Halong Bay is UNESCO World Heritage Site located 170 km from Hanoi. All the pictures online look amazing, so we absolutely had to go and see. A friend of mine recommended an overnight trip, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for that, so we ended up going on a day trip with Handspan Travel as the description looked good and they had a large section on how they operate responsibly.
What happened is that the van, which picked us up belonged to a strange company and the boat was operated by Azalea Cruise, so it seems that it really doesn’t matter with what company you book your day trip. There was a guide on the boat, but he was associated with Azalea Cruise, so Handspan Travel seems to just arrange the tours and not operate them. In addition to this they sent us two emails reminding us to bring our passports with us, but we never needed them.
Anyway, we were picked up from our hotel at 7 a.m. and we picked a few other people on the way and then headed towards Halong Bay. The 170 km trip took three hours and we had two stops first of which was in some large tourist shop, which sold all kind of things and I assume that they pay commission to the drivers because when I bought some snacks they asked me to write my name on the receipt. The second stop was at a pearl factory shop where they half made us to listen to how the pearls are grown, extracted, and made into jewelry. Luckily both stops had restrooms, but I think we spent 30-40 min just in these stops and we could have spent much less time on the road.
Finally when we arrived to Halong Bay and boarded the Azalea Cruise boat. The day was rather foggy, but the guide on the boat assured us that it will be a sunny day. It wasn’t. 😉 It did become a bit less foggy at some point though. We spent some time in Halong Bay enjoying the view, which was rather gorgeous despite not being a sunny day.
Halong Bay means Bay of Descending Dragons and it has almost 2,000 islands, both settled and uninhabited.
There were a lot of boats in the Halong Bay, so at some point everywhere you looked, there was a boat, but after a while the boats went into different directions.
After an hour or so on the boat, we were served lunch, which was very good. Lunch was included in the tour price, but drinks were not, which was annoying as the tour cost $65, so charging for drinks separately just seemed like an effort to make money for the cruise operator.
After lunch we went back on the deck to enjoy the views, which were great despite the fog.
Apparently the itinerary on this day tour didn’t include much more than the views and a tour of Thien Cung Cave. If you choose the overnight tour, there are more activities included such as kayaking to one of the caves. Apparently the service on these overnight boats is also pretty great.
We arrived to the Thien Cung Cave on Dau Go island, which was apparently found by some stranded fishermen looking for shelter. The cave is enormous and has a lot of gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites. As if the natural beauty of the cave is not enough, it was lighted with different colors. It was still beautiful, but not in the same way of course.
After the visit to the cave, we headed back and arrived at the shore around 4 p.m. There we took the same minibus that brought us here and headed back to Hanoi. The trip back took again three hours, but the way back seemed much more dangerous as the traffic was heavy, had lots of trucks, and it was rather dark outside. We again made a couple of restroom stops in similar tourist shops as on the way to Halong Bay and we arrived in Hanoi around 7 p.m.
In the evening we wanted to get something to eat and ended up walking to a pizza restaurant called Pizza 4Ps. The place was super popular and we needed to wait for about 15 min because we didn’t have a reservation. The cool thing about this restaurant is that they allow to order half-and-half pizzas, so we could try more options. The pizzas were really good, so if you’re tired of Vietnamese food, this is a very good option.