Breathtaking is an understatement. Halong Bay, considered a new wonder of the world, is located in Northern Vietnam about 3.5 hours out of Hanoi. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of nearly 2000 floating islands among the misty waters of the bay.
Cruise the bay
There are many options for touring Halong Bay including overnight tours, day tours, and even multi-day excursions. The range in price varies depending on the level of luxury you are after. Some of the boats have beautiful cabins with full gourmet meal services. Personally, I think a day tour of about 4 hours long is the perfect amount of time to cruise around and explore the islands, especially if you are on a budget. These public tours typically cost about $66 USD a person and include a full seafood lunch on the bay. Kyle and I planned to do this when an amazing option from our hotel came up - a private tour for $130 with an entire boat to yourself!
These boats are huge and typically carry full public tours. It does not include the seafood lunch but given I prefer to avoid included meals (especially meat focused ones) and really dislike getting herded around with other tourists - this was the perfect option. On top of that it netted out cheaper than what we planned. So Kyle and I had a private boat that included just fresh fruit as a snack and our own guide. We could choose when and where we wanted to go. Niceeee :)
On a typical 4 hour excursion you see Thien Cung Cave, 'fighting cocks', and cruise through the many islands that appear through the misty waters. This bay is unlike anything I've seen - straight out of a fairy tale! I think the lochness monster actually lives here.
Thien Cung Cave
Thien Cung (heavenly cave), is a large grotto/ stalactite and stalagmite cave that was not discovered until 1998. The massive cave sits in Dau Go Island (Wooden Stakes Island) - part of the southwestern region of Halong Bay. Unfortunately there are some tacky colored lights throughout the cave but not enough to blind you from it's natural beauty.
There is something so mysterious about these islands as you make your way through the bay. The weather is typically very foggy but don't be discouraged if you arrive on a cloudy day. The fog is what makes it so mystical and excitingly eerie.
Getting there and where to stay
Halong does not have an airport unfortunately so you have to fly into Hanoi. It is best to prearrange a car service with your hotel prior to arrival to get the best rate and have a stress-free experience. Also, I recommend booking a round trip car because it is a better deal. One way costs about $150 USD. As for where to stay, I recommend Novotel if you decide to skip the overnight boat tour options. The location was perfect and rooms were clean. The food in the area was tough but I lived off the fresh fruit and green salads at the hotel. Be sure to get a room with a view of the bay! The hotel costs ~$100/night.