Halong Bay is the gem of Vietnam and was the highlight of our trip. It’s impossible to capture the splendor of the area on a camera, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Halong Bay is extremely tranquil, with hundreds of small islands jutting up from the ocean protecting it from large ocean waves.
We split our 3 days in Halong Bay between a party boat with Hanoi Backpackers and adventure touring with Blue Swimmer. On the party boat, we got to drink, suntan, and swim. With Blue Swimmer, we got to do some serious kayaking, hiking, and cycling.
The party boat was interesting and fun – if you like never-ending drinking games and Australian sausagefests with too much sausage on display. But ignoring that, the boat was comfortable with a great sun deck (and we did have a few hours of rare sunshine), most of the people were interesting, and it was fun jumping off the top and swimming in Halong Bay.
We did a late afternoon kayak in some of the sketchiest kayaks I’ve ever seen to a big cave. In true backpacker style, our guides lead us to the mouth of the cave, and then sat on the beach drinking while we explored the depths of the cave. Only Emily and I, and a few others brought headlamps. If we weren’t in such a big group, it would have been terrifying.
It was fun hanging out with such free spirits, but on the second day, Emily and I ditched them and took a water taxi to Cat Ba Island to find our own adventure. We found the Blue Swimmer office and booked an overnight kayaking trip. It was just us, another couple, and our guide.
It was nice kayaking in a small group – we were able to explore some of the more remote parts of Halong Bay. We went through quiet passageways, caves only accessible at low-tide, fishing villages, and small fish farms.
We spent the night at a resort perched on a tiny strip of sandy beach. On our third day we paddled to Cat Ba Island and did some cycling and hiking in the national park. After so much kayaking, it felt good to be out of a boat. Our back, arms, and butts were sore. The cycling was surprisingly flat, but the hiking was nothing but vertical.