First of all, so sorry for the delays in posting for the past couple months. Going home to Denver was filled with a ridiculous amount of social appointments, and as to my more recent absences, most hostels in Vietnam don't have great wifi... But I'm back now! And I've got something pretty special to share.
I had the good fortune to spend my Valentine's Day cruising, boozing, and taking in the natural splendor that is Halong Bay, Vietnam. Prior to visiting, I had heard accounts from various other bloggers on the worthwhileness of a trip to Halong - some say it's over-touristy and not worth the time and money, while others say no trip to Vietnam would be complete without it. After witnessing it for myself, I would have to say I am leaning towards agreeing with the latter opinion - though (like all things) there were a few negatives; overall, it was a unique and truly memorable experience.
When considering a trip to Halong, one of the first things you need to decide is what kind of experience you want to have (sightseeing, partying, relaxation) and then choose a tour company to go through. Granted, it is possible to simply make your own way through public transportation and chartering your own boat; however, I personally think it is worth it to just do your research and then decide which tour would be right for you. Lower stress and less leg-work - but that's just me Use resources such as first hand blogger accounts and TripAdvisor to judge the quality of the tour, as well as what kind of tour you're getting into: some tours are more family oriented, while others (like mine) tend to be more of a 'party-on-a-boat-with-a-beautiful-view' situation.
I went on the Castaway Tour through Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi. Though their tour is definitely party oriented and is on the more expensive end, we decided it was still the best option. The hostel is reputable, well-run, and everyone we spoke to who had done the tour said it was a blast. Personally, I'm willing to pay a little extra for more peace of mind and less stress over semantics; however, if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, there were stores on almost every corner in the backpackers district of Hanoi that were advertising various tours - so you have a lot of options if you want to shop around until you find one that suits your budget and your tour expectations.
With my tour we woke up around 5, left the hostel by 6:30, and then went on a five and a half hour journey to the coast, which consisted of a bus, a boat, another bus, another boat, and then another boat... Though it did take a hot minute to get there, and the weather on the first day ended up being a bit of a bummer (rain and clouds all day) the bay itself was still stunning to behold. Even without the sun, the views were breathtaking and I count myself lucky to have experienced a place so naturally extraordinary.
After arriving at the private island that would be our home for the next night, we had lunch, got situated, and then as twenty-something traveler types are often like to do headed straight for the bar. As I had signed up for the (booze) cruise, we boarded that boat around two and then proceeded to get ferried leisurely through the bay. Though I definitely had a good time, I could not help at times feeling somewhat guilty about what we were doing. The bay is spotted with a myriad of small floating fishing villages - the inhabitants of which, as our guide told us, extremely poor and lack access to any real sort of education. Seeing the vast divergence between their everyday life and ours, I couldn't help but wonder what they must think of us - floating through on a massive barge, listening to loud music, and obviously partying during broad daylight hours. As I said, I still had a great time, but I won't lie the phrase "Western decadence" came to to mind on more than one occasion.
After our cruise we had dinner and then continued to while the night away with card games, a delicious dinner, and of course more beer. Despite being alone on this excursion (my companions had been taken down by a nasty case of food poisoning), my adventures made for a Valentine's Day I will definitely never forget. Dancing on the beach of a beautiful island, connecting with smart, friendly people who were more than happy to take me into their group upon finding out I was alone, and taking in some of the most spectacular views the natural world has to offer... Really, what more could anyone ask for?
Have you ever been to Halong Bay? What did you think? Would you suggest going it alone, or buying into a guided tour? If you have a comment or suggestion for future Halong Bay-ers please of course leave it below and pay it forward to your fellow travellers. For more daily pictures of my adventures in Vietnam, and our upcoming excursion to Singapore and Bali, please like my Facebook or follow me on Instagram. Happy belated Valentine's Day my friends! Safe travels!
Enjoy the beautiful view!