As the weather in northern Vietnam cleared up, I checked the weekend weather report and decided to book a tour of the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay.
The hotel concierge suggested I take a two-day tour because otherwise I’d spend most of a one-day tour on a bus. He was right, and I’m glad I booked the overnight cruise instead.
The city of Halong is only about 91 miles from Hanoi, but the road isn’t an easy one to drive — there’s a lot of traffic and construction, so we drove at a comfortable 25 mph for most of the journey. It really took about three and a half hours to drive that far.
Choosing a Halong Bay cruise
My tour was through Du Gong Sails, which was number three on the list of recommended tours from concierge at Hanoi Graceful where I was staying (the other two were a bit more expensive, but provided more comfort as well). This one was $100 for the two days in a single room — it would’ve been about $75 per person if I shared a room.
The boat did not look nearly as nice as it did in the brochure at the hotel, but at least it looked about as good when I got to my cabin. It looked nice enough and was comfortable for sleeping. It’s not like I need luxury for a night on a boat. I was more interested in the food and the tour anyway — and the food was good and plentiful. There was also a nice rooftop deck that was great for photos.
Checking out the caves on Halong Bay
The first stop on the tour was Surprising Cave. The big surprise was that there were a few hundred tourists lined up to get into the huge cave. The cave itself is large and impressive, though the crowd takes a bit of the awe away from it.
Kayaking from the floating village
From the cave, we headed to a nearby floating village, which in itself wasn’t all that interesting, but it had kayaks. Unfortunately, we were only able to kayak for about 40 minutes before we had to head back to the ship. It didn’t leave us much time to go exploring around the karst islands unless we paddled hard. I was also the odd man out as I didn’t have a partner to share a two-person kayak, which isn’t so bad when considering that you have to coordinate paddling with a partner. During trips like these, I wish I had invested in a waterproof camera case — I had to leave my camera on the boat for this.
If I could do the trip again, I would definitely find a tour that had at least three hours for kayaking. I saw other people kayaking through caves and around more interesting islands.
I felt like we returned to the ship a little earlier than we should have, though I’d guess in summer there’d be more daylight hours to enjoy the outdoor activities. After dinner, we were supposed to have karaoke, but just about everyone decided to head for their rooms instead of staying in the dining room for some fun. I sat with a few fellow travelers and enjoyed some Ha Long Beer.
Hanging out with the cruise mates
Unfortunately, there was a crazy Brit who decided to buy a liter of Jägermeister to share with the five of us who stayed up for drinks and conversation. It was a good reminder of why I don’t like Jäger. But at least we had entertainment.
The next day we cruised around Halong Bay after breakfast. We sat around watching the karst islands pass by. It reminded me of my cruise down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo, but the weather was much better in Vietnam.
Pollution at Halong Bay
I’ve read more than a few articles and internet comments about the pollution at Halong Bay. It seems that most were made more than a year ago. But there are still plenty of recent comments that mention the smog. Earlier comments mentioned garbage in the water, of which I saw little. There was definitely a haze that’s generated from the filthy boat engines and all the traffic going to and from the city. Fortunately, the haze wasn’t too bad for most of the time I was there.