Confession: this is being written in Laos- as we are inevitably behind on our posting. However, in fairness, we were on a boat for a few days sans internet (and enjoying ourselves too much to blog). To pick up where we left off in Vietnam, we spent the end time in Vietnam up in the North.
Stop 4: Hanoi (2 non-continuous nights)
We arrived via sleeper bus at Hanoi at around 6:30AM after a long ride. Even though there were some delays (including a flat tire), we were surprised that we were able to get some rest and made it there on time.
When we hopped off the bus, we walked to our hostel instead of haggling with drivers. This set the tone for the rest of the day. We hadn’t booked our Halong/Bai Tu Long Bay cruise yet so we needed to shop around for a cruise while also hitting up a few sites. Long story short, we went to a few places to get a feel for pricing and found that there was while there’s a wide range of pricing, boat companies and booking agencies, the activities on the boats were pretty much the same. We opted for a 3-day, 2-night so we could accomplish a few things:
1. Get a bit off the beaten path and get to Bai Tu Long Bay (which connects to Halong but is further away)
2. Have more time to do swimming and kayaking (we had read that sometimes other tours got only ~30-40 minutes of that in) and
3. Potentially have a more quiet and private experience.
So how did our cruise go?
Stop 5: Halong and Bai Tu Long Bay (3 days, 2 nights)
This was our first cruise ever and it was a good one to start with. It is no wonder that Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the top places visited in the world (this is both a plus and minus, but we’ll get to that later).
The highlight of our cruise was definitely the quieter moments when Matt and I got to explore on our own – either on a kayak or in the water or on a beach. We also enjoyed the scenery as there seemed to be a never-ending sea of karsts.
We were thankful we decided to do the 2nd day of the cruise as it allowed us more of this time and got us a bit further away from the rest of the boats. Not only did we get to visit a private beach (on the first day we were taken to a man-made beach that many tourists on cruises get shuttled through) but we also got to swim in quieter waters. Matt even got to jump off of our boat and take a swim. On top of that, our group was only 5 people for the 2nd day (versus we had ~15 on the other days) and we got to hang out and get to know them better. (They also taught us a fun new card game).
We had heard that whole Halong Bay experience is honestly becoming a bit touristy- you’re often surrounded by a bunch of other boats and tourists and they pack in plenty of opportunities to spend more on tourism. Despite that, we had a great experience. While it’s definitely become a touristy attraction, there’s a reason so many people visit- it truly is beautiful.
Other activities we enjoyed on our cruise included squid fishing (no squid were caught as it was not in season), helping a fisherman (by beating large wooden sticks to make noises to scare fish into swimming into a net – we caught 2 small fish that we threw back), tai chi in the morning (our Tai Chi master also moonlights as our ship captain), visiting a cave and enjoying time on the deck reading.
We also met a bunch of interesting and cool travelers – including another couple doing extended travel and a Seattlite!
All in all, we had a fun time on our Halong/Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise. We would definitely recommend it- especially doing Bai Tu Long Bay as it gets you a bit more secluded experience.