Last Updated on October 15, 2018 by Natasha Amar
The dramatic karst scenery of Vietnam’s Halong Bay is no stranger to the ‘Top Places…’, ‘Must See…’ and ‘Top 10…in Asia’ lists that dominate much of the travel blogosphere. One look at the images of these mighty limestone structures rising in the middle of the sea and I knew that I had to go, even though I was pressed for time and the weather wasn’t particularly cooperative. I chose a day cruise to Halong Bay on a foggy February afternoon, deciding not to stay overnight and make the four hour long journey back to Hanoi instead.
The day began early and it did not look very promising with the sun wrapped up nice and cozy in a thick cloud of fluff. After everyone was picked up from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the bus was finally on its way, stopping briefly at a huge souvenir store selling overpriced items. When we finally arrived at Halong Bay, the sun had slowly started to appear, making the group a little optimistic.
Once we were sailing, the clouds cleared up and we could see the beautiful landscape dotted with many boats just like ours. It’s no secret that Halong Bay is very touristy and this puts many people off. But I did not mind this, I could easily see why it’s so popular and I’m generally not fussy about these things. After all, regardless of what we like to call ourselves, sometimes we’re all tourists.
Thien Cung Cave
There are a number of operators offering similar day cruises but the quality varies according to price. As warned by travelers in internet forums, you do get what you pay for. So to really enjoy the experience, I recommend avoiding the cheapest options. The route and itinerary followed by cruise ships on the day tour are the same, the difference lies in the condition of the boats, the service and the quality of the food served onboard.
I visited Halong Bay on the Cristina Cruise that I booked through my hotel and paid $50 for Deluxe Class (inclusive of bamboo boat rowing and lunch). The service was very good, the boat was well maintained and clean. At lunchtime, we were served an excellent lunch of spring rolls and an assortment of seafood, chicken, tofu, rice and noodle dishes. Moreover they had also accommodated requests for vegetarian food. There was really nothing to complain about and that was a relief considering how many horror stories and unpleasant accounts of Halong Bay tours can be found online.
I only had a day to explore and did not have the option to spend the night on islands like Cat Ba that came highly recommended by other travelers for an ‘off the beaten track’ experience. I suppose that it’s an option to explore if you have a few days to spend around the area.
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