About a four drive from the city of Hanoi lies Ha Long Bay, famous for its jade waters and towering limestone karsts. We had done some research on DIY tours, but because you seem to end up on the same tourist boats in either case, we decided to save ourselves some stress and booked an organized tour from our hotel.
We were picked up in a small van along with about 10 other people and driven to the coastal town of Halong City, the primary gateway to Halong Bay. Once there, we got off the bus and were lead to the harbor, where we boarded the junk boat that would be our home for the next two days.
We were given a large (but un-special) lunch as we sailed across the water to another harbor, where we got off the boat to go kayaking! We were surprised to find that it was much sunnier and warmer here than in Hanoi, which really topped off our spectacular journey around the bay.
Next, we were taken to “Surprise Cave,” located within Bo Hon Island. After walking through a narrow passage, the cave opened up into a huge underground oasis of stalactites and other rock formations. We didn’t get many good photos of the cave because our Nikon died, but it was truly spectacular to walk through and explore.
After visiting the cave, we got back on our boat and enjoyed a sunset cruise through Halong Bay.
After another large but average meal the guests were invited to lounge on the deck and indulge in overpriced drinks. Through all of this (including dinner) the crew was playing loud electronic music and flashing rave lights in the dining room. (It is unknown as to whether this was supposed to be for our enjoyment.) We found this to be hilarious, but it disgruntled several of the other passengers. We ordered a couple of pina coladas and sipped rum splashed with coconut milk as we enjoyed the quiet darkness of the bay.
We retired to our small but comfortable room, equipped with a double bed, private bathroom, and large windows. Aside from the rats skittering in the ceiling all night, we slept relatively well and undisturbed.
The next morning, we were given breakfast as we made our way to Cat Ba Island, where we dropped off some of the passengers who would be staying there another night. Then we headed back through the bay to Halong City.
After lunch, we were back on dry land and on the 4 hour bus back to Hanoi.
We debated over taking another night bus straight away to our next destination, but we were pretty exhausted and decided another night in Hanoi was a better idea. We found a private room for $10 in an Old Quarter hostel, dropped our stuff, and headed for Ly Van Phuc, also known as “BBQ Chicken Street” where patrons are served freshly barbecued chicken wings, thighs, and feet.
It was about a 45 minute walk, but we figured after sitting on a boat/bus all day, we could use the exercise. When we finally got there, it was pretty dark and there were no other tourists to be found. It was a little unnerving as we walked by each establishment, getting stares from all the way down the street, but I think it was mostly because they were waiting to see which vendor we would choose. They all look exactly the same and serve the exact same items, so we went ahead and picked one for no particular reason.
We decided that after coming such a long way, we best try several items, so we ordered 4 wings, 2 thighs, honey roasted sweet potatoes, and flattened banh my bread toasted and coated in honey. It was soooo worth the 45 minute walk and I would highly recommend anyone going to Hanoi to make the journey!
As we made our way back to the Old Quarter, we heard music as we approached the street our hostel was on. On the corner where we were staying, there was a group of Vietnamese people playing traditional instruments for all of the people on the street! An awesome way to end the night!
Day 1: Halong Bay
2-Halong Bay Cruise: 5,095,000vnd ($238.55 USD) *
Booze: 320,000vnd ($14.98 USD)
Day 1 Total Spent: 5,415,000vnd ($253.53 USD)
*We got ripped off on this big time by our hotel. Other guests on the boat said they only paid $70 each for the same tour.
Day 2: Halong Bay/Hanoi
Ice Cream: 25,000vnd ($1.17 USD)
Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)
BBQ Chicken: 246,000vnd ($11.52 USD)
Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)
Accommodation: 220,000vnd ($10.30 USD)
Day 2 Total Spent: 511,000vnd ($23.93 USD)