One of the most popular sights in northern Vietnam is the stunningly beautiful, limestone outcrops, scattered across Halong Bay. One of best ways to see Halong Bay up close, is probably to take an organised tour, staying over night on the boat.
Ordinarily we would try and avoid organised tours because they tend to be too touristy. Also, they cost more than doing the activities yourself and almost always include aspects that don’t interest us. However, we had a limited amount of time in Vietnam this time round and therefore leaving the planning to someone else, was much easier.
Cost: $85 per person, total cost $170. (We booked it through an agency and got a “special rate”. It should have cost $110 per person).
– Transfers to and from Halong Bay
– Overnight stay on the boat
– 4 meals (L & D on day 1, B & L on day 2)
– Kayaking in Halong Bay
– Vietnamese spring roll making demonstration
– Cruising around Halong Bay on the boat
– Any and all drinks from the bar
– Tips for staff
– Food purchased at stops during transfers
overview The Tour – day 1
We were picked up from our hostel at 8.30am. Five hours later and the 14 of us arrived at the jetty. The sight of hundreds of boats greeted us, all of varying levels of luxury. We grabbed our bags, jumped on a small ferry and were conveyed to a lovely looking boat. We had arrived!
After checking into our rooms and a quick explore of the boat, it was time for lunch. All of the dishes we were served, were absolutely delicious. There was plenty of vegetarian options for C and plenty of meat/seafood for me. I tried squid and cooked oysters for the first time and loved them!
Next up was the kayaking. We climbed into the kayaks straight off the side of our smaller boat and off we went. Paddling towards and then through a cave tunnel, so narrow that our paddles grazed the walls on the way, we emerged into a beautiful open-air cavern. The water was surrounded by towering, greenery covered, limestone rock faces. Kayaking lasted around an hour or so, hence we returned to the boat with tired arms.
Back on the boat, we engaged in the exhilarating activity of jumping off the side of the boat. Clambering over the railing on the top deck and plummeting into the green water was invigorating. You can check out the video of us jumping using the link above.
After another wonderfully tasting meal of meats, seafood and vegetables, the group gathered to watch the sun set across the captivating views, drink in hand. After what must have been a thousand photos were taken, our host, Rocky, gathered us together to start the drinking games, and that’s when the partying began!
overview of the tour – day 2
Day 2 began with a delicious breakfast spread. We heard all about the escapades of the previous night and early into the morning. Most of the morning was spent cruising around the bay, with everyone nursing hangovers. A second boat off-loaded its passengers on to ours part way through. They had spent an additional night on an island and needed to be ferried back to land.
We were treated to a vietnamese spring roll making demonstration and had a go at making them ourselves. These were then included in the cooked lunch that was served, however the quality of this didn’t match up to the previous day.
The trip came to an end and we clambered onto the jetty. An hour’s wait for the minibus passed and then we were on our way back to Hanoi.
In comparison to other trips we had been on, we feel that $85 was rather expensive. However, this is a reflection of how popular and commercialised this experience has become. It is far more than we would ordinarily spend and yet this was a low to mid range tour cost. There are plenty of agencies offering tours and we had come across some for as little as $40-$50 per person. However, we had been warned about these including sub-standard boats, trips to commission based sites and being overly crammed with people.
The majority of the food was absolutely delicious and C, as a vegetarian, was well catered for. The boat itself was lovely, comfortable and well maintained. For the first day we had just the right number of people on board. Joining with the second boat on day 2 meant there were probably too many people. In addition, due to lingering hangovers the spring roll demonstration was slightly less enjoyable.
Finally, I would also say that the tour should be re-labelled 1-day – 1-night. This is due to two half days being spent in the minibus driving back and forward from Hanoi, rather than actually seeing anything.
The spectacular views and the kayaking around the bay and through caves, into an open air rock cavern, were awesome. Furthermore, the exhilaration of jumping off the side of the boat (not allowed on all tours), made for a really fun trip. The social aspect of meeting the other people on our tour and playing lots of drinking games, also added to the enjoyment.
In conclusion, we would give it an overall score of 7.5 out of 10
Have you been to Halong Bay? Did you go on the party cruise, a different organised tour, or did you go it alone? Get in touch below!