If you’re visiting Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, you have to see Halong Bay. That’s just a given. It’s one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage Site after all.
Before I flew into Vietnam, I had done a little research on what to see, but the top attractions didn’t stick in my memory. It wasn’t until I arrived in Hanoi and saw photos of Halong Bay that I knew I had to see it for myself. There are 2 and 3-day tours available, but I didn’t have a lot of time left so just booked the one-day tour with Trazy Tours.
Trazy.com is an online booking agency primarily focusing on Thailand and South Korea, but now moving into Vietnam with a handful of tours between Hanoi and Hoi An. During my week in Vietnam, I booked two tours with them, one a food tour and the other a tour to Halong Bay – one of the seven new wonders of the world.
Booking with Trazy.com is a great way to avoid the more questionable tours offered on the streets of Hanoi. The booking process with them is very simple. It takes just a few minutes on their website, and you’re ready to go. It was nice not to have any paper tickets or confusions with the tour group. However, even though they have a full description of their tours on the website, I had no idea just how much of a treat they would be.
What and Where is Halong Bay
Halong Bay is a series of roughly 1969 Islands located about 100 miles east of Hanoi on the coast of Vietnam. Among the islands, there are over 200 known caves. The islands were made internationally famous in 1997 when the James Bond movie 007: Tomorrow Never Dies was filmed in part there. Then in 2017, Kong: Skull Island was filmed among the islands. In 1994, the bay was given UNESCO World Heritage status, and in 2011 it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
In recent years, mass tourism has sprung up with hundreds of boats sailing around the bay each day. Several different tour options are available with 1, 2 and 3-day itineraries. The multi-day itineraries include sleeping on one of the islands or on a boat. There are also 5-star luxury cruises available with better food, accommodations and activities, and they don’t cost that much more.
Halong Bay Tour Itinerary
The tour company that Trazy selected for me was Dragonfly Cruises. They picked us up directly from the hostel at 8:20 a.m., although we were one of the last to be picked up and the first ones were on the bus by 7:30. I hadn’t actually read the itinerary on the website before leaving on the tour, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. As it was, my schedule in the morning fell behind and I missed breakfast. The bus does stop at a tourist center with arts and crafts, food and clothes for sale, but the prices are three times what I would have paid in Hanoi so I decided to wait for lunch.
Our bus arrived in Halong Bay around 12:30, and within minutes we were on our junk (Chinese boat). The tour included lunch on board, cave spelunking, and kayaking or a ride on a bamboo boat around the islands before returning to the harbor. The drive back to Hanoi took another three and a half hours or so, stopping at another tourist center on the way. We arrived back at the hostel a little after 8 p.m., just in time to meet Lan from our food tour for another dinner.
An Endless Feast for Lunch
Lunch on the boat was nothing short of epic. Plates with cucumber slices were already on the tables as we boarded. The engines had barely started when they brought out a plate of thick-cut fries. Over the next several minutes, the following dishes arrived in rapid succession: omelet “fingers,” chicken stir-fry, fried spring rolls, seafood stir-fry, a massive plate of rice, cabbage salad, a large grilled fish, a plate of boiled prawns, and several watermelon slices. A bottle of water and tea were provided, while non-alcoholic beverages and beer were available to purchase.
The food wasn’t fantastic, but neither was it bad (except for the fish which tasted off). We ate as much as we could, but couldn’t finish off everything they had put on the table. The two Australians who shared our table didn’t eat shellfish, and separate dishes were prepared for them. I was almost glad I had skipped breakfast that morning.
Spelunking in Thien Cung (Heaven) Cave
The cruise pretty much went straight to Dau Go Island, the main attraction of the one-day cruises. We all disembarked from the boat and had our ticket punched for the cave exploration. Thien Chun Cave, also known as Heaven Cave, is one of the largest caves in Halong Bay. Our tour guide for the day led us into the cave, giving us all the pertinent details. He went over how the cave was formed, and who discovered the cave.
As we walked through the massive caverns, he pointed out dozens of features and how they had been given nicknames based on the creatures they resembled. There were several dozen different rocks that had been named, although most took quite some imagination to see the dragon or tortoise or whatever had been depicted. A couple, however, were readily noticeable. Probably the most interesting one was the Romeo and Juliet statue which, from a distance, honestly looked like someone had carved it into the rock (and only zooming into the photo showed otherwise).
Kayaking Under Dinh Huong (Incense Burner) Island
It took us about an hour to walk through the cave, after which we were ushered back onto the boat and off to our next stop. That was Cat Ba Island where there were dozens of kayaks and bamboo boats waiting for us. We had our choice between the two. Cat Ba is nicknamed James Bond Island (different from the one with the same name in Thailand), as it’s where the fictitious British spy…well, I just rewatched the movie and I can’t find any specific island featured.
Of course, I picked the kayak. We were given 40 minutes to go off on our own. After following the coastline of the island for several minutes, I saw a unique island some distance away. It wasn’t a big island, but it was unique in that it had a cave passing underneath. I put my back into the oars, rowing far out into the bay and finally made it under the island. When I came out the other side, a patrol boat was waiting for me, telling me to go back to the landing pier. It was time to return anyway, but I was afraid I would be reprimanded or fined by my actions.
As it turned out, I had only crossed the shipping lanes and they wanted me to stick to the shores of the big island for my safety. There’s a plan to move the shipping lanes and make the location where the kayaks are safer. As to the island I had kayaked beneath, I found out it’s called Dinh Huong Island, or Incense Burner Island. It’s a national landmark and can be seen on the 200,000 Vietnamese Dong note. By the way, that’s about $6.50. The Vietnamese Dong is one of the highest inflated currencies in the world (second in the world to be exact).
Booking the One-day Halong Bay and Thien Cung Cave Tour with Trazy
The Halong Bay Tour I did is available every day. The price of the tour is $36 which is a fairly standard rate along the streets in Hanoi, but booking with Trazy ensures you don’t get scammed. The ticket price includes transfer from Hanoi, the boat ride, the lunch, entry to Thien Cung Cave and the kayaking or bamboo ride. What isn’t included are any drinks (other than water and a small cup of tea), breakfast or dinner, travel insurance and any other personal expenses.
Do I think the tour was worth it! Of course! I wouldn’t say Halong Bay is some out-of-this-world location that I want to see over and over (like the Isle of Skye), but it’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’m glad I did and would be kicking myself if I had missed. I hope you can get there too during your visit to Vietnam!
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