Disclaimer: Thank you to L'Azalee Cruises for hosting us as your guests. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
Halong Bay has recently claimed the throne as Vietnam’s crowned jewel - First listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, this wondrous place received additional notoriety in 2000 for holding important geological and geomorphological value. The bay is home to over 1,600 islands and islets, each comprised of thick jungle vegetation and soaring limestone pillars, peacefully sitting upon emerald blue waters . Most of these islands are untouched, uninhabited and unaffected due to their precipitous nature, and once you’ve visited it’s easy to see why.
Halong Bay is a unique cluster of islands, that each hold their own historical significance. The bay is peppered with wind and wave eroded grottos, caves, lagoons and coral reefs, putting a Halong Bay Cruise on many travelers must see lists. This heritage site is also one of Seven Natural Wonders of the World and once you’ve gone, it comes as no surprise.
With its newly growing popularity, it can be daunting for travelers to select which cruise to try. Especially with so many variables to consider: cruise length, amenities, food, itineraries... it can all be just so overwhelming. But we’ve done the research for you and would love to share our experience with L’Azalee where we got to embark on 3 day, 2 night - Heart of Halong Cruise that gave us the opportunity to explore this enchanted place.
We boarded our beautiful white wooden vessel and were immediately greeted with a welcome drink of lemon, honey and ginger. Our luggage was escorted to our superior cabin, consisting of a queen bed and private bathroom, which is an incredible luxury to have on a ship. After an exquisite buffet lunch, the captain raised anchor and we set sail for our three day adventure.
Our first stop blew us away. We were led on a guided shore excursion of Sung Sot Cave (also known as Surprise Cave). Never, had we ever, seen anything like this. Sung Sot Cave covers a staggering 10,000 square meters, and is by far the largest cave we had ever seen. The interior is separated into three chambers, sprinkled with stalactites and stalagmites, which many have said to portray recognizable shapes, animals, and patterns. It was exactly what we had hoped for in a Vietnamese cave experience.
We then boarded our ship once more, and set sail to our next destination where guests were given the choice to explore a working Pearl Farm or go kayaking, followed by a delicious three course meal and an opportunity to test our hand at squid fishing (this is seasonal but if offered, definitely worth a try).
Breakfast was served bright and early at 7 AM, consisting of eggs, crispy bacon, croissants, fresh fruit, a variety of juices, coffee and tea. Once breakfast concluded, we were led to a second vessel for a boat transfer so we could easily access smaller caves due to their narrower entry points.
Day 2 was a crowd favorite. We explored the east side of Halong Bay, passing by Luon Cave, Head Man Islet, Yen Ngua Islet and Ho Dong Tien where we got to revel in the mysterious and magical scenery of the Dong Tien Cave.
We were then escorted to a kayak laden dock, where each of us were given a two person kayak to explore the emerald waters of Halong Bay at our leisure. As each guest took off in their own direction, Alex and I kayaked our way towards an island in the distance that appeared to have a small opening (or so we thought). Completely secluded, we docked our kayak safely on the beach, as we briefly rock climbed our way towards the cave entry point. What we discovered left us humbled, speechless and in complete awe. It wasn’t until we had walked into the back corners of the cave and turned around that we saw this:
There was an opening in the rocks that perfectly shaped the distant islands before us, serving as a window into the outside world. In this moment we felt small, swallowed whole by the vast beauty and sheer size of our surroundings. We felt honored to be guests, in this undiscovered, uninhabited place, that only few in this world would ever see. It was a special moment to share with one another, and a place we will never forget.
Making our way back to the boat, we sat to enjoy a gourmet lunch of fresh seafood, roasted chicken and salad, as we sailed towards our next location: Dong Me Cung (also known as the Maze Cave). Dong Me Cung is quite unique in comparison to its neighboring caves, due to its structural complexity that includes multiple levels, compartments, and a 100 meter long corridor. Dong Me Cung also includes a small lake (Maze Lake) that guests can easily hike up to for photos. This cave is also notoriously famous for being home to fossilized snail, pearl, oyster and clam shells including freshwater mollusks - making it extremely valuable for scientific research.
Cruising back to our vessel, we boarded L’Azalee once more to conclude our day's festivities. Nighttime activities onboard consisted of a cooking demonstration, a delectable three course meal and squid fishing followed by an upper sundeck night cap. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
We started our day with another award winning breakfast before setting sail for Ti Top Island. This island has become world famous for its crescent moon beach that boasts pristine white sand and clear blue waters, making it the ideal place for relaxation and swimming. Our personal favorite however was hiking the 437 stairs to the top, where viewers are given a 360 degree panoramic view of the bay below.
As we returned to our boat for the last and final time, we ate a brief brunch and began our journey back to port. It’s hard to fathom that over 200 million years ago, Halong Bay was completely underwater - yet here we are … sailing through its calm emerald waters, as we explore caves from countless centuries before us. Places like this open your eyes, open your mind, and open your heart to an entirely new world of exploration, and we have companies like L’Azalee Cruises to thank for that.