You haven’t seen Vietnam if you haven’t been to Halong bay, one of the seven World Heritages.
Of course we also wanted to go there but there were hundreds of different tour operators and cruise ships, so that it was quite hard to figure out the right one. After some research and some tips from other travelers, we decided to take a three day and two nights cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay and to Halong Bay with Ethnic Travel, which was the right decision.
On the first day we were fetched at our Hotel in Hanoi and started our drive to Bai Tu Long Bay. After 20 minutes or so, another couple in our minivan started to wonder where we were going. After some discussions with our guide Sun, they figured out, that they haven’t booked with Ethnic Travel and didn’t want to go to the bays – they just fetched the wrong people at the right hotel.
We drove back to Hanoi, got the right couple into the van and drove about five hours to the less visited Bai Tu Long Bay, a bay with similar limestone karst landscape just a little bit north of Halong Bay.
We entered our junk dayboat around 1 p.m., where we were greeted with a delicious lunch. After lunch we had time to enjoy the amazing landscape on the sundeck while cruising through hundreds of small islands.
At the late afternoon we arrived on Dao Quan Lan Island, where we did a short bicycle tour to a wonderful empty beach where we watched the sunset.
When we came back to our bikes our guide, who should have been waiting for us, was gone. Wondering what to do next – because waiting wasn’t really an option while it was getting dark – we found the homestay where we should sleep that night on maps.me and cycled there by our own. Half an hour later our guide also arrived. Apparently, he was looking for some other guys of our group who lost their orientation.
We got a homecooked dinner in the evening and learnt how to prepare delicious Vietnames springrolls.
On the next morning we were picked up by a Tuktuk and brought to the pier, where we entered our boot again. After some time of cruising, we stopped at a pearl farm and did some kayaking, which we really liked. After lunch we drove back to the harbor and were brought to Halong Bay harbor. There a speedboat got us to our cruise ship, where we would spend the night.
Our cruise ship was not positioned in front of Halong Bay, where most of the day cruise boats were located, but more in its back, without any other boats and we had to take a speed boat to get there.
Apparently, there was a skip in the scheduled activities, so we went for kayaking again in the afternoon. Just another bay (even more beautiful) and another guide (who has never took a kayak before and didn’t do a very good job ). In the evening we had a very good dinner again and some good time chatting with the other travelers.
The next morning, we had to get our breakfast at 6:45 a.m., so we were the first boat at the next activity: bamboo rafting through limestone caves. At a swimming village we entered a bamboo raft with a local girl rowing us about half an hour through a (not really) spectacular cave. We got an early lunch at 11 a.m. before we were brought back to the harbor by speedboat and from there to Haiphong with a private transport.
It was a really nice experience and, although not very cheap, worth it. Not everything went according to plan, but Ethnic Travel was quite a good tour operator and, as promised, we really stayed of the typical tourist tracks. And they even met all our special requirements (diet, drop-off locations, etc.), so we would recommend the tour for everyone who wants to see the natural wonders of Halong and Bai Tu Long Bay.
But be prepared to gain some extra weight, because you will get plenty of delicious food you cannot withstand to eat.