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Vicky and I knew that during our 5 days in Hanoi we were going to want to do a tour of Halong Bay. Not only was it recently named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, but after two months in China, we were dying to see the ocean. After only a day in Hanoi, it was very clear that many other travelers had the same thing in mind, as Hanoi is literally riddled with tourist agencies offering Halong Bay Cruises. We wanted to do a two day, one night cruise, but were worried that with so many agencies it might be difficult to secure a quality tour. We decided to a do little research to find out which were the most reputable companies, and ended up going with Halong Bay Dragon Tours.
Our tour guide Peter picked us up at 830 AM sharp at our hotel in Hanoi. We had about 3 hours to go to Halong bay – plenty of time for Peter to give us the run down. Our boat had about 20 other travelers of all sorts of backgrounds; younger/older, couples/singles, Westerners/Asians. It was a mix bag and I liked that. it generally means there’s going to be a lot of people with different personalities, experiences, and histories.
When we finally arrived the group boarded the boat and sat down for lunch. It was a nice opportunity to meet a few of our shipmates before departure, and the lunch itself was very nice – spring rolls, shrimp, fish, fish cakes, etc. It was a family style meal where many different plates are served (Vicky’s and my preferred way to eat).
Before any of the fun stuff we had a short time to explore the boat. Our cabin was nice and clean with private bathroom of course. The boat had three levels, one for the rooms, one for the kitchen and dining area, and a top deck for lounging with comfortable chairs and tables.
Our first activity was kayaking, which I hadn’t done since the Potomac River in DC. We had 45 minutes to explore the bay by kayak, which, frankly is about the maximum my shoulders can take anyways. We had heard some complaints that the bay can be a bit trashy, but the area we were in was simply gorgeous. In many ways it reminded me of the karst peaks in some Chinese cities like Yangshuo or Zhangjiajie, except in the ocean.
I think we could have laid around on that kayak for hours, but then we would have missed out on the Amazing Cave. Yes, our guide Peter actually referred to it as the Amazing Cave in all references. I couldn’t tell if it was hype, a poor translation, or the actual name. Regardless, expectations were high.
In a former life Vicky and I went to Lurray Caverns in Virginia, so we had an idea as to what was in store for us at the Amazing Cave. Still, it was quite enjoyable and picturesque in a cave-like way. Peter’s English is very good and he was able to explain the history as well as point out many of the famous rock formations in the cave. Later, we heard from some other travelers that their guide’s English was not as competent and their cave experience suffered.
Our last activity for the day took us to one of the several thousand islands in the bay. After a quick hike to the top, well, I’ll let the view speak for itself:
When we finally settled in we were treated to a complimentary fruit platter and some local wine. Not before long we sat down for dinner. Our table of 10 of so people proved that if you sit enough strangers together at a table, there is a near 100% chance that each person will be connected to another person in some fashion. For example, one Chinese expat living abroad in England, as child, visited the same market that a young French couple living abroad in Shanghai frequents. Small world? I think so.
After dinner Peter informed us that we could fish off the back of the boat, and if any squid were caught we could have them for breakfast the following morning. Our night activity was set, and for the next two hours a group of 7 or so lounged around on the back of the boat fishing for squid.
No squid were caught. Luckily breakfast was not entirely dependent on our amateur fishing skills.
The next day was spent primarily lounging around on the top deck of the boat, soaking in the sun and the spectacular view. Overall our time with Halong Bay Dragon Tours was very well spent. Our guide Peter was incredibly nice and gave us a lot of personal attention. An active member of Couchsurfing, Peter even invited us to his house the next time we are in Hanoi. If there was one thing lacking on the tour it was probably the food, which Vicky and I both thought was great in quantity but slightly lacking in quality as compared with what we were used to in Vietnam. Still, we’re both very glad we made the trip out!
Note: Halong Bay Dragon Tours patially sponsored our tour in exchange for this review, however, all views expressed our entirely our own.