A long weekend in Halong Bay was just what we needed to cut away from the frenzy of Ho Chi Minh City. After a two-hour flight to Hanoi, we settle for the night in a brand new hostel in the heart of the old city. The next morning a bus toured all the hostel in town to pick up the backpackers headed to Halong Bay. A 4-hour ride and we were in the harbor where all cruises start!
Now there are many ways to tour the bay, from the regular day trip to the most luxurious 3-day sail. Depending on what is your idea of fun, you should be careful when choosing the company you use. If you book a cruise with a regular travel agent or the concierge from your hotel you will most probably enjoy a very comfortable cruise with older travelers. In our case we decided to go with the hostel recommendation in order to end up with a younger crowd looking to party.
It was a group of about 14 backpackers from all over the world. Besides the usual activities offered on board most cruises (kayak, cooking class), the extra touch on ours was that the party lasted all night and we got to try drinking games from all over the world! Once away from the harbor, we cruised on an old junk and passed different coves with their floating homes, fish farms and sometimes temples.
Our guide took us on a kayak tour which included rowing through a small cave up to a secluded bay. He told us the story behind the name of the site. The legend says that the islands were formed by a descending dragon. French colons a century ago even reported seeing a giant creature swimming in its waters…
The next day, the most courageous of us tried cliff jumping (12m) and shortly after we headed to a private island where the company has a house. It is sort of a hostel with a dorm room and a few private cabanas with electricity only working through the generator for a few hours. It is basically two giant pitons connected by land in the middle where the house is, and on both sides, a beach with a fantastic view.
We spent one night there before returning to the mainland and back with a 2-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City.