From the moment I told friends that I would be traveling Vietnam one of the first responses was always you MUST see Halong Bay. Though I had been warned that some find it touristy over all the consensus was that this was one not to miss out on.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site most known for the emerald green waters, towering limestone karst islands, and rainforest. In the backpacker community there is a lot of hype for the junk boat overnight tours as well as the island bungalows through companies such as Castaway. I personally teetered back and forth unsure on what to settle for as I knew for me personally a boat party rave environment wasn’t an option. There are so many companies to choose from ranging all the way up to luxury. My advice is do your research, word of mouth is usually the way to go, and be prepared to be spending tourist prices.
I did it the cheaper way- which I don’t regret though it would be cool to spend a night on a boat under the stars. I booked a package shuttle bus, ferry, shuttle bus deal to get me to the island of Cat Ba. From here I spent the night in a hostel which I personally can’t recommend (Mr. Zoom) but never the less me and my friend were able to get a private room for cheap. From here we booked a day boat tour through the hostel- these packages are literally all over the streets of Cat Ba so you’ll have no issues finding one. We paid $14 USD each for the full day trip all inclusive. But I recommend asking about the amount of people per boat and reading reviews before booking. Also be careful of valuables while kayaking and swimming. A girl on our boat had $100 USD stolen while she was on the kayak. Staff reimbursed her but it was quite suspicious.
This area is also known for adventure sports such as diving, rock climbing, and hiking. Unfortunately I fell sick but would have loved to try out an open water climbing tour and rent a motorbike to explore Cat Ba National Park. I heard that the climbing tours through Asia Outdoors is good quality.
Our tour was the cookie cutter Halong Bay day tour. First we visited Monkey Island. Yes there are monkeys- but the are not in their natural habitat and wild by any means so that always is a bit tricky. We spent our time here hiking up the karst mountain to the view point. Note-bring suitable shoes! We had flip flops and ended up going barefoot on the sharp karst which honestly felt like glass. But hey it was worth the view.
Next we headed for the kayaking. On the way we ate traditional Vietnamese food- rice, fish, tofu, spring rolls, meat. And it was really good for boat food! You must do this if you do nothing else. We kayaked on the sparkling green waters beside huge karts and the best- through cave ways. Neither of us had a water proof camera- and I wish I could show how stunning it was but I guess it’s just one of those things that you need to see for yourself.
Last stop was a secluded beach on an island which we jumped off the boat and swam to. It was really peaceful and only one other boat was near which was surprising given the amount of junk boats on the water each day.
On the way back to the port we drifted through water villages. Even though the sunsetting changed the mountains to a misty darker color and turned emerald green to deep blue the views were still incredible. And I still think about how unreal it is that for some locals the ocean is there home and that landscape is their backyard (not forgetting the reality that they work diligently fishing and that there is no luxuries such as AC, electricity, and modern toilets.)
We found one restaurant which interested us and were too lazy to go find another. So I can only recommend the Green Mango which has an extensive menu of both local and Western food. The Pad Thai was delicious, nacho’s mediocre but hey it’s Asia, and the lattes made my mornings happy 🙂
Halong Bay has my vote- I would for sure go back!