Ha Long Bay and the Red River - View from the Inside

"Ha Long Bay was the highlight of my trip and was so peaceful and serene that it felt like I had entered an altogether different world."

April 2017 • Jules Verne

Ha Long Bay & the Red River - View from the Inside

This was my first visit to Vietnam. The Vietnamese address it as two words 'Viet Nam'. It is a small but fascinating and beautiful country in Southeast Asia, emerging out of the shadow of its recent war history and is now considered a developing country.

This trip was aboard the RV Angkor Pandaw, a teak and brass colonial-style boat furnished with 16 cabins. It is a wonderful way to see the authentic villages around the various rivers on the Red River Delta while meeting unique people. The Red River Delta is the second largest after the Mekong Delta for rice growing and we saw green paddy fields throughout our cruise. We travelled from west to east along the 610kms of alluring landscape, passing industrial sand dredging ships and visiting villages full of art and culture, monasteries and of course Hanoi.

There were two excursions on most days, one after breakfast and one after lunch visiting various sites along the river. Evenings were more relaxed when we sat on sofas or sun loungers on the top deck and enjoyed the sunset before our evening cocktails.

We embarked the vessel in Hoa Binh and sailed all the way to Ha Long Bay following the reverse itinerary. On a smaller vessel we visited a Muong village - an ethnic group that inhabit the mountains of northern Vietnam and we were lucky to visit one of the Muong houses to share a cup of tea.

We experienced a Trung Ha music performance played by a local family followed by our first taste of Pho - the national dish of Vietnam; a rice noodle soup with herbs and your choice of meat. We had an opportunity to visit Hung Lo Temple where the local women had organised a folk dance performance celebrating the rice harvest.

We then visited Tien Du village famous for the manufacturing of the Vietnamese trademark Conical hat locally known as 'Non La'. We learnt how to make bamboo framed hats and were given one as a souvenir at the end of the tour. We went on a bike ride when we visited a community of carpenters dedicated to wooden arts and crafts in Ly Nhan. Some of us cycled through green paddy fields and the local houses, where we were greeted with welcoming smiles along the way, while the rest travelled by the coach. Later in the evening, we watched a lion dance show in Bat Trang village, organised by a local temple across from our mooring point, overlooking the picturesque sunset.

We spent time in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and through population the second largest city, home to infinite motorbikes and new buildings under construction. We visited the Ho Chi Minh complex, Hoa Lo Prison famously known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ and the Temple of Literature. We had some free time to explore the city so we visited the endless bazaar-like markets and got the chance to have lunch at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant where the locals ate. En route to Ha Long Bay we visited a stork island and Than Ha village to see a water puppet show; an amazing show and the puppeteers were more than willing to show us their trade and secrets after the performance.

Towards the end of the tour, we sailed on Kinh Thay river and entered the Teal green waters of Ha Long Bay, surrounded by around 1,600 islands and islets made of limestones. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay was the highlight of my trip; it has a mythical Dragon folklore and was so peaceful and serene that it felt like I had entered an altogether different world.

We visited one of the few floating villages by a smaller vessel that helped navigate through the closely-sat islands. Some of us tried our hand at canoeing through the narrow caves, while the rest enjoyed using a rowing boat. The night was mesmerizing with no artificial lights around the bay giving a clear view of the beautiful sky full of stars, followed by a breathtaking sunrise through the shiny limestone mountains, for early risers.

It was a memorable trip to one of the most popular and visited countries in Indochina, I was grateful to experience the 5-star hospitality of Pandaw staff, who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and at home.

Experience Ha Long Bay and the Red River on our tour