By Chris Allen
Ha Long Bay
This is the premier sea kayaking trip in Asia. Start out in Ha Long city and spend seven days paddling through the emerald-blue water of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage site. Thousands of islands dot the seascape while millions of brightly colored fish swirl through the water below you. You can spend hours exploring the caves and grottoes sprinkled through the larger islands and marvel at the formations of the smaller ones.
Nights can be spent in a hotel on a different island each night as you paddle your way through them. Fresh seafood is caught daily by the local fishermen and prepared for your meals.
Cat Ba Island
On the edge of the Ha Long World Heritage site, Cat Ba Island is itself a national park. Hotels populate Cat Ba city on the southern tip allowing the kayaker to spend their days exploring islands off the coat and their nights in the same hotel.
Fresh seafood caught by local fishermen is included in every meal. Many of the fishermen will recognize you after a few days and will greet you as you paddle among the narrow rock channels to investigate the many grottoes.
The Me Kong delta offers a unique opportunity for an easy paddle journey discovering channels containing floating markets and aquatic thoroughfares. Most expeditions start in Ho Chi Minh City and go on a circuit of small towns and islands in the river delta. The Cai Be floating market displays the handicraft of local villages while islands like Thoi Son wait for you to explore.
Ba Be Lake
This inland lake has been designated a national park and is divided into three parts giving it its name, which means “three lakes”. Set in Northern Vietnam, these trips generally will start in Hanoi with a cross-country drive into the hill country to Ba Be Lake. Travelers can visit hill country museums in Hanoi to get a better understanding of the cultures they will experience on the drive and in the towns dotting the lake’s edges. The lake itself is generally calm; paddling is easy as you enjoy the tranquility of unspoiled jungles and limestone mountains. Accommodations are through a guest house sponsored by the local hill tribes and meals are always freshly caught. Ba Be is under intense international pressure to stop poaching and travelers visiting there help build awareness of this problem.
An easy day trip from Hanoi by boat, Hoalu was once the capital of Vietnam. Paddlers can make a short visit and see the historical architecture of the Than dynasty, take a float on the Hoang Long River (Golden Dragon River) to visit Mountain-of-books and the Tunnel-Cave-on-water, and still make it back to Hanoi before the day ends. Longer trips let paddlers travel the Black River and stay in stilt houses while enjoying the savory local cuisine.
It is important to have the right visa when traveling anywhere; even when kayaking the bay. Visa applications to Vietnam are 30-day single-entry tourist visas and must be applied for at least six months prior to the date of entry. The visa specifies the arrival and departure dates but can be extended once inside the country. The application packet can be found at the Vietnam embassy website. Be sure to take extra passport-sized photos for the local officials if they request them. Carry your passport with you when kayaking for easy access in case you are stopped by officials.
Things to Remember
Do not attempt to take a kayaking trip during the monsoon season in May through October. Weather for the rest of the year will be warm and you will need to take plenty of water and sunscreen.
Most of all, remember to have a good time. Going at the right time of year and careful planning of the trip will ensure it goes smoothly and a little forethought will help keep you away from problems in the future.