Friday, June 16, 2017

My Unforgettable Halong Bay Cruise (2 Amazing Nights!)

Sitting on the north east coast of Vietnam, Halong Bay is a stunning sprinkling of 1600 islands and caves.

halong bay title

Shortly after arriving in Hanoi, we headed into the city centre and found a random travel agency to book a cruise in Halong Bay. One night or two, the agent asked us. Seeing as it is a 3 hour bus ride from Hanoi to Halong we decided one night was just not worth it.


We were offered a selection of 5 different classes of boats, ranging from basic to super luxury. We decided to pick the middle class, thinking it was a fair price of $300 per person (fully inclusive). Only after we got on the boat and chatted with other groups we found out we were overcharged by $100 per person!

My best advice is to negotiate with your travel agent - they want to make the sell and you don't want to be ripped off - its a win win! And if you're not happy with what they're offering Hanoi is littered with travel agents at every corner of the city centre.

halong bay cruise boat


Every tourist snap I had seen of Halong Bay was taken in picture perfect conditions - bright blue sky on that perfect summers day - so I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the dreary conditions and mist that covered the mountain tops jutting out above the sea. But after the first day I have to admit I found the foggy landscape quite charming. If that still doesn't entice you I have been told the best time for sunny skies and warm weather in Halong is between September and October.

halong bay misty and foggy


We were picked up by coach bus at 8am sharp and made our way to Halong Bay. After having our passports checked (everyone who leaves and returns to the dock is scrutinised) we made our way onto the boat.

The group convened in the dining room and I decided to order myself a traditional Vietnamese coffee which is made of condensed milk and drip coffee (really wakes you up - gonna try this one at home!). Our head guide detailed to us what we would be doing each day, starting with a hike after lunch.

vietnamese drip coffee


After lunch we went to Sung Sot Cave - a colossal cave which is the biggest in Halong. A colourful series of chambers, it was a great way to begin our journey. Dripping with hundreds of thousands of stalactites, our guide pointed out many spectacularly shaped rocks that were shaped like celebrities and other objects.

sung sot cave halong bay

The hardest part of the walk was climbing up the stairs of the cave to reach the exit. But the view was totally worth it!

halong bay view sung sot cave


After our hike those of us with enough energy went on a canoe adventure. My travel companion was exhausted so I did this one alone. I didn't go far from the shore out of fear I would be "swept away" but it was a really relaxing way to end the afternoon in the calm wilderness with no sounds other than myself (although my arms wouldn't necessarily agree with that one).

canoeing halong bay


After dinner we were invited to go jellyfish fishing. Completely different from "normal" fishing, you catch the jellyfish by bobbing a fish shaped hook near bright lights in the water. No one caught anything but it was a still fun first for me.

jellyfish fishing in halong bay


That night was the first time I had spend time in our room - it was pretty stuffy so I didn't spend any time there during the first day. As far as the room goes it has all the basic amenities. I have to admit I wasn't happy with the bathroom - there was no separate shower - you shower in the bathroom on top of the toilet and sink - so I made a resolution I wouldn't bother having a shower until I got back to Hanoi.

cruise boat room halong bay


After breakfast we were dropped off at Titop Island and hiked up the mountain. The view was lovely, but since it was still early the mist was still thick and we couldn't see far into the distance.

At the end of the hike we had a disaster and realised our guide didn't give us instructions what to do after. Our group scattered while some of us waited on the dock hoping our guide would turn up. After almost an hour of waiting a man came to us and confirmed we were going on a day trip with him. Apparently he had spent the last hour frantically trying to find our group.

titop island halong bay


Finally onto the boat we were served a super fresh lunch of seafood caught just that morning and an outline of our day trip.

fresh prawns halong bay lunch


We went on an amazing canoe adventure that was way better than yesterday. We were winding in and out of caves just like the one below. Canoeing in the foggy misty conditions made me realise just how much I was enjoying the misty season in Halong. It was strangely romantic, to be surrounded by only caves, mountains and fog, like something out of a dream.

cave halong bay canoeing

Our group finally made it to the beach for a well needed rest - we had been canoeing for something like an hour and a half at that point. A few brave souls jumped into the cold water but I was happy to appreciate the waves from a distance.

halong bay beach and canoes


After returning to the main boat we made our way to a pearl farm. The entire process was demonstrated to us, how they grew the pearls from infancy to the moment the oysters are opened and the pearls are inspected. We spent about an hour there until we returned to our main boat in the evening.

halong bay pearl farm


Our final morning went at a relaxing pace. We were arriving back on land after lunch so I spent time on the deck admiring the final hours of the scenery. Unlike the other days, the fog cleared up this morning so I got to appreciate the clear view.

halong bay fishing boats


For lunch we were taught how to roll Vietnamese rolls, but since I had already done this in our cooking class in Hoi An I was already a pro! These are so simple I will definitely be making these back home.

halong bay cooking class vietnamese roll


Halong Bay was definitely one of my top experiences in Vietnam - the natural beauty of this UNESCO heritage site was a one of a kind for me. If you are unsure whether to do one night or two I think this unspoiled treasure has more than enough to see - we didn't get bored being stuck on the ship at all like we had anticipated.

halong bay night galaxy sky

Image attribution:
"Vietnam" by Felix Nagel // CC BY 2.0 * ; "Milky Way over Colorado" by Max and Dee Brent // CC BY 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials


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