Legend tells that while Vietnam was developing as a country, they had to fight off invaders. The gods were so kind to send a family of dragons to assist in this battle. To hold back the enemy, the dragons created a wall of isles which were formed by the jade and jewels that the dragons spat. As a final blow some of these mountains arose right in front of the many enemy ships, which then crashed into the rising rocks and each other. When the battle was won, the dragons decided to peacefully watch over the earth and live in Hạ Long Bay, which translated means “descending dragon bay”.
The area is magnificent, these thousands of unique isles really feel like a maze made to keep out the old enemies. We were lucky enough to get a misty setting, which took away the ability to see far into the distance but created lots of layers with many shades of blue. One didn’t need many fantasy to see the legendary dragons flying around this mystical scenery.
PRICE AND BOOKING
Although it was a big bite from our travelers budget, doing a 2 days tour at Halong Bay was definitely worth it. Booking a tour in Hanoi was easy as many operators offer the tours. You can mostly choose between tours covering a day, 2 days/1night and 3 days/2nights. With the 3days/2nights you’ll be first sleeping on the boat that cruises you around the gorgeous area of Halong Bay and the second day you’ll sleep on Cat Ba island (national park). Here you can hike around or rent your own kayak. Some tours also have a (short) kayak around a small area in Halong Bay.
Price range is pretty wide. The cheapest tours mostly cover less area of the bay, food is basic and boat and rooms less nice. Some stories of many rats on board and unsafe boats exist but don’t know how real those are. Cheapest tours were around $50.
We went for a mid-range priced tour and took the two days-one night option. The rooms were nice and food was ok, tofu a bit bland but I loved that they had put effort in fake meat and shrimps. Vegetarians/vegans get their own dishes next to the rice and vegetables that are being shared among the table. The people on the boat booked at different operators so prices actually varied. We paid $80 each while other paid around $100. So bargain if you can or go to another selling point.
SO SHOULD YOU GO?
Although we loved our Halong experience, we can understand that some might find it too expensive. The views were amazing, the misty mood magical and the boat pretty comfy but it will be mostly similar (although beautiful) mountains you’ll see and it’s mostly organized to the minute, but this might differ per operator. If you book through a youth hostel you might end up in a party-boat-vibe, independent booking offices might put you on a mixed, more family-style boat. Whatever you prefer!
If you have a smaller budget or you prefer being on land over sea then check out Tam Coc. This beautiful little brother of Halong Bay is surrounded by rice fields. Read my post about Tam Coc here. (Link coming). More about Vietnam is listed here!