During our 3 day trip to Hanoi, we booked a Ha Long Bay day trip through our hotel (Sans Souci IV hotel). We could have shopped around and booked a tour when we were in Hanoi, but because of our short time available, we didn’t want to risk not seeing the very place we came to Vietnam for. Our hotel booked us the day trip for $50 per person through Indochina Junk. This is how our day went:
We were picked up around 8am and were escorted to the large bus filled with tourists. We were given a bottle of water and a snack, and we started our long journey to Ha Long Bay. Our tour guide was a friendly, joke telling man. He may have had a few translation issues, but we understood his sense of humor. It is true what they say, the Vietnamese are very friendly. On our way there, we stopped at a restaurant/market/shop for refreshments and the usual tourist shopping (I generally avoid buying from these places, they are usually more expensive as they cater only for tourists, at exorbitant prices). After this stop we continued our journey onwards.
We eventually made it to Ha Long Bay after a 4-5 hour bus ride. The roads were fine, the driver was great, but it was still a very long trip to make, and due to time issues, we were going to repeat the journey in a couple of hours again. Our boat was called the Alova cruise. They sat us at tables on the boat with various other tourists, and we were given a spread of food to eat. I can’t really rave about the food, as the prawns and fish were ice cold. This wouldn’t have been as bad on a summer day, but it was cold and raining that day, which added to the unpleasantness. As they say, we learn lessons in life, this was my big tour lesson. From now on, I will only request vegetarian foods, as I don’t eat shellfish and that makes up a large portion of the food offerings.
As we sat in the boat enjoying the journey, we were taught about how the legend refers to the cliffs as the sleeping dragon – all the cliffs making up the spine of the dragon. We all took our photos, and then we docked at a midwater jetty which had small boats and kayaks. everybody from our tour boat and surrounding boats chose to get in all the small boats operated by Vietnamese folk. John and I, and one other couple elected to rather get into the kayaks and risk getting wet for the sake of some space and peace. This was the best decision we made on our entire vacation. we paddled through to the section of the water enclosed by smooth, glassy water, and while we were all alone in this cove like area, we managed to spend a few minutes of absolute silence and peace.
Eventually our kayak experience had to come to an end, and wet from rain, we climbed out and back into our junk boat. We then cruised onto the next stop, which was a cliff that we could walk through and view the stalactites and stalagmites. This was a very crowded stop on the tour, and we had to slowly explore the caves inside the cliffs. We didn’t really like how the caves were lit up in various colors, almost like a colorful light display. This created a fake illusion.
Once back on our junk boat, we started off again. We passed some cliffs that looked like chickens. The cliffs are apparently known as the fighting cocks, and you can see why by this picture inserted. You can also see how cold and dreary it was. We decided that we were happier that it was misty and grey, as it added to the eeriness of the day and the mystery of the dragon tale.
There were many boats in the water on this day trip, and although I feel like we have seen Ha Long Bay, I would definitely recommend staying a night or two on the junk boats, or even in town. The long 4-5 hour bus ride back to Hanoi isn’t an inviting thought. The seats were comfortable enough so we could take a nap, but it is still a long time to be seated for a day trip.
We got back to our hotel after 8pm, and we felt exhausted yet ecstatic that we had finally ticked Ha Long Bay off our bucket list. Would I recommend it for a visit? Hell yes! As mentioned before, just try not to rush it in one day, unless you really have no choice with timing.