First-time in Halong Bay
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay is one of the postcard pictures of Vietnam. Thousands of isles and limestone karsts are cast around this famous bay in Quang Ninh Province in the northern part of the country. Now, millions of visitors flock to Ha Long, which means “descending dragon”, to see this beauty up close.
Using an online booking app, I availed of a day tour to Halong Bay to and from Hanoi. The rate is better than the tour offered by our hotel (at USD35 each through the online app compared to the USD50 in our hotel), so I booked the tour through the app in advance. A night before our trip, the local tour partner of the online app sent me an email informing me that they will pick us up at our hotel lobby between 7:50 AM to 8:10 AM. They only offer this additional service to guests staying in hotels around the Old Quarter. They were a bit late as the guide picked us up at 8:15 AM, but we already made friends with a fellow guest from our hotel who comes from Indonesia.
We boarded the bus as the local partner picked up more guests in the Old Quarter. As we exited the Old Quarter, the bus was already full. Our guide, Benjamin, was very lively as he talked about the places we passed by and gave us an orientation of Halong Bay. He incorporated some anecdotes to make us enjoy listening to his orientation.
The land trip took us about three hours, with a short stopover at a souvenir place where there’s a production workshop for disabled people. There were plenty of products and food items at the stopover.
Afterwards, we arrived in Halong. Benjamin took care of our entrance tickets and we followed him to the port until we boarded our boat. He already assigned us tables and my sister and I were grouped with our Indonesian friend and a couple from Malaysia.
As soon as we got inside the boat, a lunch feast was served on our tables with about 5-6 dishes. Drinks were not part of the package so we ordered for sodas separately. A few minutes after, we were cruising through the group of islets. We went to the deck to have a closer and clearer view of the scenery around us.
Our first stop was the Thien Cung cave. We have to climb a few set of steps until we got to the entrance of the cave. Surprisingly, it was cooler inside the cave than outside since it was humid and extremely warm that day. The cave features many formations, which reminded me of my trip in Waitomo, New Zealand. What I loved most was the mini-falls, more like a water fountain, found inside the cave.
After our hike inside the cave, we went aboard again and went to the area where we had an option to either kayak or take a row boat around the area. Kayaking meant two of us would paddle the oars ourselves with the possibility of getting wet. The row boat, on the other hand, had a local who did the rowing (although I also tried it myself) while 4 to 6 of us can sit by the open boat. After 30 minutes of going through small tunnels around the area, we went back to our cruise boat where we were served with snacks.
It was time to go back to our bus. The sun was already setting when we made our way back to Hanoi. There was another stopover for toilet break and dinner at a souvenir shop with a restaurant and outdoor eatery.
The day was satisfying as we were able to enjoy the beautiful landscape of Halong Bay. We felt that the rate we paid for the tour was value for money as the package included:
- Pick-up and drop off from our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi
- Transportation from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back by modern, air-conditioned bus with driver and English-speaking guide
- A bottle of water for every guest aboard the bus
- Cruise around Halong Bay aboard a nice ferry with deck
- Sumptuous lunch with seafood
- Entrance fees
- Visit Thien Cung Cave
- Kayaking or bamboo row boat activities
Tips are not included, so we decided to give a tip to the local who rowed our boat and to our driver and English-speaking guide. It’s not mandatory but they’ll appreciate it. If you prefer to stay in Halong, there are other packages available and there are plenty of hotels near the port.