Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam's most popular destinations. Just a few hours away from Hanoi on the coast, thousands of limestone cliffs jut up from the sea like giant stone fangs. Ha Long Bay, meaning "The Bay of the Descending Dragon", was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 because of the bay's breathtaking natural beauty and amazing geographical features.
When you are staying in Hanoi, you'll see travel agencies on every corner selling day trip packages to Ha Long Bay. What are these tours like, and are they worth the money?
We booked a one-day package tour. You can find identical tours for sale at literally every guesthouse in Hanoi, and at every travel agency located on every corner of the Old Quarter. In short, don't worry too much about shopping around; every package will be the same, and you can book them anywhere!
We were picked up at our hotel at 8:00am. Although we were told that it would be a three-hour drive from Hanoi to Ha Long, it ended up taking over five hours. The roads were in poor condition, and the traffic was heavy and slow. We arrived at the marina just past 1pm, and were led to our boat.
Before departing from the marina, we were served a family-style seafood lunch on board the boat. Maybe I was just starving because we hadn't eaten all day, but the food tasted pretty good - especially the spring rolls! Lunch is included, but drinks, including water, cost extra.
Be sure to order a can of Ha Long Beer!
After lunch, we cruised out into the bay. All of the passengers headed upstairs to the upper deck for some sun and the nice breeze.
Kayaking at the Floating Village
After sailing around the bay, the boat made a stop at the floating village for kayaking. Kayaking costs a bit extra ($5), and you can row around the village and nearby cliffs.
The people in this small fishing village spend nearly all their time in the water. There is even a small floating school that students kayak to and from every day for their lessons!
Hang Dau Go Cave
Next, the boat anchored at one of the bay's larger islands. All of the passengers disembarked and climbed the steep stone stairs up to the Hang Dau Go Cave.
The boat picked us up at a dock at the cave's exit, and we departed the island back to Ha Long about 45 minutes later. From there, we were ushered back to our bus for the return trip to Hanoi.
We were back in the Old Quarter around 8:30pm.
One Day Tour: $25-35
Day Tour or Overnight?
So is the trip worth it? Yes, although you will feel rushed and a bit exhausted afterwards. A few hours in the bay isn't really enough time to thoroughly enjoy all the natural beauty, but a one-day tour makes sure to hit all of Ha Long Bay's biggest highlights.
Ideally, spend a bit more money and book an overnight luxury cruise to enjoy the bay at a more lesurly pace.