Choosing between Sapa and Halong Bay was a tough one. The adventurer in me picked Sapa over Halong Bay based on stories from friends and on what I read online. That was during my first visit to northern Vietnam in 2017 during my 100-day backpacking trip. With that, I promised to go back to experience one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Vietnam, Halong Bay.
There are several trips available for the Halong Bay experience. On my first stay in Hanoi, tons of tour packages are offered on every tour agency in Old Quarter. From day trips, overnight, 2-night cruise, and more.
Checking the distance of Hanoi and Halong Bay, a day trip is not recommended. You’ll spend more time on the road than the tour itself. So if you’re planning a Halong Bay tour, get at least the 2D1N Halong Bay Deluxe Cruise. For a hassle-free booking and to avoid getting inconsistent rates, I decided to book my Halong Bay Cruise from Klook. And I must say that it was a great decision since the agency who handled our tour provided an excellent service.
The 2D1N Halong Bay Deluxe Cruise I availed already covered the return transfers from Hanoi to Halong Bay, full-board meal, room accommodation on a junk boat, activities, and entrance fees to attractions.
Travel Hanoi to Halong Bay
As stated on the Klook page and voucher sent, pick-up time of travelers within the Old Quarter will be from 7:50 AM to 8:30 AM. The tour guide showed up at the doorsteps of my hostel five minutes before the time indicated. I joined a few more travelers on a coaster bus while the guide verified my identity by asking for my passport. Upon confirmation, he handed me bottled water.
Travel time is around 3.5 hours to Tuan Chau Marina Pier, where cruise ships dock and wait for tourists. Midway is a short stopover for bladder break and snacks. The pitstop is a marble art shop where tons of marble statues are scattered around. These are for sale and the shop can ship it to your doorsteps, if not the nearest port to your home. There are also local crafts being sold.
The moment we arrived at the marina, we were ushered directly to a small boat that eventually transferred us to our junk boat. Everyone was asked to go directly to the boat’s main hall for the orientation and check-in process. Our guide, Hung, enumerated our activities for the 2-day tour as well as few reminders for the cruise. After the short briefing, the crew officially welcomed us onboard and handed us our room keys.
The Halong Bay cruise is a joined tour and I was alone on the trip. Surprisingly, I was assigned to one of the biggest rooms on the ship. Glad the tour operator granted my request. It was actually my first time to experience a cruise and live on-board even for jus a night. Apart from the massive bed, the room is fully air-conditioned, has a hot-and-cold shower and shower essentials.
HALONG BAY CRUISE: TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
What’s great about our guide is that he modified the itinerary for us to avoid the crowd. We do the reversed of the usual itinerary of most cruises making us either the first or last group to enjoy the attractions. This way, we really had a great time appreciating the destinations sans the crowd.
An hour after the sumptuous lunch, we were guided to go back to the smaller boat for the first stop of our tour, Titop Island. The island is one of the best vantage points that provides a stunning view of the bay.
The attraction is a testament of friendship between Vietnam and the Soviet Union. It was actually named after Gherman Titov, a cosmonaut who became the second man to orbit the earth. As per our guide, Titov visited and toured Halong Bay in 1962 together with Ho Chi Minh. As a sign of friendship, Ho Chi Minh, after consulting the people on the island, named it as Titov Island (now called Titop Island).
For you to reach the viewpoint, you need to surpass 400+ steps on steep staircases. There is a pit-stop midway where you can already marvel the remarkable view of the bay. But for a better backdrop, brave the few hundred steps left. The island has a short beach where beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. Compared to our beaches, this is one is below average so I recommend spending your time at the top of the island.
Sung Sot Surprising Cave
For us to get inside the Sung Sot cave before it closes for the day, Hung gathered every member of the tour group. We hopped back to our small boat and advanced to the opposite of the bay. Sung Sot Cave, in Bo Hon Island, is one of the famous caves in Halong Bay. It’s also one of the largest caves and locals consider it as the center of Halong Bay. They also call it the surprising cave maybe for the rock formations inside the cave.
The cave has two caverns connected by a small passageway. Stalactites and stalagmites are every where so be careful not to touch them. There’s a walkway inside the cave and bordered by banisters to ensure that tourists will not go beyond the allowed space. Colored lights are projected on some of the rock formations that are already part of the spiels of the guides. Another viewpoint offering the impressive Halong Bay waits at the exit of the cave.
Sunset Tea Break and Squid Fishing
After the tours, a sunset tea break was set up on the ship’s deck. Fruits like watermelon and pineapple and overflowing Vietnamese coffee and tea were available for everyone. Enjoy the refreshing breeze of the bay while sipping on a hot beverage with the scene of the setting sun. It was a relaxing activity when you’re like me who was consumed by corporate work prior to the trip.
During dinner, Hung had a brief orientation on the last activity of the day, squid fishing. In the evening, after dinner, everyone gathered on the lower deck of the boat. Boat crew installed lights to draw squids to the boat and fishing rods were handed to some of us. Hung, with his fishing gears, showed us how to bait squids. Luck is affected by weather and we were empty-handed after around 45 minutes of bouncing off the baits on the surface of the water. Nonetheless, it was a fun activity to do in the bay at night together with people you just met on the tour.
Kayaking in Lagoon
Right after breakfast, we again boarded the small boat for the first activity of the day. Luon Cave was the next attraction for the tour group. The cave is also located in Bo Hon Island where Sung Sot Cave resides. With its location and features, Luon Cave is perfect for kayaking activity. Most tours do it in the afternoon but since it’s summer, Hung decided to do it early in the morning before the sun blazes up the horizon.
Two people will be assigned on every kayak while bamboo boats paddled by locals is an alternative to those who’re not into kayaking. With the small opening of the cave, kayaks are the best option to explore the inside of the natural attractions. High cliffs, turquoise waters, and lush biodiversity are the evident character of the attraction. Not sure why it was considered a cave but it’s more of a lake to me.
Spring Roll Cooking Class
After the kayaking activity, we again assembled at the main hall for the spring roll cooking class. Ingredients for the famous Vietnamese food are already on the table the moment we arrived at the venue.
Our guide demonstrated how to rolled one and everyone got their own plate to roll some spring rolls. Guide noticed the spring rolls I made and asked if I’m a pro since the rolls I’ve prepared were perfect. Little did he know that our family cooks lumpiang shanghai (Filipino version of spring roll) for every family event such as birthdays and holidays. With that, I already perfected rolling one.
In terms of food served on board, I can’t say anything. Every dish served was super good. From salad, soup, to stir-fried vegetables, meats, seafood; makes me drool every time I remember it.
Reminders for Day Trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi
- Don’t avail a day trip to Halong Bay. Most of the time, if an attraction can be done on a day tour, you can read on my notes to squeeze it in just a day. But for now, I recommend availing at least 2 days for your visit to Halong Bay.
- Considering the travel time from Hanoi, availing a day tour will surely drain the heck out of you and won’t provide an enjoyable experience. Better to just stay in Hanoi Old Quarter than spending a few bucks and sitting in a bus for a total of 7 hours travel time to and fro Halong Bay.
- But if your schedule is tight and you really have the desire to see Halong Bay even for a few hours, find the best travel agency. You can check Halong Bay day tours on Klook where you can also read reviews from travelers who availed the activity.