When I decided to visit Hanoi, Vietnam whilst on holiday in Malaysia and Singapore, I knew that of all the things I wanted to see, Ha Long Bay was top of the list. Ha Long Bay, situated around 4 hours outside of Hanoi is considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is renowned for its ethereal beauty and for the hundreds of tourists who flock there to kayak, swim, and explore its many caves.
Travelling to Ha Long Bay
When it came down to actually choosing the best method of travel there, I was a little stuck. As with any area in South East Asia which attracts so many tourists, there are hundreds of different tour companies touting trips and deals, and it can become more than a little overwhelming when it comes to making decisions – especially in an area well known for tourist scams. (See our guide on 40 common Tourist Scams to avoid this summer).
Having done a slightly ridiculous amount of research in order to satisfy my obsession with planning, it seemed that the best option was to stay overnight on a junk. If you attempt to do Ha Long in a day, you’ll spend a large amount of it on a coach, and see very little. In the end, I went with a company called Saigon Cafe Travel, on their ‘Lemon Cruise’ junk.
I chose a mid-range cruise – $80 (USD) for the coach to and from our hotel, all meals, entertainment and activities.
Activities included in the trip:
- See Hang Sung Sot (also known as Surprising Cave) for great views
- Go Kayaking
- Take a Vietnamese Cooking Class
- Squid Fishing
- Visit a Pearl Farm
- Beach Time for sunbathing and swimming
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Our guide Tho picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi’s old town, on a comfortable and thankfully, air-conditioned bus. The journey to Ha Long was uneventful, including a stop over on the way supposedly for the toilet (which our guide euphemistically called the ‘happy room’) but really, to try and peddle us some tourist tat.
When we arrived, we were taken to the boat. We were then served a tasty lunch of Vietnamese food (and some chips), before the boat arrived at our first stop – Hang Sung Sot (also known as Surprising Cave). Personally I wasn’t entirely convinced by the name, as the ‘surprise’ was apparently that the cave was bigger inside than the entrance suggested, which I thought was an inherent feature of a cave, but there we go
There was a beautiful view of Ha Long from the top, so it was definitely worth seeing.
After this, we were taken to a small jetty where kayaks were moored. Each pair was given a kayak and we had an hour to paddle around and explore the small caves and bays which aren’t accessible by junks. Having got thoroughly sunburnt, we were dropped off at a beautiful little beach for the next hour or two. My friend and I chose to swim and do some more sunbathing (or burning), but some of the more energetic people climbed up the hill for the views.
Following the beach visit, we got back onto the junk and went off for a shower. We then had a cooking class; a nice extra in which we made spring rolls which were cooked up for part of our dinner. In the evening, we played various games and got to know our fellow travellers. It was a very diverse group, with 4 Brits, 2 Germans, 2 Spaniards, 2 Israelis and 6 Dutch people. We also got the opportunity to try our hand at squid fishing (!), but failed miserably.
The next morning we were given breakfast and taken to a Pearl Farm. This wasn’t on the itinerary we were originally given, so it was a nice addition to break up the sail back to the mainland. The pearl farm was pretty cool – they showed us how they implant the ‘baby’ pearls into the oysters and even opened a few up to see if they had pearls inside. After the little detour, we sailed for a few hours which was a nice chance to relax on the open top deck.
The journey back was equally comfortable, and they dropped us right outside our hotel which was very convenient as we were always eager to avoid walking around in the 40 degree weather.
Overall, the cruise was one of the highlights of my entire trip. The scenery was gorgeous; the food was good; the rooms were nice and our tour guide was lovely and spoke near-perfect English. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to go to Ha Long Bay in the future.