Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist attractions. We were a little apprehensive about whether it would live up to the hype, especially since we had read some travel blogs indicating that Halong Bay was getting too crowded and polluted. However, we ended up really enjoying our experience there! There are tons of cruise options that run the gamut price-wise. We decided to go with an upper-midrange option. We were concerned about the safety records of the budget options, plus we thought it would be fun to splurge just a little considering that it was only for one night. (Here’s the company we chose.)
Our tour included transportation to and from Hanoi (about 3-4 hours each way), which was a must for us because we didn’t want to deal with public transport. We arrived at the bay around noon, boarded the boat, put our things in our room, and then headed to the dining room for a delicious 5-course lunch.
Our phenomenal lunch consisted of: Hot and Sour Seafood Soup, Vegetable Salad, Stir-Fried Clams with Sweet and Sour Sauce, Steamed Ha Long Shrimp, Bun Cha (Vermicelli Noodles with Pork), Spring Rolls, and Tropical Fruit with Yogurt.
After lunch we enjoyed the view for a while as our boat made its way further out into the bay. It’s kind of unbelievable how the karst formations stretch on and on as far as you can see in every direction.
Eventually, our boat put down its anchor, and it was time to go kayaking! This was the part of our Halong Bay cruise that I was most looking forward to, and it was awesome!
We are definitely not the most skilled kayakers, and we had a constant problem of the boat drifting to one side. There were a few collisions with other kayakers and with rocks, but it was all in good fun.
I will say, I was not entirely prepared for the speed and distance of our kayaking trip. Our guide emphasized how important it was for us to stay in sight of him at all times. All the rock formations basically look the same, so if you’re not familiar with the area, you could get totally lost. The guide was determined to find us a nice private beach on one of the rock formations. Right as we were approaching one, a kayaking group from a different boat appeared, so our guide decided to take us somewhere else. We ended up kayaking for about an hour until we found a good one. I thought my arms were going to fall off!
Once we finally reached the beach, we dragged our kayaks onto the shore and went straight into the water. I mostly just sat submerged in the warm water enjoying the peacefulness and beauty around me.
All too soon it was time to go. I honestly dreaded the thought of paddling all the way back to the boat, but I sucked it up and made it through.
By the time we got back to the boat, I felt like I had really earned a hot shower and a big dinner! Luckily, the rest of the evening was very relaxing.
Before dinner there was a little cooking demonstration where we got to make (and eat) spring rolls.
After the demonstration, we relaxed on the deck, cocktails in hand, and watched the sunset. It was absolutely stunning, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures!
I just love how the colors change as the sun sinks lower in the sky!
Once darkness settled in and the show was over, it was dinnertime. We were served another delicious meal, this one consisting of: Cream of Pumpkin Coup, Grilled Sea Bass, Stir-Fried Prawns with Pineapple, BBQ Pork Ribs with Rice, and Crème Caramel. The food on the boat was seriously delicious.
After dinner, they had a few activities on the boat that you could participate in, including watching a movie or squid fishing. We were so exhausted, though, that we went straight to bed and passed out almost immediately. When we woke up the next morning, the bay was as beautiful as ever.
The activity for the morning was visiting a floating village and pearl farm. Basically, there are communities of people who live out on the water year-round. Their houses are built over the water, and they get around on boats.
We were put onto boats in small groups and rowed around the area for about 30 minutes so we could see the floating village. I was extremely impressed with the woman rowing our boat (and all the rowers) because it clearly took a lot of strength and balance.
At the end they took us to a pearl farm where we watched a brief demonstration of how they farm pearls. I would have been fine with skipping this part of the trip because it felt a little gimmicky. They are clearly hoping that you will buy some pearl jewelry at the pearl farm, although no one was pushy about it.
After the pearl farm, we got back on our boat, packed up our bags, and ate a big brunch while the boat made its way back to solid land.
We were so happy with our decision to go to Halong Bay and to choose this particular tour company! We had a wonderful experience, and we left feeling relaxed and refreshed. And in our minds, Halong Bay totally lived up to the hype. In a country as beautiful as Vietnam, I’m sure there are less famous places that are equally or even more beautiful. But we are glad we took the opportunity to see Halong Bay this time. (And going back to Vietnam to explore less touristed spots is definitely on my list!)