Vietnam days 8-10: overnight cruise in Halong Bay

And another wonderful chapter is complete in Vietnam! After my Hà Giang motorbike trip, I headed out of the mountains to relax in Halong Bay. Halong Bay is one of the most famous sites in Vietnam as tourists come from all over to see its emerald waters and towering limestone islands. I couldn’t come to Vietnam and not see Halong Bay. 🙂

After my exhausting journey in Hà Giang and planning everything on my own, the last few days were a nice change. I booked an overnight cruise and simply followed my tour guide while enjoying the wonderful company on the boat.

Day 8: relaxing in Halong + cat cafe + spa day
I took a night bus from Hà Giang to Halong – about 11 hours. Luckily, my bed was pretty comfortable and the perfect Vietnamese-person size, which worked well for me. 😉

I arrived in Halong and checked into my hostel, BBQ Hostel. I booked a cruise with them and they were super helpful. I had the rest of the day to relax before the cruise tomorrow. The town of Halong was upscale and developed, but there wasn’t much going on as I realized most people don’t stay here and instead booked tours starting from Hanoi (3 hour drive).

I stumbled upon a cat cafe next to my hostel – SO CUTE. I spent a few hours in cat heaven. All the cats were so derpy; I’d never seen this type before!

cat cafe in Vietnam

After 4 days on the motorbike and the night bus, a spa day sounded like a good idea. I got a massage and pedicure. Best massage I got this whole year!

spa day

For dinner, I decided to treat myself to sushi. I ordered the “assorted sushi,” and they served me rolls with hot dogs inside! So hilarious and disappointing. Vietnamese people are obsessed with hot dogs, and I’ve eaten more than I’d like to admit in Vietnam.

sushi with hot dogs

The evening ended with an unexpected surprise. Vincent and Nouhad, my two friends who I met on the Hà Giang loop, reached out saying they were in Halong. They were looking for a cruise tomorrow, and I suggested they join mine! We joked that I was their travel agent in Vietnam as I also gave them every place to stay on the Hà Giang loop. I was excited to know some familiar faces on the boat tomorrow. 🙂

Day 9: Halong Bay cruise day 1

After my chill day and a full night’s sleep, I was ready to party! Vincent and Nouhad met me at the hostel, and we took a car to the harbor. Immediately, we joined a massive group of tourists waiting for different boats. You’ll hear a lot in this post about how there were sooo many tourists in Halong Bay. I’m not above doing touristy things, but coming from Ha Giang which was so remote, the traffic in Halong Bay was a shock. 😛

We had a group of 17 on a fairly small boat. It was rough around the edges, but it had everything we needed including private rooms. Tours in Halong Bay varied in luxury status, but I liked our budget boat as it attracted the backpacker crowd that I was looking for.

Halong Bay overnight cruise boat

Halong Bay overnight cruise private room

There was plenty of space to chill around the boat.

Joe said this picture reminded him of the boat cruise episode of The Office. I died.

Halong Bay overnight cruise boat

First up was lunch. The crew cooked amazing food on the cruise. Our guide gave us an introduction while we enjoyed our meals and got to know one another.

lunch on Halong Bay cruise

After eating, we hung on the boat while it drove through the bay. The weather wasn’t great as it was raining/overcast the whole time, but the views were still incredible. I was surprised by how many limestone isles there were as we constantly passed new ones of all shapes and sizes. Truly a natural wonder.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

posing on the boat in Halong Bay

After relaxing, we headed out for the afternoon activities on the small boat. Most tourists choose the day tour of Halong Bay, where they stay on the small boat the entire time and see the same sites as our overnight tour. But I’m really glad I signed up for the overnight, as I’d later realize simply relaxing and hanging out on the big boat was my favorite part of the tour.

Our first stop was exploring Thien Cung cave. There was a small climb to reach the cave and nice views of the bay along the way.

Thien Cung cave

The cave was pretty impressive. It was well-kept for tourists with lots of lighting illuminating the cave. The cave formations were interesting and I could see why this was such a popular spot in Halong Bay. Our tour guide made things interesting by playing “I spy” with the different rock formations.

Thien Cung cave

Thien Cung cave

Thien Cung cave

After the cave, we went to one of the only islands in Halong Bay that was open to tourists. I was surprised by how much the Vietnamese government regulated Halong Bay – it’s truly the country’s pride and joy as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But with that, tourists are not allowed to go on any island or even swim in the bay, except for these designated spots. That meant that group after group flocked to the same spots and it got super crowded.

First, we hiked up the island to a viewpoint. We followed the single-file line and slowly made our way to the top.

At the top was a nice viewpoint. Again, SO many people! I waited for a spot and quickly snapped a photo before getting edged out. Instagram versus reality for ya. 😉

Afterward, we climbed down the hill and went for a swim in the designated beach area. This was actually a nice part of the afternoon as we got away from the crowds and relaxed in the water. The water was so warm and refreshing.

We headed back to the big boat and cleaned up for the evening. The sun went down and the bay had a whole new glow at night. The view of the other boats lighting up the water was beautiful.

Halong Bay at night

Next, we had a cooking class. Our tour guide showed us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. Seemed simple enough. 🙂

cooking class

Dinner time! Just as tasty as lunch. I was impressed with how much effort the crew put into the food and presentation.

Then, our tour guide had us go squid-fishing. Sadly none of us had any luck. Our group joked about how this was a sham by our guide to keep us busy. Apparently, it wasn’t even squid season. 😛

Our night was a fun one. Everyone cracked open drinks and we sang karaoke…classic activity for Southeast Asia. I’m grateful for our fun group and everyone bringing positive vibes. 🙂

Day 10: Halong Bay cruise day 2 + chill day + Mid-Autumn Festival

I was up early the next morning. There was a small pocket of clear skies first thing in the morning before the clouds rolled in. It was nice to see the pretty blue water you see in the photos.

Halong Bay

Everyone slowly emerged and we had breakfast. Then we were off for our morning activity – kayaking! We took the small boat to a beautiful cove surrounded by limestone cliffs. We didn’t have to paddle that far to reach beautiful views, which was just what I wanted. There also weren’t many people here as it was too early for the day-trip crowd; a rare pleasure on this trip. Overall, this was my favorite stop in Halong Bay. 🙂

kayaking in Halong Bay

kayaking in Halong Bay

My kayaking partner was from Malaysia, and I hung out with his group of university friends – they were a friendly and fun bunch!

After kayaking, we hung out on the big boat for the rest of the morning while the crew cleaned up and got the boat ready for the next group. It was a well-oiled machine, and I could tell the crew was experienced at whipping these tours at high volume. It was nice to spend the final moments with new friends made on the boat… 🙂

…As well as my “day ones” from Vietnam. It’s so funny how many times we said goodbye but found ourselves reuniting again in random ways. One of the joys of being on the backpacker trail. 🙂 These guys are heading to Bali next, so this was actually our final goodbye.

And that was the end of our cruise! A wonderfully packed yet relaxing 24 hours in Halong Bay. While Halong Bay was the opposite of Ha Giang in every way, the beauty of the bay and our wonderful tour group made the experience memorable and positive. ❤

Most of our group headed back to Hanoi right after our tour. I decided to stay an extra night to regroup and figure out what was next. I spent my afternoon at a cafe working on this blog post and getting another massage. I finally tried egg coffee which is a Vietnamese specialty (coffee with egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk) – delicious!

egg coffee

In the evening, there was a festival near my hostel for the Mid-Autumn Festival. This was one of my favorite holidays growing up as I have fond memories of big Chinese parties and eating mooncakes with my family. I didn’t realize they celebrated outside of China, and it was interesting to see how they celebrated in Vietnam. There was a parade and performances as every local in Halong came out for this.

My hostel owner gifted me a mooncake. So thoughtful. ❤ I couldn’t pass up eating my yearly mooncake. The Vietnamese version was tasty – a cross between mochi and mooncake, yum!

As for what’s next – I spent less time in Halong than I originally planned, so I’m going to spend the extra days in a countryside town in the north. A last-minute addition to the itinerary, but I think it will be a good one. Hope you have a great weekend!!!

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