Choosing a Ha Long Bay Budget Tour
One of the most popular things to do when in Hanoi is taking a tour of Ha Long Bay. This amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site is no doubt one of the top experiences to do when in Vietnam and leaves visitors breathless. Though, problem is, there are so many options to explore Ha Long Bay. They range in price from the horribly cheap ‘I am not sure how this boat is floating’ type to the luxury five star cruise with a six course dinner included.
From the moment you arrive in Hanoi you will constantly be asked if you have booked your Ha Long Bay cruise yet. The amount of options seem endless and all the tour agencies which line the streets in the old quarter each seem to be selling a different one.
Well, being quite tight on a budget and having splurged on mac and cheese the previous night I decided to check out my options online. It seemed the main backpacker Ha Long Bay cruises were either with Ocean Tours or with Vietnam Backpacker Hostels. Though, through my research I came to find out the Vietnam Backpacker Hostels tour of Ha Long Bay was more of a booze cruise, with everyone getting obliterated, vomiting and getting down with it on the beach. I may be a backpacker, but that is certainly not my scene.
How Much To Spend On A Budget Ha Long Bay Tour
Alternatively, I decided to book my Ha Long Bay on a budget adventure with Ocean Tours. They have two options, a Ha Long Bay Cocktail Cruise or a Ha Long Bay Adventure Cruise. I decided to go with the cocktail cruise option, as in contrast to the name, a lot of reviews seemed that this wasn’t a booze cruise, more just a few chill drinks and relaxing vibes.
I felt I would get the most value for money, and having found a promo code online, a managed to book a three day, two night excursion for $115.00. Though, looking now that promo code seems to be invalid. Alternatively, if you are staying at Chien Hostel or Hanoi Rocks Hostel they generally do a special deal if you book directly through them. For example, a free nights stay or a free meal.
Checking out the current prices online it seems to cost $99.00 for a two day, one night cocktail cruise or $149.00 for the three day, two night cocktail cruise.
The Difference Between Ocean Tours Budget Ha Long Bay Cruise And Other Options
The main difference between booking with the Ocean Tours cocktail cruise and other tours to Ha Long Bay is the accommodation options. One of the main appeals with many other cruise providers is that they provide the opportunity to sleep in Ha Long Bay. These boats have separate cabins, allowing you to fall asleep to the motion of the ocean and wake up to the sound of waves.
Instead, Ocean Tours has their own island, Cat Ong Island within the Ha Long Bay/ Lan Ha Bay area, opposite Cat Ba Island. I had heard horror stories about junk boats and the type of accommodation they provide so knowing that I would be sleeping in a bed on land was of great relief. Also knowing that we would have a private beach to ourselves was another bonus.
Beginning Our Ha Long Bay Cruise With Ocean Tours
We stayed at Chien Hostel in Hanoi and this place was amazing. For only $5.00 a night we slept in a very modern dorm room. There was an amazing rooftop view with an amazing buffet breakfast spread included every morning. The staff here are super helpful and there are free drinks every night for anyone interested.
Since Chien Hostel sells the Ha Long Bay cocktail cruise tour we were picked up right at our accommodation. A chirpy English Bloke called Nick bursts into the hostel with a massive smile and dreadlocks pointing every direction. He would be our tour guide for the next three days.
We jump on the bus and drive for the next three and a half hours to HaiPhong. This is where we leave the comfort of the bus and are squished into a speed boat to take us to our final stop. The speed boat is an experience of its own, legit like sardines in a can. Though, luckily it only lasts forty minutes where we stop at Caiveing.
Boarding The Boat And Heading To Ha Long Bay
Waiting for us in Caiveing is a beautiful red junk boat which we would be chilling on for the next six hours while exploring Ha Long Bay and La Ha Bay. Table are set up along each side of the boat where we grab a seat and meet our new boat mates.
A quick introduction is given and we are shown our sailing route on a map. Its amazing how far the Ocean Bay Tour takes you compared with other tour companies. They usually just stay in one small area of Ha Long Bay. Oh and we are given cocktails, as no cocktail cruise can begin without drinks. Though, it is a lot too strong for my liking and I give it up to another member of the group.
The interior of the boat is wood, as well as all the furniture on board. The back of the boat open right up, with no rails and one hundred and eighty degree views. On the second story is a large lounging area, perfect for sunbathing.
Chilling out and enjoying the views we watch fisherman speed past in their little boats which look like they are barely holding together. The beautiful limestone karsts which shoot out of the ocean are stunning, especially against the blue water.
Lunch On The Junk Boat In Ha Long Bay
Soon lunch is ready and we all sit down at our tables while the most delicious spread is laid down in front of us. The freshest seafood, spring rolls, omelet and more. With fresh chili and soy sauce everyone digs in. Being vegetarian I get a little extra tofu as well, and I must admit no one cooks tofu better than the Vietnamese!
Unfortunately, this is my first experience using chop sticks. I tried to learn a little bit previously in Laos, though I kind of failed, so now I am here looking like a dork.
Kayaking in Ha Long Bay
You cant swim thirty minutes after eating, but no one ever said you cant kayak thirty minutes after eating. Once lunch is over and feeling full we pull into a beautiful lagoon. Here there is a building floating on top of a pontoon. The tall limestone karsts rise up tall all around us and the boats look so small in comparison. We get off the boat and onto a raft walkway which looks like it is barely being held together. Kayaks are placed in the water. In groups of two we jump in them and paddle further into the bay.
Once we get the correct rhythm it is time to head through the light and dark cave to the most beautiful untouched lagoon. Apart from the splash of the kayak, it is completely silent. A stark contrast to the bustling and crazy city of Hanoi. Surrounding us is the natural beauty of Ha Long Bay, with lush green trees and amazing coral beneath. Who knew there is coral in Ha Long Bay?!
After enjoying the serenity and appreciating the peace and quiet, it is time to head back to the boat. The water is too cold and luckily no one falls in. Our guide Nick told us horror stories of people getting coral cuts here. We moor up the kayaks and jump back onto our cocktail cruise junk boat just as another tour group pulls up in their boat.
Swimming In Lan Ha Bay
After the kayaking we chill out and sunbathe on the roof of the boat. Getting to know each other and sharing our adventures. To our surprise there are three other kiwis on board. So far, throughout all our travels in Asia, we were yet to meet another New Zealander. Then suddenly all them have appeared at once.
Arriving in Lan Ha Bay the boat stops and we get in for a swim. I personally don’t brave the cold, but the majority of others do. The water here is a lot cleaner than in Ha Long Bay. I am guessing because there is less boat traffic, which vastly improves the conditions the clarity and color.
People jump off the top of the boat catching free beers on the way down. A small sandy island underneath a tall lime karst provides some relief from the chilly waters. It allows the swimmers to get out and enjoy the sunshine.
Arriving at Cat Ong Island
With the temperature dropping and the sun beginning to lower in the horizon everybody climbs back onto the boat. Its time to head to Cat Ong Island. This is where we will be spending the next two nights among all the beauty of this area.
On Cat Ong Island a rock jetty greets us in the ocean as we depart from the junk boat. We are all astonished by how amazing this place is. I honestly wasn’t too sure what to expect, but a massive building overlooking the ocean was certainly not it. The whole place is a masterpiece, with views to the sparkling lights of Cat Ba Island town in the distance. Cat Ong Island is for sure paradise and we have the it all to ourselves.
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