Halong Bay was on my check list of must see places for a long time. Because I was staying in Hanoi for a little while I had the perfect opportunity to book a tour and visit one special place deemed worthy as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
My tour to Halong Bay was booked through the hotel I was staying at, the Hanoi Golden Palace. I can’t remember correctly and I should have written it down but the tour cost around $45USD to $55USD. Tour packages have prices ranges according to the hotel. They said if you want a more private comfortable tour with better food you have to pay a little more.
So we chose the better package because we don’t want to be crammed in a big bus full of people. And who doesn’t want better food? But I suspect we could’ve gotten a better tour price if we went and booked directly at a tour agency office which there are plenty all around Hanoi. But that’s for a different post.
Halong Bay is about a 3 to 3.5 hour drive and that’s including a short stop over at a souvenir/rest stop. And along the way our tour guide would share a little history about Vietnam as well as the itinerary. But I really enjoyed the stories he shared about life in Vietnam.
After a nice nap on the tour bus we finally arrived at a port where all the boats are shored up to take tourists out to Halong Bay. The weather was hot even though the sky was hazy the sunlight was spread out so you could still feel the heat. But the humidity was the real killer. Oh, and be prepared to be hounded by local ladies selling hats and sunglasses. They are a bit aggressive but totally harmless.
After passing through the ticket gate we met up with our tour guide by the boat waiting take us to Halong Bay. When I saw the boat with all of its windows opened up I knew there was no air con inside. Luckily there isn’t a lot of people within our tour group so it wouldn’t be too stuffy.
The boat ride took about 45 minutes but in between that time lunch was served. All the guests were broken up into their own groups but in our group since it was the smallest a straggler joined our table. Which wasn’t a problem because there was enough food to go around. The real winner were the shrimps! It was so fresh! Served simply too with just some salt, lime and chiles.
After lunch you can lounge upstairs where it’s cooler as the boat moves through the South China Sea with huge limestones looming along the horizon towards Halong Bay.
There are many limestone cliffs leading the way to a cove where rafts with locals waiting to take tourists along a route through entrances underneath the cliffs.
The raft ride took about 30 to 40 minutes and the boat man or boat lady will take you around the cove. It’s not really an exciting tour as all you see are limestone cliff faces upon limestone cliff faces. But it is what it is, a UNESCO Heritage attraction.
Next stop on the tour and not far away is Paradise Cave. It’s a massive, limestone cave, surprise, surprise. But if the light and time of day is right you can land a picture like the one below…
I’ve always wanted to take a picture of a large shaft of light coming down. Not really lots of opportunity to do so unless you travel to caves often.
Paradise cave has a short passage through the cave that is lit up full of colors like a bowl of Froot Loops cereal. There are lots and lots of colors. And as usual your tour guide will point out that certain stalagmites and stalactites look like figures of Vietnamese lore. On the plus side inside of the cave is cool. Also there are no tight spaces inside. I’ve been to other caves with tight spaces. Not a good feeling.
Once out it was time to head back to the boat. But the weather was getting bad and the waters was getting choppy. So all the boats were warned not to leave until the weather improves. I overheard a couple speak to a tour guide that they had to catch a train back in Hanoi. So keep that in mind if you’re planning on visiting Halong Bay you’re at the mercy of the weather regarding your travel plans.
Halong Bay is a nice little day trip out of Hanoi. But I have to say, if you’ve been to Phuket in Thailand you’ll have that deja vu feeling. It’s all just limestone cliffs. I’m not saying I had a bad time. I still love traveling. And if you’re in Hanoi with plenty of days to explore other parts, why not check out Halong Bay?
But next time if I come back I would like to spend a night over at Cat Ba Island which has a beach and is adjacent to Halong Bay. Something I should’ve planned on doing ahead of time.