Halong Bay is a spectacular landscape of emerald waters and limestone pillars, that is a key feature on the Vietnamese bank notes and World Heritage Site. It’s said to have over 1600 islands and islets, some uninhabited by humans, and is definitely a must-do when visiting Vietnam.
There were many options for cruises available (but be aware of scams), but we decided that because we were a little fixed for time that we would pre-book the trip based on a recommendation. We paid 4,994,000 VND (approx £164.75) via VTC Pay about a month before our trip. We chose the 2-day cruise with a twin room with Golden Lotus Cruises.
We were picked up from our hotel around 08:30 am via a minibus and it took a short while to collect others from their hotel. It was around 170km from Hanoi to Halong Bay, all in all, it took around 4 hours on the bus due to traffic with a 30-minute break halfway. We arrived at Bai Chay Harbour around midday, where we boarded one of the boats below to be taken to our junk cruise boat.
Now I won’t lie to you, we were pretty skeptical about our chosen cruise provider upon seeing the boat. From afar, it seemed kind of run-down but we later realised that’s part of the charm and these ‘junk’ boats are in fact part of the experience. During the cruise, we were anchored in the water with many other cruise boats anchored nearby, so we spotted a few luxurious ones but they were much larger – we were grateful for our small boat.
Once aboard our junk boat, we were given a welcome drink, shown to our cabin, and received a briefing for safety on board. I was pleasantly surprised with our twin room, it was cosy, clean, and private with an ensuite. There was no wifi on board.
By this time it was around 1 pm is and we settled in for lunch of seafood, pork, vegetables, and rice to get to know our shipmates. Altogether, there were no more than six of us on board including a young couple around the same ages who we struck up a friendship with. Lunch was included in the price but drinks were additional, except a bottle of water provided on both the bus and in our cabin.
During lunch, we were sailing towards Sung Sot Cave which we reached by a smaller ‘tender’ boat. On dry land, we walked up 100 steps to the cave entrance with around 45 minutes to explore. It’s said to be one of the biggest and most beautiful caves in Halong Bay and was actually founded by the French who called it the “Grotte des Surprises” or ‘surprise cave’.
Our next stop was Ti Top island, a picture-perfect paradise, or as someone else described it – neverland. It’s crescent-moon shaped with blue waters and white sand, we had enough time to climb to the top for a panoramic view and paddle on the beach to the setting sun.
Back on the boat with the sun officially set, we took part in a short cooking class where we made these crispy spring rolls before tucking into dinner alongside our creation.
Stomachs full, we tried our hands at squid fishing off the side of the boat with little success before retreating to the deck with a can of local beer overlooking the nighttime views of Halong Bay.
The next morning we tucked into a light breakfast as before we spent some time kayaking around the surrounding waters.
Before long it was time to check out of our cabins and spend some time lounging on the deck taking in the breathtaking views as we made our way back via a different route to the pier in which we started, to then be transported back to Hanoi where we arrived around 4.30 pm. This gave us a few hours to refresh and eat before an overnight sleeper bus for our next adventure in Sapa.