When you think about Vietnam, you probably picture a bowl of pho and the picturesque Ha Long Bay right? Yeah, so do I. Ha Long Bay is an iconic place for Vietnam, known for its emerald green water and limestone karsts.
After realizing it would be more difficult to do it on our own, we opted for a three day, two night tour on a junk ship because we wanted to see Cat Ba Island and Monkey Island. There are tour agencies all over Hanoi offering you the "best" deal. Shop around and see what you can get. We ended up paying $90 USD with Aloha Cruise. All meals, transportation, accommodation, activities (kayaking, fishing, cooking class, swimming and hiking) and entrance fees (Dong Thien Cung Cave and Cat Ba National Park) were included.
Prices will range depending on the quality of the ship, activities and service that you get. So, keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
Day 1: Ha Long Bay
We got picked up from our hostel in the morning. The drive to Ha Long Bay takes about 3.5 hours with one stop for a washroom break and snacks. Once you get there, you'll be transported to your boat.
We checked into our ship and had lunch with our small group. The meals you get are advertised as Vietnamese, but it has more of a Western take on it since most of it is deep fried.
Shortly after lunch, we arrived at Dong Thien Cung Cave. As you walk through the cave, our guide explained more about the history, folk tales and fun facts. The cave itself is very developed to accommodate tourists. There's a paved pathway through the cave with artificial coloured lights illuminating the cave to show how big it is.
After the cave, we ended up back on the ship to get to the area for swimming. It was cold and raining on our first day, so no one opted for it. Instead, we kept moving forward and docked near Cat Ba Island. Here, you can go kayaking around the different isles or try fishing off the boat.
You'll have dinner afterwards and can hang out with the group on the ship. We actually really liked our room because it was the first one we've been in that had heat. We also had a great view and clean washroom.
Day 2: Cat Ba Island and Monkey Island
We had breakfast in the morning and checked out of our room. After making it on Cat Ba Island, we ended up on a bus to take us about half an hour to Cat Ba National Park. Once you get into the park, you'll have a local guide take you up to the viewpoint. You're allotted two hours round trip with rest stops and time for pictures. At the beginning of the trail, there's a sanctuary for deer and monkeys in cages.
We loved our guide, he was so quirky. He carried a fan and would fan our group as we passed him. There was also one part where he swung from the tree and made monkey noises. Once you reach the top he'll pose with you in the pictures!
It's actually really easy to get lost on the trail since there's so many turns you can take. If you're on your own, always go straight.
After the hike, we were transported to our hotel where we had lunch and checked in. Afterwards, we were on our way to Monkey Island. Our bus dropped us off at the dock where we took a boat to the small island. Along the way, you'll see the colourful fishing village.
At Monkey Island, you'll see monkeys around the restaurant. They can get really aggressive if you get too close to them. If you have food, keep it secure in your bags since they'll probably steal it from you. The island itself is quite nice. You can hike to the top to get a better view of the bay on the other side.
Once you get back to your hotel, you'll have dinner and can spend the rest of the evening roaming the island.
Day 3: Cooking Class and Hanoi
This was a travel day. After you check out of your hotel, you take a bus to the main dock. You'll board your ship, where you'll have a cooking class. In our case, they teach you how to prep egg rolls. It wasn't the most sanitary because they offered one towel for the whole group to clean their hands. You're also dealing with raw pork.
After lunch, you'll get on your bus back to Hanoi. Luckily, we were dropped off directly to our places of accommodation.