shapes and sizes in Halong Bay, which makes the landscape very dramatic. Interestingly, many of the karsts, which took millions of years to form, are hollow with caves inside. We took in the scenery while enjoying the refreshing breeze. After all, Isn’t that the reason we were there?
That first afternoon, we had lunch before heading to the Vung Vieng floating village. While there are many floating villages, our cruise chose this one because it is off the beaten path and considered more “authentic.”
We were invited into row boats with locals for a 40-minute tour of the floating village where we were given traditional Vietnamese hats to protect us from the sun. (Some cruise guests decided to take kayaks to see the village, instead of a rowboat.) During the tour, we were able to experience a villager’s daily life and to see the quiet beauty of a traditional floating village. The locals are paid in tips (their sole income) so we were sure to carry cash with us. The locals ended the tour at the pearl farm.
Life of Pearls:
In addition to fishing, pearl farming is one of the region’s primary trades. Our tour manager shared the process of pearl-making with a short demonstration about how cultured pearls are farmed. Pearl farmers open each oyster’s shell, put a seed inside, and close the shell. The pearl farm also teaches you about various types of oysters and pearls – including colors, shapes, and quality. The kids were mesmerized by the whole process. After the tour and demonstration, guests had a chance to buy souvenirs and jewelry made from the harvested pearls. Tourist trap? Yes, but this is also the way that locals make their living.
Sunset over Halong Bay:
After we returned to the ship, my husband and I went to the upper deck to enjoy the stunning sunset while the kids played with their new friends. While I wished there were fewer boats around so that we could get an unobstructed view, there was no denying the beauty of a Halong Bay sunset. You’ll enjoy the best views from the upper deck of your cruise.
Fresh Ingredients — The Heart of Vietnamese Cuisine:
After sunset each night, we went to a traditional Vietnamese cooking class. Vietnam is known for its Asian-French fusion cuisine, and these classes are a great way for you to experience the food and culture of the region. It was a highlight of my kids’ cruise. We learned to make fresh summer rolls one day and fried spring rolls the next. Authentic Vietnamese cuisine uses so many fresh ingredients! The summer rolls were the best rolls you will ever have. My daughter still compares every summer roll she eats with the rolls she made. Since the cruise scheduled the cooking class at the same time as happy hour, you can enjoy spring and summer rolls with cocktails. A perfect evening!
Catch of the Day:
My kids enjoyed after-dinner squid fishing from the back of the boat with all their newfound friends. Though they didn’t catch anything, it was a great group activity. One girl caught squid both days and was covered with squid ink. (Luckily, it was not my kids!) The next night, thanks to the hard work of all the lucky squid-fishers, we had fresh squid prepared three ways for dinner.
A Day at the Beach:
Right after breakfast the following day, we got into a dayboat for a two-hour journey to visit Cong Dam. This area is famous for its crystal-clear water and sandy beaches. You’ll be able to see some of the over two thousand sculpted limestone karst islets in Halong Bay. You can enjoy sipping wine and lounging on the upper deck while your kids hang out with other kids on the cruise.
The dayboat stopped near one of the islets, and we all took kayaks to a secluded beach. We decided to explore rock formations, hidden caves, and lagoons. This is paddles down one of the best kayaking experiences you’ll ever have! There are so many caves to explore, each with its own unique formations. The hour and a half flew by much too quickly; we loved every second of it, and you will too. After the beach and kayaking, we headed back to the dayboat where we jumped off of the front and swam around it. Let me clarify, the kids enjoyed jumping and we enjoyed watching them.
Exploring Thien Canh Son Cave:
On the last day, we woke early to explore the million-year-old Thien Canh Son Cave. The cave is scenic, surrounded by turquoise blue water. After (carefully) climbing up more than 100 narrow, crowded and uneven steps, you’ll reach the entrance to the cave. It may be crowded, but don’t worry!
The cave has three chambers, each of which is beautiful. The whole family had a great time exploring the cave and the surrounding sandy beach. We were able to take in the magnificent view of Halong Bay, which provides an excellent backdrop for family photos. Careful, you might have a little too much fun like we did. We were late getting back to our boat … everyone was waiting for us. Whoops!
Breathe in, Breathe out:
Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial arts practice that is valued for its health benefits. Slow, graceful movements are paired with deep breathing exercises designed to help you focus and center; the perfect way to wake up and get moving. My kids loved it! They woke us up each morning so they could attend. I guess they forgot we were supposed to be on vacation? Enjoying Tai Chi during a gorgeous sunrise is the perfect way to start your day, even if it means waking up early!
All in all, you’ll love exploring Halong Bay. Our favorite part was admiring the unique limestone formations while cruising around the bay. The emerald water, ancient caves, and diverse biosystem make Halong Bay unlike any other place you’ll see. No wonder it is called “The Seventh Natural Wonder of the World.”