2 day 1 night excursion
This was an interesting excursion... We had so been looking forward to going to Halong Bay as it is one of the most unique, beautiful places in the world. We were pressured by our hostel to book a tour without really knowing what kind of tour we were signing up for. They just said "oh it's very good, people love it." It's hard to negotiate with a language barrier so we were like "sure!" Marissa and I signed up for a 2 day and 1 night excursion around Halong Bay.
We were picked up at our hostel at around 6am. The drive to Halong Bay takes 6 hours. Sitting in the back of the bus, I literally got bruises on my forehead for foolishly trying to sleep against the window during the bumpy drive. When we arrived at Halong Bay, we waited at a loading dock for an hour before we were able to board our boat. It was a pretty cool boat, but the unfortunate weather prevented us from taking advantage of the roof deck. We first took the boat to explore a cave, which felt more like an attraction at Disney world than a natural wonder. Colored lights illuminated the cave walls making it seem even less authentic. The cave itself was huge and the history behind the rock formations is interesting, but I couldn't appreciate it with tourists pushing me from behind into the tightly packed tourists in front of me. I hate waiting in lines so I was over the cave in about 2 seconds.
After the sub-par cave excursion, we went kayaking. We had 1 hour to explore a cove. The limestone structures in the water were really beautiful, but the water was dirty and smelly. There were SO many other boats in the harbor and it would have been a more authentic experience if we were in a quieter area. That being said, the hour we kayaked was just about the only hour it was not raining, so we appreciated that.
After dinner we had a "sunset party". Marissa and I were lounging in our room when over the loud speakers, we hear our guide, Peter, yell "Welcome to the second floor for sunset party!". We weren't ready yet. It was also pouring, so going up to the slippery deck to huddle under an umbrella together didn't seem appealing. Peter calls out a second, then a third time, "Welcome to the second floor for sunset party!" We thought everyone was be waiting for us, so we quickly made ourselves presentable and headed upstairs. The scene on the top deck was painfully awkward. People were huddling around sipping sugary grape cocktails (compliments of Peter) while music you only hear at a club at 3am blasted through the speakers. The deck was dangerously slippery, so naturally I was the first one to fall. There was really only one option- to get drunk. And that's precisely what we did. We drank a lot of beers and danced a lot. We actually ended up becoming great friends with two girls from Spain (we met up with them in two other cities in Vietnam)!
The next morning Peter woke us up at freaking 6am: "WAKE UP NOW PLEASE!". At least he said please... We knew it would be a rough morning. We visited an oyster farm. It was extremely lame. They showed us how they plant and harvest pearls. Maybe I would've had a better attitude if I wasn't extremely hungover, but I doubt it. The fishy smell sent Marissa over the edge and she was puking in the bathroom most the tour. When we thought it couldn't get worse, it did. We were forced to check out of our rooms by 8am, so there was no place to lie down and nurse our hangovers. Since it was still raining, we had to wait in the dining room from 8:30am until 1pm when we finally got off the boat. During that time we had a "cooking class" which took a total of 15 minutes. We watched Peter roll a pre-made mixture into spring rolls.
Halong Bay is truly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so it was disappointing that our experience was not what we expected. It felt like we did more waiting around than anything. Despite being a 2 day and 1 night tour, we were actually on the boat for less than 24 hours. That being said, it wasn't just the tour that sucked, the weather was a huge bummer. If we were to return to Halong Bay, I would book a 3 day and 2 night tour in Baitu Long Bay. This bay is equally as beautiful but much less touristy.