Halong Bay is Vietnam’s most iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site. It would be impossible to find a more romantic place to visit during a Vietnam vacation.
Around 2,000 islets lie in Halong Bay, off the coast of Northeast Vietnam. Travelers of any budget can choose from a vast variety of boat tours. Whether you are backpacking on a budget and want a group tour or on a short trip and want something luxurious like a private cruise, the choices cater to everyone.
Taking a boat tour of Halong Bay
Halong Bay: How to get there
Vietnam’s bustling city of Hanoi is usually where you start your trip. Hanoi to Halong City is about 4-6 hours away, depending on traffic. Due to our early start, we arrived in Halong City just before lunch after being picked up at 8 am by our coach.
The pier is lined with boats of every type and size waiting to take passengers on tours. Being backpackers, we chose a time that was in the ‘medium’ price range, and in the West, this might not necessarily be considered a medium range. Although the boat was charming, it looked much more ragged than it was. There were only four deck chairs while there were fifteen people in our group, and the brochure indicated that there would be a large deck and plenty of deck chairs. For around a hundred dollars more, the boats looked much better maintained and comfortable.
Considering you will be on the boat for at least one night, you should be well catered for. Compared with his experiences in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, our meal was pretty substandard, and the food was bulk-produced and tasted that way. In my capacity as an insatiable foodie, I certainly expected more seafood and something heartier than toast and too sweet jam for breakfast.
Halong Bay Tour Activities
No matter what kind of tour you choose, you can either relax on a deck chair surrounded by these million-year-old rock formations or try kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling.
Kayaking around Halong Bay’s islets – Vietnam Travel
All of them, including jumping off the top deck of the boat!
On the second day, our tour boat took us to Cat Ba Island, where we had a choice of trekking up to a viewpoint on the island or staying one night in a hotel. Despite being only an hour-long, the trek was one of the hardest we had ever done. Primarily due to the intense monsoon rain that came out of nowhere and the steep terrain. It was a huge relief to reach the top, but it was completely worth it.
Over 500 million years ago, ancient islets were formed. The name ‘Ha Long’ is derived from a Vietnamese legend meaning ‘descending dragon.’ The mythical dragons of ancient Vietnamese legend protected Vietnam by spewing out jewels that became the beautiful rock formations we see today. This is a pretty magical idea, and the beauty of the area proves it.
Our favorite part of the tour was waking up before dawn and watching the sunrise over the bay. My partner and I lay on the top deck overlooking the rising sun illuminating the bay in golden morning rays as the rest of our group slept.
Tips for Halong Bay Boat Tours
Make sure you do your research. After returning from our trip, we realized that most of the catalogs used in hostel and hotel lobby’s to sell the tours use the same stock photos. The boat we took looked very different from the pictures in the brochure.
Consider a higher-end tour if you can. You’ll be glad you did. Quality comes at a price, and hindsight suggests that we could have spent more and that we would have enjoyed much better quality food. For me, this is very important!
Bring sensible footwear if you choose to do the trek on Cat Ba Island. Upon reaching the top, you will find a large metal observation tower. Please do not exceed five people at once. Even though around 30 people were up there with us, we completely missed this and were standing at the top feeling very unsafe. I’d say we turned a sickly shade of pale when we saw the sign.