Ha Long Bus Ride to Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay in northern Vietnam literally translating into “descending dragon bay” is a stunning natural wonder of our world. This majestic bay consists of massive limestone formations with lush jungle-like foliage that soar high out of the water from deep below the cool green depths. On a clear day, the views are breathtaking and the some two thousand-island formations can be seen from miles away. On a foggy day you are sometimes unable able to see the immense formations until they suddenly rise up out of the mist above you only yards away.
People spend anywhere from a single night to a few weeks exploring the bay, and if time is an issue you can take a day trip from Hanoi. We booked a day tour with our hostel late the night before, http://www.vietnamtourshanoi.com. However, there are seemingly endless tour shops dotting the streets of Hanoi. So, like everywhere you go in Southeast Asia, shop around a little bit for pricing. Look for the best deal whether it be through your accommodations or a vendor on the street selling tourist packages. I guarantee on most tours all of the different parties will have paid different prices for the same tour. Nothing is set in stone as far as pricing goes, there’s plenty of room for negotiations, so use that to your advantage.
The day trips tend to run anywhere from $20-$50 depending on the quality of boat and quality of food included in your specific package. We opted for the middle-priced tour, paying $35 for the day, food and transportation from Hanoi included. The van picked us up at 7am and dropped us back off around 9pm that same night. The van takes almost four hours each way due to poor road conditions and lack of two-way highways in Vietnam and the ride can drag on. However, passing the farmers working in the rice fields adds a little bit of cultural excitement to that damn long van ride. Four hours each way is a long time…pack accordingly, i.e., snacks, a pillow, etc. Always remember to check the weather before you depart! In the wet season from October-April it will most likely be overcast in Halong Bay and unfortunately rainy. Pack ponchos and bring warmer clothes for those types of days. Yes, you need a poncho…just spend the $.25 to be safe.
Once we boarded the wooden boat, food was served immediately. We enjoyed our lunch while sailing through the bay. The food was fantastic and the views of the peaceful water didn’t hurt either. We were served an array of traditional Vietnamese cuisine and despite our huge appetites, we were left with more food than we could handle. The appetizers were a coursed meal on their own. Starting with eggs and tofu, then clams, chicken, spring rolls, calamari, pickled cabbage salad, and sticky rice. The main course was a whole grilled fish! Finished off with fresh cut fruit for dessert.
After the extensive lunch they give you a chance to work it off. On several of the rock islands you can walk around and explore them or take kayaks throughout the various coves and inlets. The kayaking was a wonderful way to burn off the lethargic feeling. Despite the poor weather we still kayaked around the bay exploring the water caves and fishing villages.
My favorite part of the whole tour was when they let us off to walk into the hillside caves. You hike a few hundred yards up the mountain and then enter into these caves filled with crystalline formations. To create an interesting aspect and a way to visually understand the angles of the cave, they light it up with fluorescent lights, which look like a bunch of glow-worms! The indoor caves are also a nice escape from the rain on those days, which are dampened with the often-present drizzle and foggy mists.