When researching the different places we'd be visiting in Vietnam I stumbled upon some pictures of Halong Bay and instantly knew - I NEED to see this. So much so that I scheduled my flight a few days after our trip was going to end to make 110% sure I got to this beautiful oasis.
We had taken the train from Hoi An to Hanoi which took 5 hours longer than we expected (17 hours total) and so we did not get into Hanoi until around 8pm.
Travel Tip: Unless you have plenty of time and enjoy the rolling scenery of a train ride, pay the extra money and take a quick flight from Hoi An to Hanoi to maximize your time in Vietnam.
Our guide in Hoi An said the cheapest thing to do was to get to Hanoi mid-afternoon and walk through the backpackers neighborhoods to find a good deal on spending the night in Halong Bay on one of their Junk Boats (yes, that's what they are called!). We also thought we could always book online on the train.
Well...the train most certainly did not have WiFi, we didn't get into Hanoi until after dark, and there was a mix-up with our hotel. Needless to say, we were a bit scattered but knew if we were going to spend the night in Halong Bay, we needed to book something that left that next morning. Talk about pressure!
Through a few calls and emails, we managed to secure 4 spots on the Halong Lemon Cruise which left that next morning at 8am. At that moment, all we wanted to do was sleep on something that wasn't moving, but we all agreed we needed to see Halong Bay and we wanted to do it right
Travel Tip: DEFINITELY book a night on a Junk Boat in Halong Bay. There are day trips as well, but it takes ~4 hours to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay which takes up much of the time. If you are going in high travel season, book in advance!
I am forever grateful to the one tour guide who happened to be awake, online, and that there were 4 last-minute spots on the boat for the next morning. We also learned that you can pay varying amounts for these cruises as we were given a few different quotes. Do some research, shop around, but definitely BOOK it!
The cruise we ended up taking was called Lemon Cruise - between the Junk Boat and the Lemon Cruise, we weren't quite sure what to expect but we were up for the adventure.
The van picked us up as promised bright and early and we set off towards Halong Bay. Half way through the ride they drop you off at a giant tourist trap filled with food, beverages and literally anything that you can think of buying including a dining room table set....because that's convenient to bring home?!
Once we arrived we were shuttled 100 feet onto what would be our home for the next 24 hours, where we were pleasantly surprised with our room for the night (remember, we had low expectations!).
With a door on one side and a large window on the other, we were continually surrounded by nature's beauty. Our portal to the world was unlike anything I'd ever seen.
We were treated to lunch (food was included but not drinks - including water - so everyone started a bar tab) and set off to explore our vessel. There was a sundeck on top, minimal but beautiful. We got to know our fellow travelers, watched the scenery, played cards, and Mike even ended up sleeping up there. We found him when we went up to watch the sunrise the next morning.
The boat did not have wifi which was a welcome chance to disconnect from it all, although we were sad that we couldn't instantly share the splendor with our friends via snapchat.
We explored, we kayaked, we swam in the sea and hiked in the caves, we made our own spring rolls and I did not take near enough pictures. We spent a night with strangers who became friends through karaoke, some interpretive dancing and squid fishing - hey, when you have a boat to yourself, you do what you want!
Overall, I HIGHLY recommend spending at least one night in Halong Bay. If there's anything to not miss - it's waking up to the sunrise in the middle of Vietnam feeling like you're in a dream.