At this point in our trip, we had spent six days in cities and I was in dire need of seeing some trees, water, and nature. Our time in Hanoi was only three days so we found ourselves taking a day trip to Halong Bay. My research of TripAdvisor posts have advised against a day trip, but it was the only option for us since we were limited on time.
The agency we used to book our tour was Vietnam Hidden Charm Tours. We stumbled upon them and was able to bargain a price that we were comfortable with. The travel agent welcomed us warmly and helped us coordinate pickup from somewhere near our Airbnb location as well.
Bus, Where are you?
Our Airbnb was located near the Hanoi Opera House and so we were directed to wait in front of the Opera House for our bus pickup. The process of waiting consisted of staring down a bus as it pulled to a stop, watching a tour guide step down from the bus, and awaiting patiently for the guide to shout our names. Many buses passed before we encountered our tour guide as the Opera House was a popular meetup place for all tourists going on tours.
The bus ride was about 3 hours with a short bathroom break in between.
Cruising Along the Bay
Once we were on the boat, we were provided with a complimentary lunch buffet. Afterwards, we were free to roam and explore the boat and it’s two levels. The scenic route was accompanied by a cool breeze and the smell of ocean and trees.
Sung Sot Cave
Our first stop was Sung Sot Cave. Our guide explained to us that the people who discovered the cave were very enthralled by its beauty and very surprised to find a cave there. Therefore, they named it Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave.
I wasn’t surprised by the beauty of the cave but rather was surprised by the amount of people inside it! Definitely had a bunch of people inside and it felt very claustrophobic. The heat of all the human bodies inside made the cave very hot and unbearable.
Once we were out of that part of the cave, it was easier to walk and admire all the stalagmites and stalactites.
Kayaking and Hiking Titop Island
On our second stop, we were able to enjoy some kayaking or row boating. This was my favorite part of the experience as I felt more free and independent to explore on my own. The other parts felt like I was a part of a large herd of sheep, following the individuals in front of me as we migrated through the cave.
The third and last stop was Titop Island, where we had the option to swim or to hike. From afar, we could already see how crowded the beach was and we had no intentions to go in the water. Instead we hiked to the top of the island where we were able to see incredible views. The hike was definitely challenging as it consisted mostly of stairs and my legs were jelly afterwards.
A Long Day in Halong Bay
On our boat ride back we were able to enjoy and watch the sunset while enjoying the company of our newfound friends from the tour. By the time we went on the bus, my energy was depleted. I yearned dearly for a shower and the bed of our Airbnb.
I could see now why a day trip to Halong Bay was not recommended on TripAdvisor forums but I definitely do not regret going. It definitely required a good night’s rest before and after the tour and I needed all the stamina I had to get through the entire thing. Given the time and resources that we had, this tour was the most time efficient and cost-friendly and I highly recommend the experience.