Halong bay is considered one of the 7 wonders of nature (not to be mistaken with 7 wonders of the world). There are 1900+ islands and islets around Halong Bay, and of course many of them are uninhabitable so the views are breathtaking!
I had deliberated between getting myself to Cat Ba Island and staying there for a few nights, seeing the island and doing the kayak and cave tour, and this would probably have been a cheaper option. You can get a local bus for $3 – $6 from the bus station in Hanoi, but this wouldn’t include the ferry and bus on Cat Ba, or your hostel can organise a one way trip for around $14, a trip that includes all 3 journeys. You would then just need to book your own accommodation, food, rent a scooter and find somewhere to do the tours once you’re there.
I eventually decided to go through my hostel, Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, and organised a trip where everything was included. My hostel had options at $65, $75 and $85. I chose the $85 option and this included transport to Halong Bay, a boat that takes you out and you sleep overnight, kayaking, exploring a cave, hiking Titop Island, visiting a pearl farm, lunch and dinner. Other than drinks, there is nothing you need to pay for! A company I went to before booking through my hostel offered me a 4* overnight boat at only $115 instead of $199! I ended up going with my hostel because I daren’t leave the hostel in a rush to this place and get lost on the way – as I had done every other time I left the hostel!
The beginning of an adventure!
I woke up at 7.45am. The bus was leaving at 7.30am. Great start, Helene. I ran downstairs in a panic and they told me it was okay, the bus hadn’t arrived yet but to get changed and come downstairs. I had already set my clothes out ready for the travel, so ran upstairs, got changed and came back down. A few moments later, the bus arrived! The journey to Halong Bay was around 4 hours. We stopped off at a statue shop to get snacks and a toilet break and then arrived in Halong Bay by 12pm. We were put on to a small boat to be ferried out to our boat that would be home for the next 2 days.
Sung Sot Cave ´Surprising Cave´
Before getting started, we had lunch on the boat, an assortment of seafood, vegetables and chicken (or ´sea chicken´ as our tour guide, Kevin, liked to refer to it!). After checking in to our rooms on the boat, we headed to Sung Sot, to walk through the humongous cave!
Sung Sot is also referred to as ´Surprising Cave´as, you guessed it, the first people who visited the cave were surprised by the beauty! If I remember correctly, there was 3 main sections to the cave, all as breathtaking as the next one. It was quite evident that the cave had been altered heavily for tourist use (i.e. carving steps, pathways etc.) but other than this it was beautiful. Right at the end, there is a stone on your right that was carved with the name of the person who discovered the cave.
Once we had walked through the cave, we began our descent to the small boat, which took us over to Titop Island.
Titop Island was named after the Soviet cosmonaut Ghermann Titov, and has approximately 42 flights of stairs, according to my Fitbit, to get to the top. Once you’re at the top, it´s totally worth the butt burning flights of stairs! There were a lot of people at the top, in a relatively small area, but we had got to the top just before sunset so I suppose it was to be expected!
We headed back to the boat and enjoyed our dinner then a couple of us went to the back of the boat and attempted squid fishing! I´m not really a fan of fishing, but I gave it a try. It was a (VERY!) tedious activity but I bet really rewarding if you caught one. At the time of our attempt, there were a lot of boats and their lights around the area so it was quite difficult to catch them, although I did have one on the line but it wriggled free before I could show anyone!
Pearl Farm & Kayaking
The morning after, we went to the Pearl Farm, where they showed us how they farm the Oysters (they take 4-8 years depending on which type!). Following this, we got to watch as they opened one to see if there was a pearl inside! At first it didn’t seem to have anything inside, but as they dug deeper, out came a beautiful pearl! There was also a shop where you could buy an assortment of jewellery, ranging from around $50 and going up to $16,800 for a large black pearl necklace (the ones that take 8 years each)! We took the small boat across the water and enjoyed some kayaking, exploring the cove. This was so much fun, albeit slightly tiring, and our boat and the German boys boat ended up in a water fight, and soaked! Once this was over, we headed back to the boat and had a cooking class on how to make spring rolls. They cooked them and we ate them alongside our lunch as we headed back to the bay. They were so tasty!
Is it worth it?
As I said earlier, I did the 2 day – 1 night option and it cost me $85. I would say it was worth every penny! There was also an option to do 3 days – 2 nights. On the second night you would stay at Cat Ba Island or Monkey Island. I´m not sure how much this would cost, as different companies sold the tour for different prices. I have heard of prices between $120 and $200.
If you are wanting to do your own thing, you could get a bus to Cat Ba Island (you may need to change at Halong Bay), for $6, or go via your accommodation and they will charge you around $14 but this is the bus to the pier, ferry to Cat Ba Island, and bus on Cat Ba Island. Then, once you’re there, you can kayak/visit caves for between $12-25. Accommodation (hostels) will cost you around $5-10 night.
Whatever you do, make sure you make it to this area of Vietnam! It is SO beautiful!