It was afternoon time and as the clock was showing 4 pm, I reached the old town of Hanoi. The biggest city in North Vietnam, Hanoi looks like a vast modern city. But it is here, in the old town, that you find the best of street food and display of Vietnamese culture. I started walking through the crowded streets towards my hostel where I would be spending the next 3 nights. I had still not decided about my plans in Hanoi. But, I surely wanted to experience cruising in Halong bay.
About Halong Bay
A natural archipelago, numerous islands create an enchanting spectacle while cruising in Halong Bay. As you cruise along this consortium of islands, some rocky and some with beautiful beaches, you tend to stare into the horizon, trying to find the farthest island your eye can catch. Halong bay is the most popular tourist destination in North Vietnam when you narrow down the attraction category to islands and beaches. Of course, mountain lovers will give a shout out to Napa valley.
But, beach lovers tend to not miss this Halong bay cruise. Sunrises and sunsets turn out to be gorgeous with the frame of numerous islands leaving an imposing figure on the landscape. Also, given there are many islands and hence multiple routes for cruises, you wouldn’t find the landscape crowded by other cruises. Well, I would say that visiting Halong bay is a highly recommended experience if you are visiting North Vietnam.
Point in Halong Bay from where the cruises start
Islands in the far landscape
Halong Bay Cruises
Where there is a lovely attraction, travel agents tend to flock and set up offices. Similarly, in the narrow lanes of Hanoi, many travel agents had set up their offices. I must have noticed around 10 travel agents as I walked towards my hostel through the narrow old town streets. All of these have different categories and prices. So, you need to figure out which one would work out best for you. If I have to simplify the categorization of Halong bay cruises, it would go like this.
- Type of Traveller: Are you a solo traveller? Or a couple? Or are you travelling with family? Well, couple travellers wouldn’t want to go with a bunch of singles who think romantic experience is beyond their aptitude and just want to party. On the other hand, a solo traveller like me wouldn’t want to sit next to a window as couples make out on the deck outside under the crystal sunshine. Also, I wouldn’t want to get stuck with a family in which the grandpa is furious about how hot it is and the kids keep yelling on seeing every island while the parents escape to the deck to catch some romantic moments. So, choose your group wisely and these travel agents can help you do so. Being a solo traveller, I opted for a singles’ cruise which is most certainly the craziest bunch of folks I could have gone with.
- Type of boat: Another filter which you can apply while deciding for Halong bay cruise is which type of boat suits your budget. Primarily, there are three categories of boats; Economy, Premium, and Luxury. While the luxury boat is nothing less than a yacht, economy boat looks like closer to life’s end. However, premium category boat would turn out to be a good bet if you want the boat engine making much less noise and still not burning a hole in your pocket.
If you are able to filter out the cruises on the above mentioned two points, you pretty much have your cruise finalised. However, once you have narrowed down, you need to choose how many days would you like to spend in the gorgeous Halong Bay.
There are again, three types of cruises when it comes to a number of days. There are 3D/2N, 2D/1N and 1D. Of course, you can ask for a cruise which can take you for a 5-day trip, but they turn out to be very expensive and you still wouldn’t see new islands every day. Most of the Halong bay looks similar and hence, I would recommend going for the 2D/1N cruise. The reason of my recommendation is mainly due to the fact that you get to spend one night sleeping in dorms made of bamboos, next to the crashing waves and silent shores.
The island where I stayed for a night. Every travel agent has a different island you are taken to.
My Halong bay cruise experience
When I reached Hanoi, the only thing I had decided to do was to go for the Halong Bay cruise. After checking in the hostel, I ventured out into the streets to look out for travel agents who can help me with the cruise. I met many and their cruises ranged from $70 to $300. Well, that’s a wide range and I narrowed it down to the cruise which would last for 2 days and host singles. Now, I had a range of $100 to $150 to choose from. Of course, there was room for negotiation but, I wanted to finalise a cruise first before I get in the mode to negotiate the best of a deal. However, at the end of that day, I realised I had not found a cruise which would be satisfactory for me.
It late evening when I reached back to my hostel and the bar had started playing upbeat music welcoming the night. I decided to sit in a corner and do some online research to find a cruise which would suit my preferences. As I plugged in my laptop, the music became louder and the hostel bar announced happy hours! Well, would it be justified if I didn’t make myself happy during ‘happy hours’? So, I went to my room and stacked my laptop under my pillow, so that it is away from public eyes and no one steals it. Yes, I was a bit sceptical about things being stolen in hostels. I returned back to the hostel bar and picked up two beers.
So, I went to my room and stacked my laptop under my pillow, so that it is away from public eyes and no one steals it. Yes, I was a bit sceptical about things being stolen in hostels. I returned back to the hostel bar and picked up two beers.
Now, I am in the bar, holding two beers in my hand and I know absolutely nobody! The tables in the bar were full of people laughing and having fun. But, I was there, looking for a spot in a corner so that I can have my beers. But, here’s when I decided to get out of my comfort zone. I walked towards a table which had a good mix of girls and boys and ethnicities. Well, I don’t want to be stuck with a french group who keep talking in french while I nod my head in agreement without understanding anything.
I found a group which had a mix of Europeans and Latinos. I reached out and asked if I can join. To my relief, they happily agreed! Well, I was just anxious that the latino girl would tell me ‘No tu puede‘ (No you can’t). But, she actually turned out to be a good friend over time. After exchanging introductions, I told them I was looking for a suitable cruise experience in Halong bay. They told me they were going for the Halong Bay cruise next day and asked if I want to join them. They were going for the cruise organised by the hostel itself. I ended up having fun with that group and we went for dinner that night.
I went back to the hostel that night and booked the cruise with them. The cruise would cost me $210, but at least I would be going with folks who I can consider as friends and were an enjoyable company. A bit over my budget, but the hostel being known as a party hostel, I thought it would be a good investment in return for fun. Was I disappointed? Well, of course not!
Our cruise, arranged by Vietnam backpackers, was called Castaway Cruise. Our island where we would stay was known as Castaway island. Only Vietnam backpackers would take you to this island in Halong Bay as every travel agent has chosen different islands.
I had a great time cruising with my hostel buddies and they turned out to be one raving group full of energy. As we cruised further in Halong Bay, our vision was filled with enchanting landscapes and our bellies with beer. We were taken to a secluded island and spent the entire evening getting to know each other and indulging in water sports like tubing, kayaking and beach volleyball.
The castaway island in Halong Bay. We stayed here for a night
The Halong Bay Archipelago as seen from my Island
Our Dorms on Castaway Island
The serene landscape in front of us and a set of energetic folks looking to have a good time were the highlights of this island. It was a no restrictions party and we drank beer like water. However, the whole partying thing didn’t let us enjoy the tranquil ocean at night, the evening was very silent and pleasant. I tried to squint my eyes and spot the farthest island but, couldn’t figure out which one was farthest in my sight. The green slopes of these islands reflected in waters and created a game of shadows as the sun kept sliding towards the horizon dotted by islands. We kept sipping beer, playing volleyball and getting to know each other during the evening. In the evening, the cruise staff presented us snacks with some tea and coffee.That would be our last
However, the whole partying thing didn’t let us enjoy the tranquil ocean at night. But, the evening was very silent and pleasant. I tried to squint my eyes and spot the farthest island but, couldn’t figure out which one was farthest in my sight. The green slopes of these islands reflected in waters and created a game of shadows as the sun kept sliding towards the horizon dotted by islands.
We kept sipping beer, playing volleyball and getting to know each other during the evening. In the evening, the cruise staff presented us snacks with some tea and coffee. That would be our last non-alcoholic drink for the day. Soon after the sunset, loud music started playing and the sounds of waves crashing the shores faded away into oblivion. The night became young when the music started playing and beer filled our bellies.
The Halong cruise turned out to be a gala time with these folks. I didn’t regret spending extra $70 and joining them for the cruise. I met Americans, Australians, Germans, Russians, Spaniards, Latinos, Britishers and more during this cruise which hosted maybe around 20 folks.
At late night, when it was pitch dark, we also saw gleaming plankton near the deck. It was indeed a surreal experience!
Sunset at the Castaway Islands, Halong Bay cruise
My cruise group! Can you spot me? (Image courtesy Castaway Halong Bay Cruise by Vietnam backpackers)
Apart from the fun quotient in the group, I also enjoyed the sightings a lot. However, I had a better experience of islands and archipelagos in Thailand and Indonesia. The Halong bay looks beautiful as a landscape. But, the water isn’t that clear due to the high density of islands and comparatively stagnant water.
Apart from the beauty of the landscape, I had one embarrassing experience. During my stay at the island, the staff had organised watersports for us. There is this one activity where you lay on a tube tied to a boat. The boat runs through water, trying you to slip off the tube.
We were three people laying on the tube and I was on the right side. The boat took some sharp turns and I slipped off the tube. I managed to climb back on it this time. But the 2nd time, the boat took such a sharp turn. I fell in the ocean but managed to hold the tube with my right hand. In the attempt to climb back, my shorts slipped off! I was there, crashing against water with my one hand stretched to maximum potential and my shorts down to my knees! Eventually, I let go of the tube so I can put my shorts back on! I was glad my bottoms didn’t slide down to the depths of the ocean.
We indulged in various water sports like kayaking, tubing and much more!
The tubing experience where I lost my shorts 🙂
Tubing and Beach Volleyball at Castaway islands. Image Courtesy, Vietnam backpackers
I returned the next day after spending the night in beach hostel. I reached back to my Hanoi Hostel at the end of the day. Exhausted out of my mind, I laid still on the bed, waiting for sleep to drift me off in peace.
To know more about this cruise, you can check out this link
The next day, I again enjoyed street food and in evening, left for Hoi An, the central part of Vietnam. To read about my experience in Hoi An, please read this blog post.
Exploring the Halong bay by cruise was the highlight of my trip to Vietnam. Luckily, I met folks who were great fun and friendly.
Have you been to Halong bay? Let me know your experience below in comments. Feel free to reach out to me if you are planning for Vietnam and have questions.