I can honestly, 100% say that Halong Bay is a MUST see, both if you’re visiting Vietnam, and in general! Halong Bay was high on my bucketlist, and when I realized that my flight from Tanzania to Indonesia had a long layover in Thailand no matter what, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a last minute adventure.
And by “last minute adventure”, I mean spontaneously making the effort to tick off my last of the 7 Wonders of Nature with only two days notice! That being said, it was a bit of a whirlwind making those spur of the moment plans! But, thanks to TripAdvisor’s new Attractions booking option, I was able to find, review, and book a Halong Bay cruise just two days after I landed in Hanoi!
Originally I was going to take the shuttle straight to Halong Bay and attempt walking around until I found a travel agent booth with a cruise. But then I started looking around online and realizing that the cruises usually fully book up, and I didn’t want to get stuck there without a spot! I also had no idea which cruise to choose!
That was where it came in incredibly handy to use TripAdvisor. Not only can you do a search to find the activities with available dates, but you can also read all of their reviews, and then book it right from their website if you want to do it!
It REALLY helps to read all of the reviews, because some of the tours can sound awesome according to the description, and then aren’t in real life. I read through all of the reviews on the tour I ended up taking, both good and bad, so I knew exactly what I was in for, and they were pretty much spot on!
I knew exactly what I was getting for the price I paid, and was actually pleasantly surprised when some things turned out way better than expected! Speaking of the price, TripAdvisor also offers the best price guarantee, which means if you get to the tour and they’re selling it for cheaper, they’ll refund you the difference! How awesome is that?!
So enough about the booking process; you already know to read reviews first before checking dates and booking. I’m sure you want to hear how the tour actually went, and what I’d recommend for your trip to Halong Bay!
To be completely honest, as I mentioned before, I booked my Halong Bay tour last minute, and therefore didn’t have many options. I knew I DEFINITELY wanted to do a two night tour because most of the reviews for the one night or day tours said they were super rushed!
Ideally, I wanted to stay on the boat for two nights, but since those were already full, I opted for the Halong Bay Cruise and Cat Ba Island tour, which included one night on a the boat and one night at a hotel on a little island. You should know that there are several different ship names that do the same tour! Mine in particular was called “Apricot Cruises”, and it included one night on the boat and one night at a hotel on Cat Ba island.
We conjoined with people on other similar tours (as in, some people from my boat, and some people from 3 other boats all got on another boat to go to the islands), but some tours sent people to “Monkey Island” which I personally think would have been better, and others to Cat Ba, where I stayed. Make sure you read the fine print in the description about where the second night is!
To be fair, Monkey Island had bungalows, but Cat Ba had actual hotels…and after a hot sweaty day plus swimming and kayaking, I actually preferred the quiet, AC hotel in Cat Ba! But to each their own!
Anyway! In short; it was incredible. I got to see everything I expected to see plus A LOT more! There were a couple of down sides, but they literally don’t even amount to how epic of an experience it is. I actually wish more people would write more about their positive experiences rather than the negative, or to at least acknowledge it more!
First of all, I don’t mean to brag, but I had insanely good weather all three days of my Halong Bay tour! Actually I will brag, because apparently it’s super rare to have sunny days on Halong Bay! Second of all, this tour was only $200 for three days and two nights, including transfers, which in my opinion is a steal!
Anyway! From the start, what I really loved was how immediate the tour company got ahold of me after I booked it on TripAdvisor; making sure I had entered the correct hotel pick up address, and knew the times for pick up.
The morning pick up was on time, and the guide helped carry (all four of) my bags onto the big, air-conditioned charter bus that would take us 3 hours from Hanoi to Halong Bay. I was specifically looking for a tour that included the pick up and drop off since it’s pricey to get down there otherwise, so this portion of the tour definitely delivered that for me.
Speaking of the tour guide…mine was AWESOME! His name was Tai, but for the majority of us who can’t properly pronounce his Vietnamese name, he also goes by Peter. I don’t think Peter understood what I meant by, “Trust me, it’ll be a lot better for you when I mention you on my blog than just a TripAdvisor review,” but hopefully he will after I post this…and of course I’ll leave him that review too.
Peter was not only super cheerful, friendly, outgoing, and helpful, but always on top of things when it came to keeping us on schedule and up to date with what was going on. He also gave us some insight into local life living in Vietnam; and how he used to be a school teacher but now makes twice as much money as a tour guide!
As I mentioned, I had some freakishly good weather, so in addition to the scenery immediately winning me over, I was even more won over when we got to actually go in the water! Despite what I read online somewhere, we WERE able to kayak, which was included in the tour. I was on the tour solo, but luckily you make friends fast, and I shared a kayak with a nice Irish girl who didn’t mind me constantly taking photos and videos.
We got to swim on Ti Top Island which was packed with other tourists and not really favorable. But then the next day, since I chose the longer tour, I got to jump off the top deck of the second boat, and swim to a secluded white-coral beach of an island in a lesser-visited area!
Other sites that were included and really awesome to see were the cave (which you stop at first), and the fisherman’s village.
Some people might be negative and say that some of these places, or even Halong Bay in general, are overcrowded with tourists. But COME ON, it’s not only a World Wonder, but a beautiful area that deserves attention! Plus the tour companies do a really good job at skillfully scheduling each tour so that they don’t overlap, and there’s never too many people in one place at the same time!
Also, the size of the tours is limited to around 25 people, so even though you’re on a cruise, you’re never with a massive crowd! The small group also makes it easier and more enjoyable to meet people from all over the world!
Last but not least, the traditional Vietnamese food that was served was absolutely delicious! You’re served family style for each meal, and they pay special attention if you have any dietary restrictions like I do (I’m a pescatarian!).
I’m really not one to leave negative reviews, and I always see the bright side of things, so I really don’t have much to say about what I didn’t love.
Sure, the AC in my cabin on the already-hot boat didn’t work until 5am, and yes, I absolutely hate getting up at 6am for anything…but that’s really nothing in the grand scheme of things! I mean seriously, how can I complain about being hot and sleepy when I’m cruising around a World Wonder?!
Aside from that, I would have to admit that the amount of times we had to change boats was really hectic for me personally. I was carrying 6 small (but heavy) bags from 4 months of traveling, so having to load and unload them so many times was really strenuous on my body. The guides and boat hands did help most of the time, but I would have been much more relaxed had I just been on the same boat the whole time.
Overall my experience was freaking EPIC!!! I’m so glad I was able to find and book a last minute Halong Bay cruise on TripAdvisor, and would do it again in a heartbeat! I met so many awesome people, had endless amazing views, and got to fulfill one of my biggest bucket list items — seeing all 7 Wonders of Nature!
Have you done a Halong Bay cruise? I’d love to hear which one you did and what your experience was in the comments below! Also, if you do this tour, and you get Peter as a guide, tell him I said Hello!
Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with TripAdvisor, however all experiences, opinions, writing, and photos are my own, and they are all awesome!