There are an array of companies that offer a 2 day/1 night boat tour of Halong Bay from Hanoi (you can also do 3 day/2 night which includes Cat Ba island and a stay at a hotel I think) that it is quite overwhelming. The streets of Hanoi are basically lined with hostels, bars, coffee shops and tour operators, all of high roughly offer the same sort of arming levels of quality and price. The best thing to do, I found, was obtain the names of the companies actually running the tour and Google these to really find out what you would be getting. I ended up booking with Fantasea deluxe cruises for 85 usd (most things in Hanoi – especially hostel accommodation and tours – are quoted in usd but this is basically 65 quid) via my hostel, but I think other people on the tour paid slightly less depending on which hostel or agency the booked it through.
I was picked up in a minivan at around 8:30am and, once we had picked everyone up and including the half hour stop along the way, we arrived at the harbour at around 12:30. We took a small boat to our bigger boat and started off by having a delicious lunch in the dining room, which comprised of about 7 Vietnamese dishes to share including some delicious fish and quid dishes. After lunch we were given the keys to our room, where I was sharing in a twin room with a Dutch woman called Femke. I was impressed by our room, which was clean and cosy and had decent facilities, plus our window offered amazing views of the bay.
We then began our “cruise” for about 2 hours on the boat, taking in the spectacular sights of Halong bar from the deck. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place, despite all the boats you see, and was wonderful to just lay back on a sun lounger and absorb all of the 1969 islands in the bay!
Our first stop was to Sung Sot cave (the translation of which is apparently “amazing”), the formation of which has been shaped by wind, seawater and rain. You climb up about 100 steps to reach the cave and there are 3 sections once you are inside. Our tour guide, Tinh, told us some of the history and how, during the colony, the French had named many of the formations inside the cave after animals that they appeared to be in the shape of (some of which required a lot of imagination!) The cave itself was interesting and definitely incredible to see how nature works, but it was a shame they had added purple and green lights rather than allow e natural light of outside (or use a white light) to aid sight.
We then went back onto the boat for about an hour before we stopped again to do some late-afternoon kayaking in the open sea. Having already done kayaking in Vang Vieng I felt more comfortable this time, although the water became quite choppy at one point and we had to turn back, which actually allowed us some great views of the sun setting over the bay as we kayaked back to our boat.
We showered and then ate another incredible meal (really impressed by the quality of the food, which I didn’t expect on a mass tour) before being shown how to do Squid Fishing (where you have to wait a minimum of 45 minutes, whilst bobbing the bamboo rod, for anything to happen, which I just do not have the patience for) and then join in on some trashy, classic karaoke. I badly blasted out a Spice Girls track (Say You’ll Be There, obvs) before letting someone less screechy take over.
I then headed up to the top deck of the boat to lay back on a sun lounger and gaze at the stars; one of my favourite things to do and (just like with the sun set) seeing the same stars no matter where you are in the world is such a comforting and humbling experience. The world is so wonderful.
After having one of my best nights sleep, we woke up to have breakfast at 7:15am (eugh) before stopping at Ti Top island. You have to pay to get in but this was covered by our tour, and you then climb up to the top of the mountain for the BEST views across Halong Bay. Hot and sweaty, I climbed back down to swim in the water just off the small beach (one of the only places in Halong Bay you can officially swim) – it wasn’t the coolest of dips, but it wiped off the sweat at least.
Once back on the boat we showered and checked out of our rooms before heading back to the harbour. On the way (about a 2 hour journey back) we had a Vietnamese cooking class (showing us how to make both fresh and fried spring rolls) where we happily got to eat the ones we made, before having our final meal on the boat of another delicious lunch. We arrived back to the harbour around 1pm and got on a minivan back to Hanoi, arriving at my hostel around 5pm.
Although 65 quid is the maximum I would ideally want to spend over 2 days travelling and I ended up spending more than this when you account for the extra drinks I bought and my second night accommodation, it was so worth it and I would highly recommend a trip to Halong Bay.