Hopefully you saw my post earlier this week discussing Halong Bay, what to expect, and ways of arranging your own cruise. In this post, I will go into more detail of our itinerary and what exactly we got up to over our three days sailing through Halong Bay. Enjoy!
If you missed that post, then click here to read more about Cruising Through Halong Bay!
Most of the junks will look similar, some perhaps with a better interior than others, but on a whole I was really pleased with out boat. Our small but comfy cabin came with one side table (weirdly I did find a hammer in one of the drawers?!), a comfy bed, air con and a fan, and an en-suite bathroom. There was one communal dining table where everyone ate together, and there was a large deck on the top of the boat for relaxing.
Ha Noi – Bai Tu Long Bay – Ha Long bay – Overnight on Vega Cruise
We boarded our boat at lunchtime, were allocated our rooms, and then sailed through hundreds of islands and islets within Bai Tu Long Bay. Others in our groups consisted of 6 younger people around our age (one couple and two groups of friends), one mother and son, and then two families with children.
As we were a small group tour, our boat had one communal dining table. We all ate together which was a great opportunity to get to know everyone. After a brief lunch onboard, we made our first stop at the Hang Sung Sot (Surprising cave) for around 40 minutes. I’d read that this cave was pretty touristy which was spot on. Garish colourful lights lit up the cave throughout, whilst endless tour groups clambered their way around the broadwalk.
We then visited Hang Luon, a limestone Tunnel Grotto, where we should have taken a kayak to explore the lagoon within. Sadly the government had put a recent ban on kayaking in this area, so we were taken through on a small dingy boat instead. This was probably the worst part of our trip due to the sheer number of screechy (Asian) tourists in their life jackets flapping around.
Back on board, we continued sailing to a tranquil lagoon among Bai Tu Long Bay, Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay, where we’d anchor for the evening. Despite a cloudy afternoon, it was still a beautiful view as we sailed passed other islands, mountain cliffs (where we spotted a monkey!), Man head island, Butterfly cave and Horse Neck stone. We had a brief (and chilly) swim in the bay before getting ready for dinner.
Halong Bay – Lan Ha Bay – Cat Ba Island
Our first night was spent on the boat, and it was incredible to wake up to such a stunning view. To avoid the crowds we made an early morning visit to Titop Mountain, to climb the 340 steps to the peak for a 360 degree view across Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island National Park. A naturally formed sand beach sits at the base of the mountain, but don’t get excited about this. The small expanse of beach was littered and busy, with one of the worst toilet blocks I have ever seen in Asia.
Afterwards we had breakfast on the boat while we cruised towards Lan Ha Bay for an exciting afternoon of cycling and trekking on Cat Ba Island – my favourite part of the trip! We transferred onto a smaller junk to sail into Lan Ha Bay, as the bays surrounding Cat Ba National Park are much shallower.
We disembarked at Viet Hai dock on Cat Ba National Park, an isolated dock that felt like we had moored up somewhere within an episode of Lost (remember that TV show?). We cycled along a shady path into the small village of Viet Hai, where we stopped by a local family to sample some of Vietnam’s infamous Snake Rice Wine, and admire the cute piggies in the garden pen.
From the village, we cycled a little further to the starting point of our trek. The trail was a circular route that took roughly 90 minutes to hike and scramble our way through the tropical forest, a bat cave, and up a mountain top for a view of Viet Hai village. The hike wasn’t so difficult, but there was A LOT of scrambling and everyone helping each other up and down the jagged rocks.
A few grazes and bruises later, and we all made it back down to cycle back to the junk, enjoying our wonderful surroundings one last time. Lunch was served on the boat, followed by an afternoon with no plans so everyone could do as they wished.
Most of the group, including Adam and I, explored the lagoon by kayak. With grottoes, quiet lagoons, secluded beaches, and a nearby fishing village, there was plenty to see! Others went for a swim in the emerald waters or just soaked up on the sun on the top deck of our boat.
As the sun was setting, we sailed onto Cat Ba Island where we would spend the night in a hotel. As we sailed back, we passed through a large floating village as you can see in the photo above. We headed out that evening with 2 girls and 2 guys from our group, along with Tiger, our guide. Tiger was a true local and took us to a roadside bar where the lovely owners disappeared and reappeared with a stack of colourful plastic chairs for us all. Tiger bought us three small kegs of beer and some local nibbles to share. We’d heard (but hadn’t been able to find) that draft beer was the cheapest beer to buy at roughly 5,000 dong per cup, yet it tasted great!
Cat Ba Island – Lan Ha bay – Ha Long – Hanoi
Our first two days seemed to pass so quickly, and we were already coming to the end of our trip in Halong Bay. I would have loved to have spent another night on Cat Ba Island to explore more of the National Park, or even be brave and try my hand at rock climbing.
After an early check-out and a dismal buffet breakfast at the hotel, we were taken back to the dock to board a smaller junk that would sail us back though Lan Ha Bay to Halong Bay, where we will change boats back to our Vega Cruise boat.
We passed more beautiful scenery including the Dog Stone, the Fighting Cock islet, the couple islet, the 3-tunnel grotto and the floating fishing villages and fish farms. A light lunch was served just before we arrived back to catch our transfer back to Hanoi.
Most of the cruise itineraries will be similar to ours, however not all cruises actually stop on Cat Ba island, and that would be my one big suggestion for you all.