Welcome to Halong Bay
We booked a tourist bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay, this was a small bus with lots of seats squashed into the space, luckily we got the back row and Sassi got the extra leg room, as the rest of the bus was built for people with short legs. There seemed to be a split, most of the Chinese tourists were going for the long day tour, and the western tourists were staying in Halong bay. The bus was around 3 hours with one lunch break, I couldn’t imagine doing a day tour to Halong bay from Hanoi as you would be spending just over 6 hours on the bus and less time on the boat but it seemed to be quite popular.
We finally arrived at the bus stop which was Tuan Chau island, so it actually turned out to be a tourist trap, they dropped us off away from the main port, surrounded by taxi drivers that all wanted to charge a terribly high amount. The airbnb we booked was only 8km away which according to Grab (unfortunately there were no grabs at the time) should only be around 80-100k VND.
First offer was 450k… so outrageous and after travelling around Vietnam we knew that was a lie so we walked away from him, suddenly another driver dropped us a 200k offer, again we walked away and asked someone in the boat building if they could call us a taxi they said 150k, it seemed like it wasn’t going to drop any lower we accepted and made our short journey to the apartment.
The airbnb apartment we booked looked great in photos, the view was amazing, the best we have had so far. Looking over the bay area, we could see for miles, all the little islands, it was one of the largest we have booked with 2 bedrooms and a kitchen with a large living room and balcony. All was good until we sat on the bed… the hardest bed we have ever had in our lives, it was a polystyrene board…after one night we got no sleep and ended up cancelling through airbnb complaints system and quickly booked another apartment in the building next door. This was a newer listing and had no reviews but she let us come check it out first, luckily she had 3 bedrooms and 2 of them had comfortable beds so we booked the apartment it was a little lower down but the view was still amazing. Luckily we got a full refund and extra credit from airbnb due to the other apartment being uncomfortable, we even booked an extra night as it was so nice.
What did we do in Halong Bay
We stayed outside of the main city, but Grab was available although not very many around in this area. It seemed like we arrived during a low season as the city was empty, again it was quite cold so we wore our hoodies. There is not a lot to do in the city, most people seemed to come for the boat tours which ranged from one day to a whole week, but looking at the popular tours it seemed to be 3 night boat tours from Hanoi, so the island where the port is located is full of tourists but the city is not. There is a lot of building work so it seems like they are trying to improve the city and make it more appealing to investors and draw people to stay. We checked out the Bai Chay bridge, which connects the two sides of the city. We then bought our tour at a local hotel for a reasonable price £40 for the both of us including lunch, tour on the boat and kayaking.
Tuan Chau Island
This is the little island around 10km from the city, it is the main part that people going on a boat tour will drive through as the port for getting to Cat Ba is here along with the tourist port for all boat trips. So most tourists only ever go to the port, which is evident in the fact that the beach was completely empty. We got dropped off near the beach and we were the only people walking around for about an hour, then there were a couple of others. It was a nice beach with a lovely view we just couldn’t believe how empty it was yet the port area was filled with people. Around the port all the tour buses are parked up for the day, also seems to be a heavy amount of building work going on here with many up and coming beach resorts, maybe one day this will be more popular but it worked out for us as we had a nice chilled day on the beach. Eating options were limited it took quite some time to find a place to eat as most places weren’t even open, I ended up just buying food from the shop in the port terminal.
Halong Bay tour
So the main attraction for the area is taking the boat tour, we opted for the one day tour with lunch and kayaking. We were picked up in the morning and taken to the boat terminal on Tuan Chau island, we waited around for some time and then 30 minutes or so later suddenly we joined up with a big group. Seemed like we would have a full boat for the tour. Once we got on the boat we chose a place to sit which was around a dining table, we sat with some other young travellers and we all had a little chat while we waited for the boat to leave. The tour guide gave us all the safety instructions and then we left. The boat wasn’t that fast and the sea was calm so no sea sick issues for us. Once we got moving we went up and took in the views from outside the cabin. The views were awesome, we couldn’t believe how amazing everything looked with all the little islands and rocks everywhere. Boats were everywhere, lots of tour boats leaving at the same time doing the same route seemed like a little race.
Chickens– this rock formation apparently looks like chickens… some people are very imaginative…
Dau Go Cave
We had our first stop at some caves, the downside was the huge amount of steps to get up to the caves which meant Sassi waited this one out. I went in and had a nice long walk up to the top and then entered the cave. It was really nice inside and was well lit up with different coloured lights. There were many of us tourists wandering about inside following the path which takes you through the whole cave to see each area. It ends with a lovely view from up high, which gives a nice vantage point for taking photos of the islands and boats.
Lunch time– A seafood lunch, many different dishes all cooked on the boat were placed on each table and we just started to eat together while the boat moved on to the next place. The food was nice, although seafood is not my favourite I still enjoyed the choice which was varied.
Pearl Farm and Kayaks
The next stop was the pearl farm which is located in the middle of the sea which floats, with many people working on the farm to get the pearls from the clams. They showed us how they farm them and how to remove the pearls which was interesting to see, I can see why pearls are expensive, all that effort to get one pearl. They also had a shop selling pearl jewellery. This was also the kayaking location, after the tour around the farm we all got into a kayak, after putting our life jacket on and getting a paddle each. We had 30 minutes to kayak around the area which was fun but pretty tiring for two non kayaking people. We were bad at going in a straight line but still managed to explore the area and made it back ok.
Ti Top Island
Seemed like there was a lack of beaches as were sailing around on the boat, so everyone goes to this one beach, which was nice but so crowded. There was the option of climbing up to see a view from the top of the rock but we decided as we were tired to just relax at the the bottom by the beach.
After this stopover we headed back to the Tuan Chau boat terminal more or less going the same way back but this time the sun was starting to go down. The sky was really nice but then it got very cloudy and misty which meant the views disappeared quickly. We had a nice chat with a Malaysian guy who invited us to his school if we are ever near Kuala Lumpur to do some volunteering as English teachers.
We actually extended our time in Halong bay by an extra day to get some rest before heading back to the capital which was a good idea as we really needed some rest time and a nice sleep.