Part of my short sojourn in Hanoi was a half day cruise along Halong Bay. I was a bit skeptical about this tour after reading a few comments online saying it didn’t live up to expectations. But since I wanted to see as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as I can, I set aside whatever reservations I had of this place.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of over 1,900 islands and islets of mostly limestone formations. It is a top tourist destination in Vietnam and because of this, there are tons of companies offering different tour packages ranging from a half day tour to a five-day cruise. Booking online though might not be the best option for budget travelers as they tend to cost more…a lot more.
The prices I found online were ranging from $60-$100 for a day tour which was over my allotted budget. It was a case of finding something cheaper or just dropping it from the itinerary. I didn’t want to give up easily so I intensified my search and started contacting people. It took a while but I did eventually struck a bargain with our hostel. I can’t tell you though how much this tour cost as we paid our hotel a fixed rate that includes trekking in Sapa and all our private transfers. I will post another article on our expenses in Hanoi.
We only had one day to see Halong Bay so our hostel in Hanoi arranged for a half day tour. The boat was departing from Tuan Chau Harbor, which is a four hour drive from the capital. When we got to the harbor, our driver contacted our tour guide, who handed us our tickets. We were part of a group tour. I’d say around 25-30 people if not more.
What’s included in the tour:
– Welcome Drink
– Safety briefing
– Lunch with Vietnamese dishes
– Floating Village
– “Kayaking , Bamboo boat rowing
– Visiting Thien Cung Cave (Heaven Cave)
The tour started with a brief introduction and a few reminders. After that they started serving lunch. There was so much food. Too bad I wasn’t able to take photos and eat much because halfway into our meal, we started cruising through the limestone karst. I chose scenery over food by going up the roof deck to enjoy the view. By the time I came back down the dining area, the crew was already cleaning up.
On a side note, if you are allergic to seafood, inform your tour company ahead of time as their main dishes are mostly seafood. One of my friends is allergic so we informed the hotel early and they coordinated with the tour company. She was given a separate main course. But it actually looked like an appetizer cause the portion was so small.
We made a quick stop in front of the “Kissing Chickens” shown below.
This tour includes kayaking or boat rowing. Since we are a group of five with only one person who can swim, we opted for the boat. The boats have local rowers, you may just chance up on one who will serenade you with Vietnamese folk songs. (that’s what they sounded like to me)
Our last stop for the day was Thien Cung Cave or the Heavenly Palace Cave. It is said to be the most beautiful cave in Halong Bay. Inside you will see unique stalagmites and stalactites formations. Your guide will point out the most interesting ones. So do not wander on your own.
According to legend, a wedding took place in this cave. Find out who got hitched here by asking your guide.
I have to say Halong Bay exceeded my expectations. I guess reading those not so good feedbacks benefited me in the end. I still think the waters and formations of El Nido are better than those of Halong. But the massive number of the islets gives it a different kind of charm. It was also a very foggy day and cruising through the fog added more character and mystique to it. Also it was such a different feel, like you’re on board the Black Pearl entering Whitecap Bay.
If you are heading to Hanoi and planning to cross out Halong Bay because of the expense, ask your hotel if they can hook you up with a much cheaper tour. Our trip was arranged by Tomodachi House. Go and give them a Halong holler.