Halong Bay is the must see destination in Vietnam. It is the trip that everyone is trying to sell you, and everyone is complaining about. Where limestone karsts protrude from the sea in stunning formation, hiding secret caves and grottos within. The morning mist and eerie atmosphere that surrounds each island is reminiscent of a scene from Lost. The traditional junk boats weave their way in and out of karsts and take tourists to visit the cave networks and kayak in the bay.
The key to enjoying a Halong Bay experience is to remember you are there for the geography and let the rest go. We paid $60 US for our trip which included a 4 hour bus from Hanoi, two days on a boat cruising the bay, kayaking off the boat, entrance to the largest cave, a visit to a floating village, one nights stay on the boat, all meals and the bus back to Hanoi. The tour was a little sketchy and disorganised and there were additional costs for a lot of added extras. For example, you could kayak around the fishing village for free, but had to pay $3 US to kayak in the caves. Of course when you have been a kayak instructor in a previous life (Emily) you just ignore the fee and kayak where ever you like! Due to the time of year we visited Halong Bay it was cold and raining through out our trip, our boat was cold and ran out of water, some of the other people on our boat had paid a lot more than us for the same experience and were a little disappointed, but as I mentioned it we came for the geography and managed to let the rest pass us by.
Another way of seeing the amazing location is to visit Cat Ba island, from there you can kayak, climb and hike in this area of beauty as well as sailing in the less tourist infested Lan Ha Bay. Whilst you may get a more authentic experience this way, it takes time to arrange. We just wanted to spend a couple of days as we are keen to move down south for the diving and warmer climate, so an organised trip was our best option.