Even though Ha Long Bay has become super touristy, it is still a must-see destination for anyone going to Vietnam. The amount of companies offering Ha Long Bay tours shows just how popular it has become. For anyone planning things on the fly, it can become overwhelming to try and narrow it down to the best tour that fits your style. Some people just want to go see what all the hype is about. Others want to experience as much of it as possible.
There are a few factors you should take into account when choosing your tour. I considered the number of activities to be the most important, followed by what kind of people would be on the tour, and of course, price.
I’ve spoken to other travelers and was shocked that some went on actual cruise ships, spending over $500 for just two days. Others that I’ve spoken to have tried to go as cheap as possible. You could pay as little as $60, but suffer a miserable night sleeping on a cramped boat. Aside from price, the other two factors are going to be relatively out of your control. Unless money ain’t a thang and you feel like booking your own private chartered tour, you’re at the mercy of the tour agencies when it comes to what you’re actually going to do and who you’re going to be doing that stuff with.
My friends took a flight from Laos to Hanoi, while I opted to take the worst bus ride of my life. It spanned 38 hours of misery. They left me for dead and went on to Ha Long Bay without me, so I was starting from scratch once I got to Hanoi. It was crucial for me to pick a tour which would put me with other backpackers and young travelers looking to have a good time. If having a good time is your goal, shop around at hostels. Regardless of how you feel about staying at them, they are the best place to ask about tours.
The tour will be cheaper, catering to the budget travelers that tend to stay there. The people that go on the tour will likely be younger, mostly in their 20’s and looking to have a good time. The activities? Shop around and find out which one has the ones you’re looking for.
Ha Long Hideaway (through Central Backpackers Hostel) is the tour that I went on, and it made Ha Long Bay an unforgettable experience. It went way above and beyond simply sitting on a boat cruising through the islands. We rode bikes through an epic national park, hiked to a viewpoint that gave us a sense of just how vast Ha Long Bay was, and then kayaked through the iconic massive karsts and lagoons.
The tour lasted three days, and cost around $120 if I remember correctly. This price includes transportation to Ha Long Bay and back to Hanoi, which actually ends up being pretty difficult. You have to take a bus then a boat then another bus, so if you’re trying to do Ha Long Bay on your own, be prepared for headaches.
The price also covers your accommodation, which is thankfully not on rocky boat. In fact, you get a private island complete with beaches, a volleyball court, a restaurant and bar, and Wi-Fi. The view from the island is unreal. You do share the rooms with up to seven other people, but if you are accustomed to the backpacker lifestyle, that shouldn’t be a problem at all.
The first day starts with a booze cruise through the islands. If you’re looking for a calm experience, this might not be the one for you. I was deathly hungover from the night before and I managed to go the entire day without a single drink of alcohol. Being on a boat might not have been the best place for hungover Eli, but I went the entire day without puking once, which is more than some of the other guys on the trip can say. The music is bumping and the beers are flowing. Before long, we’re at a private beach doing backflips off of the boat. It is one hell of a time, whether you’re drunk or not. You get to catch a killer sunset followed by everyone taking a much-needed nap on the private island.
The meals are included, and thankfully, it is a big-buffet style meal. I barely ate the entire day so I definitely got my fill of oysters and shrimps come dinnertime. There is a lot of food. Make sure to stock up on spring rolls early because those always went the quickest. I went to bed straight away after dinner. It was a bit awkward the following morning because someone had revealed my identity as “The Partying Traveler” that night while I was in bed by 8 PM. Sure lived up to my name.
Fortunately, that was a pretty good decision on my part because the next day is quite adventurous. You’ll be taken to Cat Ba island which is home to a national park that you will be cycling through before ending up at a local village and hiking up to an epic viewpoint. It was sweltering hot, and I don’t think there was a single one of us that wasn’t dying at the end of those brutal 45 minutes. It was short, but it was one hell of a struggle.
The next morning was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. I’ve kayaked in a lot of cool places, but Ha Long Bay is far and away the most mind-blowing place I’ve ever paddled through. You really don’t realize just how massive the karst jutting from the water are until you get up close. You find a lot of cool enclosed areas that you would not be able to access on a bigger boat. Seeing Ha Long Bay definitely would not have been complete without experiencing it from all the different angles that Ha Long Hideaway provided.
Ha Long Hideaway is definitely the superior choice for young travelers looking for a mix of adventure and fun. You’ve got a party boat stocked with alcohol, a private beach, a private island, and a fun crew to experience one of the world’s most beautiful places. What more could you ask for?
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth millions. Here’s a video from Ha Long Hideaway in case you want to see for yourself what the tour is like. I happened to be on the tour that day, so try to find me and my rice hat!
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