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  • Writer's pictureAnji Connell

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam a night on a boat

House and Leisure Contributing Travel Editor, Anji Connell, recalls a surreal adventure in one of the world's most unique places.

Vietnam's Halong Bay has thousands of limestone islets swathed in verdant tropical rainforests erupting from the captivating emerald water.


I felt compelled to visit Vietnam's Halong Bay with my first glimpse of its dreamlike water landscape - thousands of incredible towering, jagged islands topped with tropical rainforests jutting up from a spectacular emerald green sea.

Getting there, I discover, is part of the experience and involves a few modes of transport, including a seaplane and a small boat tender before we reach the larger boat, a traditional Chinese-style junk, complete with soaring sails. Each part of the journey has a unique soundtrack: the seaplane is extremely noisy, especially during take-off and landing. It's like a dozen Harley-Davidsons revving up right beside you. Thankfully, they provide earplugs. I rather enjoy it; it feels authentic and exciting, evocative of the golden age of flying portrayed in old black-and-white movies. The journey is magical, overwhelming, surreal - looking down on the lush, sculpted valleys and over the towering limestone outcrops, which look like mossy stepping stones plopped on an emerald-green pond for a giant.

We disembark at the busy harbour where fellow travellers excitedly mill around us, weaving their way to the various vessels, and jump on a tender with its high-spun engine to the big boat.

Once aboard, we experience the gentle chugging of the motor; the subtle turns in the bow and a constant, pulling breeze, which is replaced by the gentle flapping of the sails as they lick up the wind and propel us into the hidden depths of the bay. To our complete astonishment, we discover that my partner, Barry, and I are to be the only guests. We have the whole place all to ourselves, with 11 cabins at our disposal. We opt for the aptly named 'Hera Heaven Suite'.

Unfortunately for Barry, he soon starts to feel unwell (a case of' food poisoning), so I'm left to my own devices while he rides it out in our cabin. At least the view from his sick bed isn't bad:

180 degrees of stark limestone and lush green vegetation. So, while Barry endures an enforced detox, I feel like the proverbial force-fed goose with an entire feast to hand day and night - like Eloise at The Plaza and Alice down the rabbit hole. I have the whole staff to look after me, including a full kitchen brigade to see to my every whim.

Extravagant meals are beautifully laid out in the dining salon and apéritifs, cocktails, sundowners and after-dinner drinks are served.

I imagine them labelled 'eat me', 'drink me'.

Sumptuous afternoon teas can't be ignored and several decks are made ready for me with cushioned seating and inviting sun-loungers.

I can have a spa treatment or a cooking class on making traditional Vietnamese dishes, go kayaking around the islands, explore the ancient caves, visit the fishing villages, and end the day with drinks at the Sky Bar while taking in the breathtaking night-time view of the bay. Sailing among the limestone mountains is magical, as is waking up to ethereal misty mornings where it's impossible to distinguish the islands until you can almost reach out and touch them. The fog emphasises the beautiful layered effect caused by the varying distances of the different islands. Their ghostly shapes are fascinating as the islands emerge from the mist, the air heavy and any sounds muffled by the blanket of fog. Then the sun burns through the haze and the colours glow - a sight to behold.

Disembarking was, for both of us, somewhat of a relief. Barry was beginning to feel normal, and I could say goodbye to excessive feasting and the feeling of letting everyone down by leaving vast amounts of food and drink in my wake. A girl can only consume so much in 24 hours! Flying once more over the beguiling bay, earplugs in place, was a wonderful goodbye.


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