Every tour agent in Hanoi sells a trip to Halong Bay
. All the guidebooks warn that you never really know what you are booking because they just will put you in an empty space on whatever tour is available. We booked a trip that was mid-priced and involved sleeping on the boat for a night and hoped for the best!
After a 3 hour mini van ride we arrived at a port full of dozens of big, old junks (old fashioned Chinese sailing vessels). There were also hundreds of people milling around. We were loaded onto our junk with 8 other people, mostly French. The tour turned out to be exactly what we booked, and we had a great time despite the cloudy, rainy weather. It would have been nice to have a clear day, but that is not the tour agents fault. We booked through Blue Star hotel and as far as we could tell from asking other people on the boat we did not overpay (we did bargain on the exchange rate though). So I recommend them!
The trip included a huge variety of food at every meal, including a bunch of seafood. The first day we visited 2 caves. The first one was huge and lit up with colored lights, it makes it seem commercial, but I thought it looked cool. The other cave was just a natural cave. We also visited a fish farm on the water. You could buy something there and they would cook it for you for dinner. We didn’t get anything but the dinner included seafood anyway.
Before dinner the couple kids on the boat decided to jump off the boats balconies into the water. It seemed like fun and we decided to try. It was pitch dark outside and we stood in the cold in our bathing suits on the edge of the boat and jumped in! The water was ICE cold! That was the only jump I did! I could not bare going into the water again. Chris loved it and jumped multiple times from the roof of the boat! That was way too high for me! He even convinced some of the other adults on the boat to get their suits on and jump from the roof. Our room on the boat had a hot shower, which we definitely used, and an A/C which we did not use.
After dinner you could go fishing for these tiny squids off the back of the boat, but none of us caught any! The next day we did a kayak trip around the some of the smaller Islands in the bay. We were on our own and it was very relaxing. They charge you to bring your own food or drink on the boat, so its not worth it. But you can buy food and beers at all the stops you make in the bay and enjoy them when you are off the boat.