Wow! Halong Bay was a fabulous destination and a wonderful natural wonder of the world. Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a beautiful area with limestone rock structure islands spread amongst the bay. They allow boats to cruise through the bay and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
I arranged an organized two day, one night cruise/tour through my hotel in Hanoi which made it easier for me too, as it was my first excursion in Vietnam. Halong Bay was one of the main reasons I added Vietnam on to my itinerary when I was planning my summer trip, so I was beyond excited to explore the area. If you google image Vietnam Travel, most of the pictures are from Halong Bay. It is so beautiful!
Here is the low-down from my tour-
My day began when a Vietnam Spirit tour bus operator picked me up from my hotel at 8:30am, right on schedule. We were on our way out of town with the 20 other people by 8:45 am to go explore Halong Bay, one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World. After pretty much doing my own tours the past month or having my own private guide, I had a moment of anxiety when I saw the bus and knew I was going to be on a minute by minute schedule for the next 48 hours, but I was also beyond excited to see Halong Bay. On the flipside, I always meet the best of friends on these types of excursions because you are with the same people for extended amounts of time.
Manh, our 30 year old guide acquainted us with each other and some fun facts about Hanoi. There 7.5 million people in Hanoi and 2 people per motor bike in the city. I was the only American passenger along with Irish, lots of Australians, Canadians, British, Kiwi, and Israeli.
The bus ride was 4 hours, with one stop along the way. We passed by a karaoke district, factories (the biggest one I saw was Canon), electronic super centers, rice fields, some mountains until we arrived at the beautiful landscapes of Halong Bay. The rain was on and off and overcast the whole drive, so I prayed for it to stop so I could enjoy my activities on the bay. I made my first friend on the bus ride, an Irish lady, Brona, a teacher and is living in Bangkok.
Upon arrival at the port, we took a small boat to the “cruise ship” also known as a junk boat. We were greeted with a watered-down welcome drink and given our room keys. The rain started coming down as we left the port and was on and off. Once we were settled, we had to be back in the dining room for lunch. Lunch was a variety of Vietnamese dishes and it was so much food. I sat at a table with other solo travelers and one couple. They became my little family for the boat trip. My table mates were John and Pink from Australia, but originally from Malaysia, Amber from New Zealand but living in Australia, Brona from Ireland living in Thailand and Long from Hanoi, Vietnam.
The cruise itinerary kept you moving the whole time. After lunch, we had 15 minutes to prepare for swimming. We took a boat to a man-made beach on a rock island and started with an optional walk up 470 steps each way to a beautiful vista and then a swim in the warm sea. Thankfully the rain subsided and we were able to enjoy the beach without the rain. While swimming in the warm sea, I met two American teachers from New Jersey, on their summer break also traveling Asia. The drawback of a tour is we had to keep moving on schedule, so after a thirty minute swim, we took the small boat back to the ship. Shortly after returning (like 15 minutes later), we were back in the small boat for our ride to get our kayaks.
Kayaking on Halong Bay was spectacular. We only had an hour, but it was so beautiful and peaceful. I shared a kayak with my new friend Amber. She was very patient rowing me around while I was working on my GoPro skills and taking pictures every minute. The landscape was breathtaking, and just like when I’m in my kayak at home, I never want to go home. The little boat returned us to our cruise.
We had a little bit of time before dinner to enjoy the breathtaking sunset and happy hour drinks on the sundeck. This allowed time to mingle and get to know the other guests. Amber and I did a photoshoot in the sunset on the top of the boat.
Then off to dinner we went, just like lunch- it was way too much food, but we managed to eat another huge meal. Not liking seafood, they would bring me so many extra dishes, that I couldn’t finish even after sharing them. It was great chatting with my tablemates as we became instant friends. After dinner, we played a traditional game with wooden tangrams to make a specific shape. If you were able to make the shape, you could get a free drink, so we worked together to try and figure it out. The kids in my first grade class also do this same activity to build their spatial and logic skills. This game was definitely a weakness, but I wanted my free coffee, but we persevered and finally Long and I earned a free drink
The drawback of the free coffee was I was up until 1am on the sundeck (or moon deck) talking with the Canadians that recently graduated college and were backpacking around the world. I love meeting fellow travelers.
We were scheduled to be up early for sunrise and breakfast, so I had to set an alarm. EEK! After breakfast, we took a boat to a cave. The cave was cool, but there were soooooo many people and very touristy, so at first it was not that enjoyable. It wasn’t until the end when I figured out if you hang back, and let the hundreds of people pass, you really feel like you have the place to yourself. We snapped some (a hundred more) pictures of the bay and off we went back to our cruise boat to check out and get on our way to Hanoi. Just like every beautiful place I visit, I don’t want to leave. I just love sitting there taking it all in.
The cost for the boat was $160 for the 2 days and 1 night trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi. It included transportation, food, accommodations on the boat, and some drinks. The cost is $20 cheaper if you have double occupancy. I booked it in advance through my hotel and most of the others paid around the same price.
Tours and cruises are definitely not for everyone. Being on someone else’s schedule on my vacation is not my favorite, but I do love that I can see a lot of sites and the best part of the tour is meeting wonderful people from around the world and the scenery of Halong Bay.