We left the lovely town of Hoi An and headed up towards the capital city of Hanoi. We only stopped in Hanoi for one night before hopping on a bus that took us over to Halong City [about 3 hours away], where we boarded our cruise of Halong Bay. We booked the cruise through our guest house in Hanoi and there were a couple of companies offering different price options. We had previously been warned to stay away from the cheaper cruise options, as in many cases the cheaper price meant bad food, a disorganised tour and even rats on board the boat! The lady from our guest house also warned us away from the cheapest option, saying that a lot of guests had returned with bad reviews of the trip. Our guesthouse lady had been on the medium priced, 'Fantasea Deluxe Cruise' herself a few weeks earlier, even showing us photos of the boat and the food on her phone! We went with this option - it looked good and cost about 150GBP per person for 3 days and 2 nights. All accommodation, food, transport and activities were included in this price for the whole trip.
Once we arrived at Halong Bay on the bus, we were shuttled across to our ship on a smaller boat. We boarded the boat and immediately went through to the dining area for a massive Vietnamese lunch - there were so many different dishes put in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves to and the food was really good. After lunch we were shown to our rooms which were really cute little cabins, just like normal hotel rooms with big comfy beds and ensuite bathrooms, but on a boat! I haven't been on a cruise before so this was all very novel for me! The first day's activities were cruising around some of the islands in Halong bay [there are nearly 2,000 rocks and islands jutting out of the sea], before exploring some caves on foot and then in kayaks. I loved seeing the amazing scenery from the top deck of the boat, there were loads of sun loungers that you could lie back on and admire the view. Our first stop was a walk through 3 huge caves, full of stalactites and stalagmites and according to our guide, rocks that looked like various animals... which unfortunately we couldn't quite see, but it was funny anyway. After we'd finished walking through the impressive caves, we got back on our boat and cruised some more to a different island with some cave tunnels leading into a secret little bay. We kayaked through the tunnel and around the bay, where were saw loads of monkeys climbing up the jungle on the rock face! It was a really fun day of activities, not too strenuous but we saw loads of wildlife and scenery. We got back on the boat and had time to shower and relax before dinner. The food was just as good as lunch - another amazing selection of Vietnamese food. There was a really lovely group of people on our trip, from all around the world but similar ages, so we all hung out together after dinner and played drinking and card games through the evening. By this point our boat was moored up in a bay with a couple of other cruises, so we spent the first night on the water.
The next morning we had an early start, with breakfast being served at 7am! By 7.30am we had arrived at our first stop of the day - Monkey Island - where we had the chance to climb the [many] steps to the viewpoint at the top of the hill. It was exhausting climbing up all those steps, which was the most exercise we'd had in a while, but the view from the top was worth it. The viewpoint overlooks the bay, where some of the cruises are still parked up [first and fourth photo]. After descending, we were able to chill out on the island's beach and swim or watch the monkeys on the rocks. Then we were taken on our boat to Cat Ba Island - the biggest and only one of the 2,000 islands to have inhabitants and towns. This is where we'd be staying for the second night of our trip. Before going to our hotel for the evening, we were taken to Cat Ba National Park where we trekked through the jungle [with footpaths] to the top of a mountain where the views were incredible, despite it being a bit misty and gloomy by the time we got to the top. It was a pretty hard trek, with some parts of the path being more like rock climbing than walking, made especially hard because I was wearing flipflops, oops! But we made it to the top, it took about an hour each way. After the trek we were taken by minibus to our hotel in Cat Ba Town, it was a lovely hotel for the evening, in-keeping with the quality of the room on the boat [much nicer than the hostels we're used to!]. We had another Vietnamese lunch in the hotel, again with good food and a massive selection, then we had the afternoon free to explore the town, local beach and island. After dinner we went into the town to have some drinks with the rest of our group, where we taught each other card games - it was fun learning games from other countries and trying to translate the names too, ha!
On our third and final day, we had breakfast in the hotel before being picked up and driven by minivan back to our boat at Cat Ba port. We spent the morning cruising slowly back through the islands towards the mainland, while relaxing on the top deck. We had one final lunch on the boat before jumping off and onto our coach to take us back to Hanoi. The trip was definitely worth the money, we packed so much into those few days! I loved being on the boat, all the activities were great and we definitely saw Halong Bay from every possible angle. The people on our trip helped make it awesome too, we've met some people that we'll try and visit if we're ever in their part of the world!