HA LONG BAY
No visit to Hanoi is complete without a visit to Ha Long Bay, UNESCO's World Heritage Site. The bay features around 1,600 limestone islands that rise from the water, some with amazing vegetation. Several of the islands are hollow, with big and fascinating caves. Two of the biggest islands have permanent inhabitants, as well as tourist facilities including hotels and beaches.
Most tourists visit the bay with one of numerous tour companies. Depending on how much time you have in Hanoi, you can do a day tour, or several day tour in which case you will get to see more and spend few nights on a boat. The later seems to be better way of doing it, but we were pressed for time. So we opted for a day tour which consists of 3.5-4 hour drive each way and app. 4 hour on the water. We paid $50 per person which included hotel pick up, transportation, boat tour with lunch, bamboo boat and the visit to the cave. It seems best to organize this either while in Hanoi or to email the travel company asking for a better price (the website price was $65).
It seems that no matter if you pay $30 or $100 for this tour, they are all basically the same. The boats are not too crowded and in addition to just admiring the view for few hours, the boat makes two stops. The first one is to go on a small bamboo boat (4 person plus the rower) which allows you to enter some hidden lagoons. Of course, as luck would have it, the kayaking option was forbidden 10 days before we got there. The other stop was the visit to the Dong Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace Grotto), a lovely cave with stalactites and stalagmites, and very colourful but tasteful lights placed throughout to create a magical experience.
The main question of course is whether it is worth spending almost eight hours on the road to see Ha Long Bay for four hours only. We think it is.