Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, often billed as one of the must-see sights of Vietnam. The most popular way to experience the bay is by booking a tour with the many cruises available. The only thing you should compare is the price as they all have the exact same itinerary. And also decide whether you want just a day cruise, overnight cruise or three-day cruise.
Cruises range from $45USD to the luxury ones costing upwards of $200USD. I’d read horror stories on TripAdvisor about the cheaper ones where staff earned their wages from drink purchases made onboard and made customers feel extremely uncomfortable if they didn’t buy them.
We chose an overnight cruise for $100USD, while it wasn’t luxurious, the rooms were decent. We had aircon, a bathroom with shower and were fed a great deal of food. We visited Halong Bay in July and by then all the cruise ships or ‘junks’ as they’re called, were painted white, and terribly too. On some of the junks, white paint was simply sloshed on top of the gorgeous mahogany. And as a result, there were patches where the original shade of brown were showing through. I’ve found varying reasons given for this:
1) Authorities are implementing this ridiculous measure for the safety of tourists sleeping overnight on junks. (I don’t see how this is even a problem given the junks are anchored at night)
2) Painting them white improves the overall appearance of junks in Halong Bay. (Well done… whatever kind of an eyesore they were before, which they were not, now they’re a complete white eyesore)
Something to keep in mind when you’re excitedly flipping through pamphlets, they will still have images of junks when they were brown but all junks have since been painted white. I’ll stop harking about the junks’ aesthetics, it’s the bay’s aesthetics that really matter.
Boarded a mini-van from our hotel in Hanoi to the loading dock, which took about 2 hours and it was probably another two on the junk before we saw any limestone islets.
As cliched as I’m about to sound, Halong Bay was truly, breathtakingly stunning. The beauty of the numerous limestone islands and emerald-green water during a sunset is unparalleled. Some parts of the bay, like outside Sung Sot caves was a little polluted but nevertheless, this is a highly recommended experience if you decide to visit Vietnam.
Ash and I shared our table with another couple from Denmark. Fortunately, they were patient with us while all the food photos were taken.
When we embarked – we had a light lunch soon thereafter.
Lunch was enjoyed with some sights of the bay and afterwards, some cave exploring.
After the cave visit, we had a few hours before dinner. The cruise we went with offered activities for some energetic individuals, like kayaking.
Dinner was a feast of Vietnamese dishes – even when shared with three other people, I still felt full at the end.