After seeing so many photos of Ha Long Bay, I knew I had to make this part of my SE Asia itinerary. I secured my visa to Vietnam at their embassy in San Francisco, paid $80(Sadly i believe prices have gone up to 150!) and came back 3 days later to pick up my passport. My first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi! I loved the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter, and the rich history there. I picked Hanoi as my first stop mostly because of it's proximity to Ha Long Bay. Before I left, I was doing so much research online about Ha Long Bay tours but was overwhelmed and still felt I didn't have a clear answer. I am glad I waited until in Vietnam to book because there were so many more options! In Hanoi, you can't walk more than 100 feet without seeing another tour shop selling you tours of Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Motorbike tours, and more. It's better, cheaper, and easier to just wait til you arrive in Vietnam to book. I felt reassured that there were so many possibilities, but I booked my Ha Long Bay overnight tour through the hostel I stayed at(Flipside Hostel). They had two options: chill out cruise or party cruise. Both cruises had the same itinerary, except the party cruise provided you with more alcohol...I ended up opting for the chill out cruise for 1 night(there is a second option for 2 nights, where you sleep on Cat Ba island for the second night). You leave early from Hanoi around 6-7 am. The drive is about 3 hours but you stop halfway through at a small indoor mini mall-many tours in Asia do this in hopes you will buy something. After that, you will arrive at the docks in Ha Long Bay. We took a smaller boat our to where our overnight boat was anchored.
The accomodation was really nice, and each room had its own shower/toilet. Definitely nicer than some of the hostels I had been in!
The tour also included food, and it is practically buffet style. They will keep bringing sharing plates until you are so full you cannot possibly eat anymore!
There is so much time spent just cruising the bay, admiring the sites. Our boat had a rooftop deck for sunbathing and hanging out. I just could not stop looking around as everything was so gorgeous and felt surreal to finally be there. It was so nice to have time on my trip to simply relax and just be, rather than feeling rushed to go go go to all the sites.
Seriously, pictures don't even do justice to how stunning it is in person!
Towards the end of the first day, we made it to a spot for Kayaking. This was probably the most fun part! After we got out of the kayaks we had some time to swim around as well.
We had another amazing buffet dinner on the ship after anchoring for the night. They offered a lot of activities and an on board bar. My new friend Sarah and I sat at the back of the boat with our drinks and just talked for hours staring out into the black sky and dark water. We saw so many jellyfish pass by the boat, huge, with long tentacles up to 10 feet long! I also saw the most trash I have ever seen in my life. So many things in the water made me so sad, unsure whether it was all tourists, or I've heard sometimes it's locals too. We tried to use the fishing poles on the boat to remove plastic bags, etc. It was only semi recently that Ha Long Bay has become a world heritage site.
The next day was only a half day and we spent most of it cruising. They took us to a pearl "farm" as well and we learned about how they grew pearls here in Ha Long Bay. It was interesting but I think I would've skipped it if I had the chance, or gone kayaking again. It was just another stop where they try to sell you something that the end.
I seriously still can't get over the beauty of Ha Long Bay. It is true that it has become more filled with tourists and tourboats in the recent years, but when you are out there cruising you really don't notice any boats at all, sometimes I just marveled in the serenity as it felt like we were the only ones there!