Getting to Halong city wasn’t easy. The weather was way too hot so we could cycle only between 4pm till 10 pm which made everything much longer than we planned. However, after three days of hard work and constant pedaling, we got to Halong! This journey could have been accomplished in a few hours, like most of the travelers tend to do, but we were not leaving our bicycles behind! Check out a great Halong Bay guide created by our friend!
My first impression
I like the scenery- palm trees everywhere, nice and clean beaches, yachts and boats at the bay. It all looked very impressive. We went on the other side of the city (across the bridge) looking for the hospital (we had a rash on our skin, nothing serious, just kind of skin reaction to climate change) and hotel (we hoped to get cheaper accommodation as this side wasn’t very touristic).
We got a very posh and huge room with two separate king size beds for only VND180.000 (price included air conditioning and Wi-Fi) where everywhere else we were told to pay between VND300.00- VND50.000. The prices of hotels on the other side (Halong city centre) are definitely cheaper.
My advice: cross the bridge, look around, try to bargain hard and you will find some decent accommodation on the cheap!
Getting tour deal
We were thinking that if we come to Halong by bikes without booking a tour in Hanoi we will be able to get a good 2-3 day deal visiting the islands nearby, sleeping on the boat, kayaking and seeing the caves. It DID NOT happen.
The travel agencies did not want to bargain at all and the prices they quoted were way too high, much higher than in Hanoi. We popped in a few travel offices around Halong but the prices were very similar.
We did not give up though and we were waiting at around 11 am at the main bay to buy the boat tickets and go for a one day trip with people who booked a 3-day-tour and then stay overnight on the island looking for our own accommodation and then come back on our own. However, it was tougher than we thought.
- The boat prices were higher for foreigners than for locals so nobody wanted to sell us the boat tickets for the price it actually costs.
- The staff were very rude and they made everything so complicated quoting different prices- each time higher.
- The bay was overcrowded and we felt ignored by the staff as well as by the travel agents.
- Bargaining was nearly impossible and the prices they quoted were just silly ($65 for two day trip when you can easily get 3 day trip for $60).
- We were also rushed all the time with our decision making.
Overall, we felt disappointed and the whole situation was very pathetic. It was a nightmare! In the end, we managed to get one day trip for $15 including kayaking but excluding the lunch (people coming from Hanoi paid the same price but the price included the lunch).
That was my face expression after we got the boat tickets. I was pretty tired and frustrated.
But ready to take off.
Our tour group consisted of more or less 20 people, mainly Vietnamese nationals, but we also made friends with one British and one Thai girl being on their holiday in Vietnam.
We had a great time together chatting all the way long.
There was also a bunch of Thai and Chinese girls who joined us.
Me and Cez did some kayaking which was an awesome experience. We were surrounded by a breath-taking scenery.
It was very relaxing.
Taking an incredible amount of photos.
Here are some photos of me and Cez having a blast while kayaking.
We paid for 1 hour kayaking but once we started we were told 45 minutes was enough. Locals put such a pressure on us telling us where we have to go and where we can’t. Getting to caves was charged extra but we were told it was going to be free for us. It wasn’t, so we didn’t pay and didn’t see the caves. There were many other travelers kayaking nearby.
Halong Bay itself
Halong Bay is considered as one of the world’s natural wonders and the most beautiful tourist destination of Vietnam and this is so true.
The view from the boat was very beautiful.
There are more than one thousand extraordinary limestone islands with different shapes and sizes. You can imagine stunning mountains (kind of Zhangjiajie mountains, Hunan province, China) sticking out from the crystal clear water.
The Bay is surrounded by freshwater swamp forests, sandy beaches and offshore coral reefs making the landscape so stunning!
What surprises me the most is the fact that many local people live there in small wooden houses on the water doing some fishing, selling food and fruits to tourists or renting boats and kayaks.
I enjoyed the scenery a lot despite the fact there were so many boats around overcrowded with tourists. It is a typical touristic spot I always try to avoid but Halong Bay is a must see when being in Vietnam.
Visiting Surprise Cave
Surprise Cave is located 25 m above the sea level with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites in the grotto. There is a lighting system inside which adds even more charm to the beauty of the extraordinary grotto. We spent there no longer than 20 minutes.
The whole trip took about 5 hours. We departed 50 minutes later than we should (13:20 instead of 12:30) and came back 30 minutes earlier than we should.
Summary of the Halong Bay tour:
– The boat crew was very friendly and nice, apart from the travel guide who rushed everyone and stress people out.
– The scenery was breath-taking. I would go there again to see the lanscape.
– Too busy with travelers, too many boats around and locals being rude and pushy.
– The whole trip was too expensive, but the served lunch looked tasty and decent (rice, fish, vegetables).
– The 5 (actually 4) hour trip wasn’t worth the money we paid ($15).
– Some people paid for kayaking but didn’t manage to do it as the time was strictly limited (they lost the money and didn’t get the refund).
– We paid for 1h kayaking and got only 40 minutes being told where to go and being extra charged for visiting caves if we wanted to.
My advice would be to book a mid-range tour in Hanoi for 2-3 days and try to bargain there before you get to Halong. It’s a beautiful place but we felt disappointed with the way locals treated not only us but other travelers- using the natural beauty to get every dollar out of you.
More photos of this stunning place can be seen in our gallery “Halong Bay”.