You can visit Halong Bay on your own and spend time transiting between the beaches and Halong Bay City, or, you can choose to do a variety of overnight cruises through Halong Bay. Prices for cruises vary in cost from $50USD to $250USD. Offerings include booze cruises, elegant cruises, romantic cruises, and standard activity cruises. I had been warned by fellow travelers who had come to Vietnam before me that what you spend is what you get, so I opted for an activity cruise that was around the $150USD mark (probably the most cash I put out in all of SE Asia).
After booking through my hostel, I took a rainy, early morning bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay City (~3 hours) where I was reunited with Danielle. The bus picked us up directly from our hostel and then stopped at several other hostels/hotels on our way out of town. As we were picking up a group of people at a hotel, I suddenly realized I didn’t have enough cash to make it through the trip. Panicked that I wouldn’t be able to buy souvenirs if the desire struck me, I launched myself off the bus without asking permission and sprinted to an ATM in monsoon rain. I got back just as the bus was pulling away and in time to hear the driver give me his two cents in Vietnamese about my risky manoeuvre. Feeling pleased with myself for having made it, I sat down and settled into sleep for the next three hours.
When we arrived to Halong Bay, we were corralled onto the cruise boat, orientated to water safety, and let loose in our private cabins with private balconies. Worth every penny, if you ask me.
Over the next two days we were served delicious meals, offered fun activities such as kayaking and morning tai chi, and taken on small bamboo boat excursions to beaches, bays, and the local pearl farm. It was a wonderful escape.
Did you know: only 30% of oysters make pearls, and only 10% of those make nice pearls? One oyster can make anywhere from 20-130 pearls per month (depending on the species of oyster) but those are usually not as beautiful as the rare ones. Now you know too!
While I thoroughly enjoyed all the adventures, my favourite moment was waking up on the final morning to a breathtaking view, enveloped in a large, cloud-like duvet. I felt very VIP that day. I soaked in the splurge of comfort, because I knew mountainous Sapa was looming in the future with its less-than-glamourous mountain trekking.
Different kinds of adventures, with different kinds of lessons. I love the variety in Vietnam.