Wonders Of Halong Bay includes an overnight stay in the stunning new Wonder of the World
Shadow floods our small rowboat as the entrance to the cave closes in.
The excited babble of tourists desperate to get a glimpse of the stunning scenery beyond the cave bounces off the rocky walls of the tunnel around us.
The cacophony builds as the rowboat pushes on into the gloom. Excitement crackles in the air as the cave begins to reveal itself beyond the tunnel – the gloom slowly lifting.
Luon Cave is only accessible via a 100-metre-long tunnel, which connects the enclosed open-air cave to the sea. Tourists hoping to explore its isolated beauty will need to rent a rowboat or kayak.
There is plenty of foot traffic around the entrance of Luon Cave, waves of chattering tourists embarking and disembarking from an almost-constant stream of boats launched from larger cruise ships, waiting in the distance.
However, the rowboat journey into the isolated cave is like travelling back in time – the screaming speedboat engines ferrying in the next batch of tourists replaced with silence. And the excited conversations of those entering the cave.
Luon Cave is a huge basin of brackish water, surrounded by steep rock faces
Luon Cave is a huge basin of brackish water, surrounded by steep rock faces, adorned by vines and small clumps lush, emerald vegetation.
In years gone by, the tranquil cave was used by sailors to shelter from storms.
Luon Cave looks so unspoilt, so remote – it could easily be mistaken for a movie set from the latest Jurassic Park blockbuster. Except for the fact there isn’t a Velociraptor in sight.
That said, there are some ferociously hungry inhabitants inside Luon Cave.
As our rowboat emerges from the gloom of the tunnel entrance, we are greeted by a small envoy of monkeys, clambering down the rocks to perch by the water’s edge.
As we throw snacks to the Luon Cave’s charming residents – scores more hurriedly scamper towards us, spurred-on by the promise of fresh bananas.
Our rowboat soon leaves the monkeys behind, touring the basin of Luon Cave.
On the cliff faces that surround the water, it’s possible to spot traces of the fossils of fresh-water snails etched into the rock.
Luon Cave is a real highlight in the Wonders of Halong Bay tour
Luon Cave is staggeringly beautiful – and a real highlight amongst the thousands of limestone isles that make up Halong Bay.
Halong Bay, already designated by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site, was recognised as one of the new seven wonders of nature in 2011.
And it’s not difficult to see why.
The expansive 1,553 km2 area is filled with some 2,000 limestone isles, shaped by 20 million years of tropical weather. Lush vegetation covers the majority of islets, which pepper the horizon like teeth.
Some of the isles have names, while the most unique shapes have legends to explain their origin, like Incense Burner, Dog Stone Islet, Fighting Cock, Finger Islet. Hundreds of others stand anonymous.
The best way to explore this stunning scenery is an overnight cruise. Thankfully, Luon Cave is a staple in the itinerary of many of the luxury cruises that navigate Halong Bay.
Almost 2,000 limestone isles make up Halong Bay, Vietnam
One such cruise is Indochina Sails – a four-star luxury ship that offers weary travellers a civilised and relaxed atmosphere, thanks to its excellent food, potent cocktails and round-the-clock massage service.
Indochina Sails offers a choice of either one or two-day cruises, with only the latter featuring a trip to Luon Cave.
The additional day is a must, since it includes an excursion to Luon Cave, as well as the chance to kayak through one of the largest floating fishing villages in the Bay. The two-day trip also leaves time to take advantage of the slew of activities aboard Indochina Sails’ ornate sail boat, including fruit carving with the Chef and Tai Chi lessons on the sundeck at dawn.
Indochina Sails’ cruises are included in Wonders of Halong Bay – one of a new range of so-called Multi-Centre tours offered by TUI.
The scheme was launched by the successful travel company following its rebrand last year. Unlike the two-week, single-destination, all-inclusive breaks often associated with the brand (née Thomson Holidays), Multi-Centre holidays include a number of different destinations.
The itineraries are designed by a team at TUI and will typically combine a few days exploring a foreign city with a relaxing beach break or luxury resort and a cultural highlight, like Halong Bay.
Holidaymakers can pick and choose where they would like to stay in each destination, allowing for different budgets.
TUI launched its Wonders of Halong Bay tour late last year.
Alongside the eponymous bay, the stunning trip can be combined with a stay in Hanoi, as well as a leisurely break at a beachfront resort on Phu Quoc Island.
The latter is the largest island in Vietnam. This tranquil destination is in the Gulf of Thailand, some 28 miles from Vietnamese mainland.
Phu Quoc Island boasts a stunning 12 mile-long Truong Beach
Granted, it doesn’t quite have the same jaw-dropping wonder as Halong Bay, however, the 12 mile-long Truong Beach is equally appealing.
The beach is adorned with luxury hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and beach bars. One of the latter, Rory’s Beach Bar, lights a pyre on the beach after the sun has set each night, making it a great place to relax after a taxing day at the swim-up bar in your resort.
Novotel Phu Quoc Resort is another stand-out on Phu Quoc Island. The luxurious all-inclusive resort, which can be included in a number of TUI trips to Vietnam, boasts a swim-up bar with a stunning view of Truong Beach.
The five-star Novotel Resort also has an exquisite seafood restaurant, which includes an array of local delicacies – all caught fresh each day.
There’s also two bars, a spa, and tennis courts. Guests have a choice of a swathe of accommodation options, including rooms with sea-facing balconies, and bungalows with private pools.
It’s a beautiful resort with friendly staff and exquisite cocktails, making it an ideal place to plough through a good book and work on a tan.
Hanoi is almost the exact opposite.
Cyclo tours are a great way to see the packed narrow streets in Hanoi
It’s difficult to find time to curl-up with a book amongst the thrilling hustle-bustle of the Vietnamese capital. The vivacious city is home to a number of must-see cultural hotspots, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Temple of Literature – Vietnam’s first University.
A short city break makes for a brilliant addition to any TUI Multi-Centre tour, with Hanoi offering something completely different from the stunning natural scenery of Halong Bay, and the quiet paradise on Phu Quoc Island.
Journeying into the capital city, one of the first things you’ll notice is the sheer number of motorcycles – and the number of passengers each one carries. Families commute on the small bikes, precariously balancing shopping bags, weaving in between cars on the motorway.
Hanoi is a real rush. One of the best ways to experience the city is to join the steady stream of motorcycles on one of the many cyclo (a three-wheel bike taxi) tours available.
Cycling lets you enjoy the plethora of narrow streets that make up the Old Quarter of Hanoi, each packed with shops and filled with the scents of local street food. Silk Street, Rice Street, Paper Street, Lacquer Ware Street, and Jewelry Street are easier to take in from the passenger seat at the front of the bike, as opposed to the busy pavements.
Hanoi is a stunning capital city, with packed streets and thriving night life
Finally, it’s worth visiting the former Hoa Lo Prison during your visit to Hanoi. The site, which was ironically nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by US prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, now houses a number of fascinating exhibits from its morbid history.
Most of these relate to the early days of the prison, until Vietnam gained independence from France in the First Indochina War during the mid-1950s. Amongst these is a French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries, which now looms ominously amongst the exhibits. There is also a fascinating display that focus on the US pilots who were imprisoned in Hoa Lo Prison, with flight suits, prison garb, and propaganda of the time on display.
At the end of the day’s sightseeing, those looking for something to eat can take advantage of a number of TUI recommended restaurants, which offer local cuisine for a number of budgets.
The Wild Rice Restaurant, located in the Hai Ba Trung District, is worth a visit.
• TUI offers direct flights from London Gatwick to Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
• Wonder of Halong Bay is one of a number of Multi-Centre tours offered by TUI in Vietnam
• 14 day trip including Wonder of Halong Bay Multi-Centre Tour, followed by 9 nights at Novotel Phu Quoc Resort starts at £2,962 per person
Published at Sun, 07 Jan 2018 20:34:00 +0000