A trip to Vietnam is not complete without visiting its country’s natural wonder and pride, Ha Long Bay. Everybody who has been to Ha Long Bay will only give praises on how beautiful this place is. It is a beauty. However, it really didn’t give me the “wow” factor. Actually, it was more of “this is it?” Read on and I’ll give you my complete review of my cruise in Ha Long Bay.
If you’re starting your tour of Vietnam from Hanoi, there is no better place to stay than Hanoi Backpackers Hostel- either the Downtown hostel or the one I stayed at at the Old Quarter. I recommend them for one reason: it’s a one-stop shop for everything you’ll need in preparing for your Vietnam adventures. There were times in my long trip where I just could not be bothered to negotiate, do a research and make a do-it-yourself tour . This was one of them.
I booked the 3 day/2 night Ha Long Bay tour with the hostel. Here’s what I like and don’t like about the my cruise:
1. Ease of booking
A cruise ship in Ha Long Bay
It made it a lot easier for me not to think how I’m going to arrange my transfers to get to Ha Long Bay. The bus picked us up from the hostel on time. This was a very popular tour and everybody just raves about it. The same reason why I booked it. Since it’s a very popular tour, expect that the minivan will be so packed with people and stuff. One thing that I also like about the hostel is that it has a baggage storage so you don’t need to bring everything for this trip. This is a very short cruise, and I wonder why some people still brought big luggages on the bus. It will be easier for you if you just carry a small backpack and leave your stuff at the hostel instead.
You can also book the tour online but the salesperson in the hostel convinced me to book it through him as I could lose the space on the ship that I was booking with another girl. I had to take out cash and paid him on the spot when I could have booked it online and earn miles, which I found out wasn’t true when I booked my Sapa tour online. Be wary of dealing with people who are hungry for commissions.
2. The ship
The ship wasn’t bad at all. It was in fact, comfortable. Since we arrived there just in time for lunch, they also served a delicious lunch. Just note that they only serve food in the ship, meaning you would have to pay for all drinks, including water. All of the drinks in the ship are a rip off, even the water!
3. Private Beach
The tour includes a one night stay at a private beach in one of the islands, which is called Castaway Island. The accommodation here is very basic camping style- thin mattresses on the floor, mosquito tent and the food here was so so and greasy. However, this is a great place to swim, relax, engage in fun activities with the group or maybe just watching the clear skies filled with stars at night.
4. The activities
I wasn’t aware that this was a booze cruise when I booked it. I always try to be healthy as much as I can even while I’m traveling, and that includes occasional drinking. I’m just not big on it but if you are a big party person, you will love this cruise. I enjoyed it even if I wasn’t drinking mainly because of the fun travelers I met on the ship and the activities that were included in the tour. Here are my recommendations:
a. Jump off the ship
One of the most petrifying moments of my life
You see, I’m not a good swimmer but South East Asia is all about the beaches, so it’s inevitable not to be swimming especially in paradise. One time, I almost drowned when I encountered a big wave while I was swimming in Snake island in Palawan and because of that I developed a fear of swimming in deep waters. Clearly, jumping from the top of the ship is not in my itinerary. However, I was challenged by the tour leader to jump off the ship. I love challenges and this was one thing that I never thought I would do but ended up doing. It’s one of those moments when I literally faced my deepest fears head on.
This is why I love traveling, because sometimes I see myself in the most unexpected situations, facing my biggest fears and just jumping.
b. Kayak to Bo Nau Cave
Our group in Bo Nau cave
Bo Nau cave is one of the most popular caves in Ha Long Bay and it’s popular for a reason. It is a home of amazing rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. It also offers a very nice view of Ha Long Bay from the cave. The only way to get to the cave is by kayaking. Also, bring a waterproof camera because you would want to take pictures from here.
c. Rock Climbing
Learning to rock climb badass chick style
I’ve done two things that I would have never done if I didn’t join this tour. One was jumping off the ship and the second one was rock climbing. Ha Long Bay is one of the meccas for rock climbers. Rock climbing is a great activity simply because it tests your strength, endurance, agility and balance along side your mental control. This sport is great for anybody, regardless of weight or height. However, it can be dangerous if you are not physically active. As always, precaution and travel insurance is advised for engaging in activities like this.
5. The spectacular views
Here are some photos on our cruise:
Cruise ships and a small fisherman
A more close up view of the fisherman
And another one similar to James Bond Island in Thailand
Why I’m NOT a fan of Ha Long Bay
Having traveled for so long, and almost everywhere in South East Asia, I would say that Ha Long Bay is too overrated. In fact it is very very touristy. Even if I enjoyed myself with the activities in the cruise, I also thought that the tour was overpriced. The reason I booked it with the hostel was because it was easier and more convenient. You would find travel agencies in Hanoi that offers Ha Long Bay tours almost everywhere you go. Thus, giving you a paradox of choice and you won’t know exactly where to book the best one. The prices also vary and it doesn’t mean that just because it’s expensive, it’s high quality. It could also be just a Vietnamese vendor scamming you. I paid for this $200 for a 3day/2night tour which did not include drinks. As I’m from South East Asia, I know the prices very well in the continent and thought that Vietnam really racked up their prices for Ha Long Bay tours.
The place surely is a beauty, but it did not give me the same WOW factor that I got from Coron, Palawan, which I think is still the most beautiful natural place I have seen and the best kept secret in South East Asia. If you have been to Coron, you would not get the same ‘wow’ when you get to Ha Long Bay. Also, surprisingly, Ha Long Bay was dirty. The water had a lot of trash. I even saw a sanitary napkin on the bay while kayaking to the cave. My take is this- it’s better to go to Ha Long first before going to Coron. It’s simply one place that I would visit again and again and again and pay only a fraction of the cost I paid in Ha Long to experience a more ‘natural’ wonder minus all the ships, tourists and big party boats. Second to Coron, would be Caramoan Islands, where they shoot the Survivor International series. With that being said, I still think Ha Long is worth a visit just once in your lifetime.
Ever been to Ha Long Bay? Any thoughts?