This UNESCO protected world heritage seascape is one of the most extraordinary places you will ever visit. The bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 sqkm. Filled with stunning caves, floating villages and photogenic views every which way you look, its beauty is known all around the world. Sailing around this majestic place you will feel like you have been transported to the set of a Hollywood movie.
The best way to get to Halong Bay is from the city of Hanoi. Being only 170 Km from one of Vietnam’s most spectacular destinations, unsurprisingly every hotel and tour operator in Hanoi has tickets to sell. Normally we would not advise going on a tour, but on this occasion we most definitely would.
The waters of Halong as seen from Cat Ba Island
There are a few different price ranges for the bay depending on duration, quality and group size. You could spoil yourself and take a luxury cruise, spending your time sailing through the limestone peaks, living it up in 5 star luxury. However this does not come cheap. For a luxury cruise you will pay upwards of $200, depending on the company you choose. We decided on a mid range, 2 day 1 night cruise, costing 70$ per person, with food, activities and transport to and from Hanoi all included. Which was an incredibly good deal as it was in April, the end of the low season. The winter weather is a factor that you should bear in mind when visiting Halong, from November to March there can be cold days of drizzly weather where the romance of the bay can be hard to appreciate. In the high season expect to pay upwards of 100$ for a mid range ticket. Do your homework before buying and research all the different companies available, read the reviews to make sure that you will have a great time. Tripadvisor is a great tool for researching. We did hear of people buying tickets for as little as 30$ but the quality of those cruises was not so good. If you are on a tight budget and do not care about comfort and only wish to see the bay, then you can take these ticket. Though be aware that you will be sharing with a lot of other people and that your experience may not be as good as if you had paid just a few extra dollars more. Take a look at the link to get a general idea of all the different tours and prices: Halong Bay Tours
We booked our cruise through the hostel where we was staying, on the advice of other guests who had just returned from their trip. We checked Tripadvisor and saw that it had many good reviews so we decided to take our cruise with them. Its name was the Halong Party cruise, although partying is kept to a minimum for safety. We had a great time and did not regret it. So for a 70$ 2 days, 1 night tour, what can you expect?
Tour Itinerary, 2 days, 1 night
Your day will start with a 7am pick up from your Hostel/Hotel. From there it is a four hour trip to the port of Halong, stopping only once for food and a toilet break. You will arrive before noon and from there you will be taken to your Junk. Do not worry, Junk is the name of the chinese style boats that you will be sailing on. The Junks of Halong are quite impressive and add a beautiful touch to this wonderful place.
An ancient Chinese style Junk
Once you are on the boat, you will be taken to the onboard restaurant for lunch and while you are eating, you will set sail. The meals they serve are quite nice, we were given rice, vegetables and seafood with a glass of wine or beer followed by a slice of cake. After lunch you will be given your itinerary and other information about Halong. We shared our boat with 18 other people and was given a nice cozy cabin as our room.
Once lunch is over, you will head up onto the sun deck and watch the limestone peaks sail past on your way to your first stop, the incredible Thien Cung cave. Lit by many different coloured lights, this cave has an otherworldly feel. Have your camera ready because you will be taking lots of photos.
The lights of the Thien Cung cave
Once you have finished exploring the cave, you will all return to the boat and head for the famous floating villages and oyster farms. For hundreds of years people have survived this way, living their lives on the floating villages and never stepping foot on land. Unfortunately these days, all that has changed and now they only survive through tourism, even so the villages are still a great site to see.
One of the floating fishing villages of Halong Bay
Once you leave the village it will be time for dinner. The Junk will sail into a safe spot for the night and you can drink and eat with the other guests. On our boat we had a free keg of beer for all of us to drink, so it was long past dark before we went to our cabin.
On day 2 you will wake up, eat breakfast and cruise about the bay until you reach Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is the biggest island in Halong where lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot its spectacular limestone hills. If you wish you can stay on the island and enjoy its many activities, although this is not a part of the basic tour. A friend that we met decided to jump ship and stay the night in one of the hotels on the island. If you do this you will have to buy a new ticket for a boat back to the mainland.
After Cat Ba Island it is then time for your kayaking session, in which you can have a closer look at the limestone karsts and the fishing villages of Halong Bay. Exploring Halong Bay by kayak is something that you will never forget.
Once your Kayak session is over, then unfortunately so is your adventure around Halong Bay. Once you are back on the boat, you will turn and head for the mainland where your bus from the day before is waiting to pick you up and take you back to Hanoi. A lunch is provided at a restaurant before you set off on your journey, although many of the guests from other boats will also be joining, it is quite a cramped affair. After Lunch you will head back to Hanoi. You will be dropped off at the Hostel/hotel where you was picked up, heavy with the memories of your incredible journey.
A Halong local heading home after a day of fishing
Thank you for reading, and we hope that you enjoyed our article. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask, we will help in anyway that we can.
Have you been to Halong Bay? How was your experience? If you have anything to offer, share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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