One of our most favorite and involved trips from Singapore was to Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam.
First, we flew 3 hours to Hanoi, spent one night there, then 4 hours on a bumpy shuttle bus through winding roads of Vietnamese terrain to spend two nights aboard this beauty (the Paloma) exploring a little further into Bai Tu Long Bay in the South China Sea. It was a lot... especially with one and two year olds, but it was worth it. Always is.
Based on our experience, I have compiled a few things you can (and should) do if you visit one of the bay areas and the best times to plan for a comfortable atmosphere.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit either Bai Tu Long or Ha Long Bay is from October-January. We went in April, which was cheaper but there was a constant misty drizzle of rain. You can expect that February-April. I would avoid May-September due to the heavy rains and tropical storms.
We reserved a family room, because it allowed us to spread out and comfortably house Evan's crib. So glad we did; look at that view!
Tip: if you are traveling with little littles, then be sure to call ahead and ask them to have a crib/cot set up for you. Most accommodations have them and will assemble for free. Toting around a Pack N Play is the last thing you want to include in your luggage, especially if you are backpacking around a region. The kids are enough to tote around.
These cute cabins had little balconies attached, and I'm so glad they did. Because without them, I wouldn't have been able to snap this incredible picture on Easter Sunday!
Overview of our Adventurous Two Days:
- Fishing Village
- Pearl Farm
I’ll splice together Hanoi in the next post. But for now...here’s a recap of our two night/two-ish day experience in breathtaking Halong Bay!
We settled in, tossed on some long sleeves, and quickly hopped on a smaller fishing-type boat to have a mini hike. We could've stayed on the Paloma, but opted to take full advantage of our situation. I recommend you do the same! We were zonked tired, but one can always rest when they return home. You don't take time off work to sit in your bed the entire time, do you? GO see what you came to see! For us, it was a crazy hike to watch the sunset.
We conquered three sets of these stairs. Super proud of the big fella for walking the whole way! He was two years old and bursting with energy, but be mentally prepared to carry your little to the top just in case.
Finally made it!
The inside was filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Parts were slippery and tricky to traverse while wearing the little fella. I had a few people give me strange looks because of the baby wearing.
One gal even said she was amazed that we brought them to Vietnam at all. I gave her a smile and just said, "awe, thanks!"
You never know the reaction you will receive from folks while traveling with kids. Some are snooty about it, and others will adore your offspring and treat them like cherubs.
We played on the beach and watched the sunset before taking the wooden fishing boat back to our ship for the night.
Fun Fact: Legend has it, the gods sent a family of dragons to protect the Vietnamese against invaders. After a battle victory, the mother dragon settled in Halong Bay and her children attended to her from Bai Tu Long Bay.
The Golden Hour - completely unedited
Today’s adventures started upon this teeny boat. I won’t lie; I was quite uneasy getting into this haphazard thing. Once everyone had boarded, the edge of the boat was seriously close to the water level. I had a humbling glimpse of what refugees experience. I can’t even fathom the reality. And later found out the little bitty thing was double capacity!
Viewpoint of the cave at the entrance...deep and dark, it was!
The big fella absolutely LOVED this! Our guide gave him a head lamp and mentioned bats lived in here and might fly by while we were inside. He constantly talked about finding Batman and enjoyed playing in the sand and rocks. It was supremely precious...
The stalactites (top-down) were hollow if you banged on them. Of course, every kid enjoyed the echo noise. The stalagmites (bottom-up) sparkled unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Glitter seemed to be poured over them. I was in awe!
"Alone in the cave with a baby!"
I stayed behind at one point since I was wearing the little guy, because the hike up inside was too steep and slippery. My momma bear instincts reared their head. Although, I didn’t realize staying behind would leave me in the pitch.black.dark with a baby!! Hello?! I was deep inside a cave! I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. Nothing! I sang to the little guy while we stood alone for a solid 20 minutes. I kept telling myself I was doing it to keep him calm, when in all reality I was doing it to keep myself from freaking out. Ahhhhh
We gathered our things to head back out for a few beach hours. The tour guide used a little charcoal grill and fed us lunch on the beach before heading back.
We left our swimsuits on the boat, but that didn't stop a certain someone from fishing around in his clothes... We made the most of it. The little fella toddled around the kayaks and threw sand, while the big fella made friends with older kids on our boat and let their imaginations run wild building and playing in the sand.
Back on the Paloma, we did another quick change for dinner before calling it a night. Whew! What a lovely, yet exhausting day.
Almost forgot...! I took the little fella back to the room to get settled for the night, while hubby took the big fella squid fishing off the back of the boat. Super cool experience for the memory books. Highly recommend this if you get the opportunity.
Curious about exploring Thailand with a baby and one year old? Check out our whirlwind journey to Krabi!
Good morning- ready to conquer day two!
Our last day in Bai Tu Long Bay was super packed. The picture below is worth a thousand words and a good indication of our day ahead!
Remote Fishing Village-
After breakfast, we took a 7am boat ride to a remote fishing village. I had zero idea what this really meant. Come to find out, around 1,600 people live in four floating fishing villages in the bay area. It was something else to witness with my own eyes.
"It felt like a living, breathing, National Geographic article."
We found ourselves on another small, row boat. They said it was only big enough for our family of four. Welllllll, I wanted to tell them about squeezing ten people aboard to the cave yesterday. I knew the capacity shouldn’t have been that much! Yikes.
I know it’s nerdy, but I love how you can see the rock erosion from over the years. One of the fishing villages can be seen below. Tiny shacks hovered above water.
"Only recently have kids been boated out of the villages to school. Teachers were once brought into the remote communities to educate the kids. Mind blowing to process."
There are few very, vivid moments I have of travel which stop me in my tracks, and this was one of them. Paddling through the floating villages and waving to kids on the "porches," I had so many questions...
- What do they do for food besides fish? How often do they get fresh fruits and veggies?
- What is the bathroom situation like?
- These villages being close knit communities, how do they have privacy?
- Where do the kids play since there is no land?
- And the dogs sitting on the docks...I had so many concerns
- With no insulation and protection from the elements, how do they survive in the dead of winter and intense summer months?
- What about monsoon rains? They are real in southeast Asia!
I've never been able to bring myself to take pictures of locals in their natural surroundings. No matter the country, it feels invasive and disrespectful. So- I wave, smile, and move along. The pictures I do take are from a distance. I like to capture a bit of the memory, but try my best to file it away in my mind when it comes to people.
The Pearl Farm-
Paddling to the other side of these remote neighborhoods brought us to a community of pearl villagers.
We were able to witness a worker cracking one open, removing the stinky, soft tissue, and letting us touch the pearl inside. The perfect ones are used for jewelry, and imperfect pearls are ground into powder for cosmetic use. Most of these pearls take 4-8 years to reach maturity. Fascinating...and smelly!
By the way, the lady in the striped shirt would not stop singing our praises of traveling with the boys. She originally moved to Hong Kong with her husband’s job nearly 40 years ago. Her sons are now 32 and 35 and grew up traveling around southeast Asia. She thought what we were doing was magnificent and would have a tremendous impact on the boys, even at such a young age. She understood. She knew the struggles and joys that come with living so far from home, and also raising children in a vastly different culture. I couldn’t thank her enough for the uplifting compliments.
People, be this lady!
Halong Bay is an incredible, natural wonder on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is comprised of 1,600 islets and 775 limestone formations.
A few glory shots taken on our rowing boat going back to the main boat...
“Here is the unfinished works of the Beings… here is the stones which the Giant played and threw away." -Vietnamese poet, Xuân Dieu
Such beauty surrounded us for three days and two nights. Bai Tu Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin of the South China Sea is where we floated and explored. I didn’t know this until we neared the end of our trip, but Bai Tu Long Bay has only been opened to the public since 2012. The emerald waters and fairly untouched lush limestone along the beaches and caves were some pretty amazing eye-candy.
We were thankful for our the incredible, albeit ambitious, time in this corner of the world. Our crew is all packed up and ready for the crazy adventure back to Hanoi.
So long Bai Tu Long Bay!
Curious of the other bays, national parks, and top attractions on the main land? I recommend checking out Lonely Planet.
STAY TUNED - The saga continues back in the gritty city of Hanoi, Vietnam!
Want more travel tips and ideas for kids?