Beautiful and relaxing.
I decided to go big for my Halong Bay trip and booked a luxury three day/two night tour. I had intended to book with Imperial Tours due to a recommendation I received from a fellow traveler in Sapa, but the company would have charged me a single supplement fee of $20. So I decided to book with another company, choosing Asia Cruise Monkey Island Resort. It turned out to be a great decision, as I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and my companions.
For $125, the tour included all transportation to/from Hanoi and around Halong Bay, all meals, a cave exploration, kayaking and a night on the boat as well as in a bungalow at Monkey Island Resort. For a full itinerary of the tour, check out their website (note that the website lists the price as $140, but if you book with Hanoi Hostel, you will only be charged $125, which was the best deal from asking other people on the boat how much they paid).
Cruising on the boat and admiring the karsts, of which there are just under 2,000 in the bay, was my favorite part of the trip. It was beautiful and very serene. But I did enjoy the other activities as well. The first day we toured Thien Cung Cave, which is also known as Heaven Cave. It was a pretty good cave as far as caves go, but nothing truly jaw dropping. I did enjoy the figures and characters our tour guide pointed out in the stalagmites and stalactites, though you did have to use a liberal imagination in some cases. We also did a short stint of kayaking around part of the bay. It gave a more intimate view of the karsts and exhibited the beauty of the area. We finished the day with a swim in the bay and relaxing on the boat’s sun deck. The sunset was particularly stunning and I later enjoyed the few stars that were visible between the cloud-covered sky.
We spent the first night on the boat, which was quite comfortable. I was lucky enough to have my own room with a delightful double bed and private bathroom. The water pressure in the shower was incredible and the water was nice and warm. I was rather impressed! I slept very well, especially considering the night was plagued by a rain storm. There was a bit of lightning as well, which I enjoyed.
The next day we headed to Monkey Bay Island mid morning and spent the day relaxing on the island. I spent my time lounging on the beach and kayaking to the other side of the island to see the monkeys. I also did a short hike to an overlooking area and got a great view of the spot. It was a very relaxing day. Our last day was pretty uneventful. We had an early breakfast (7 a.m.) and then headed back to the boat to take a slow cruise back to shore. After a fast lunch, we were transported back to Hanoi.
Overall I was very impressed with the tour. It was a great, inclusive package and incredibly relaxing. I really enjoyed not having to think about itinerary or plan what to do. I was pleased to be directed and herded along. And there was a lot of comfortable down time to enjoy. But I think most importantly, I was with a great group of people. Every one was very kind and friendly. And we were all of a similar state of mind, wanting to enjoy the beauty of the area and its tranquility rather than partying it up and getting wasted. Everyone spoke English very well so it was easy for me to communicate with everyone! And happily I ran in to some of my cruise mates when we were back in Hanoi, which was a pleasant way to end my time in that crazy, busy city.
(Also, something to note: Most drinks are not included in the cruise. You only receive a welcome drink and tea or coffee for the final breakfast. Otherwise, you have to buy any drinks, including water, on the ship. And they charge about three times what you would pay normally… except when they push happy hour, but you will still pay much more. I brought a 5 liter jug of water on the ship, which was a fantastic decision-shout out to the girl I met in Sapa who warned me about the drink situation. But be warned that if you buy any drinks and bring them back to the ship, you will be charged a service fee. Since I brought the jug of water on board from the start, I was not charged that fee. Additionally, the stay on Monkey Island Resort has the same drink situation. So I recommend bringing enough water and/or your drink of choice that you will need for the duration of the trip.)
Halong Bay Gratitude Journal
1. I’m grateful for water.
2. I’m grateful for sunscreen.
3. I’m grateful for good people.
4. I’m grateful for English.
5. I’m grateful for tranquil moments.
6. I’m grateful for lightning.