Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Ha Long Bay is often the main destination when people visit Hanoi. It was mine. It's really easy to see why it's both a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the 7 Wonders of Nature as it's a vast area of miraculous islands and karsts.
We booked a one-day boat tour through The Sinh Tourist. Before the tour date, they ask you to check in at their shop so we did so the night before. Their Hanoi Old Quarter location, one of a couple, was pretty convenient. One thing to be careful of is the imposter agencies nearby. They even use the same name and logo so double check the exact location. One tip is to take a look at their email address they display at the shop, if the domain isn’t thesinhtourist.vn, that’s not it.
A tour bus came to our hotel, the Noble & Swan Boutique Hotel, early the next morning and we embarked on the roughly 3 to 4 hour ride to Ha Long Bay. The bus made a stop along the way at a center selling arts and crafts, apparel, and various drinks and snacks - a good place to use the bathroom, stretch and grab a bite.
As soon as the boat left the port - an area being developed with nice vacation rentals - more and more karsts began to arise out of the water and we got the feeling that we would be seeing some amazing sights.
Ha Long Bay reminded me of parts of Thailand like Koh Phi Phi. While it's more vast than the Thailand islands, the water isn't as nice and unfortunately, there are places where you can see some trash floating around. Besides that, being surrounded by all of these formations really makes you feel like you're in another world. Quite Avatar-esque.
After a Vietnamese lunch in which we shared some fried fish, vegetables, spring rolls and other dishes with the others on our table, the boat docked for the rowboat experience.
We had the option of either sitting in a group boat with a rower or go at it on our own. Like most of the others, we chose the group option.
Our rowboat captain didn't say a word the entire time as she likely didn't speak any English, so don't expect a guided tour. It didn't really matter for our boat, however, the sights took up enough of our attention anyway. We went through tunnels to secluded inlets surrounded by the tall rock formations, and rowed by some locals on their boats.
Getting back on our cruise boat, we headed towards Dau Go island, an island known for Dong Thien Cung cave. The cave is a natural grotto full of stalactites and stalagmites that has become a major stopping point for Ha Long Bay tours.
If being around the karsts on the Bay is like being in another world, going into the cave ads another depth to it. The inside of Dong Thien Cung cave is quite big and certain areas are illuminated with colorful lights. If you have trouble handiling closed spaces, you might find this a little challenging as the air can be a little humid and stale, and with only a few small openings to the outside.
After the caves, we returned back to the port where we boarded the bus to head back to Hanoi. We stopped at the same rest stop on the return, and arrived back at our hotel after a few hours to conclude the one-day trip.