Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat April 16 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | April 16, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    The Best Ways to Tour Vietnam’s Beautiful Halong Bay

    The Best Ways to Tour Vietnam’s Beautiful Halong Bay

    PHOTO: Halong Bay was everything I had ever hoped it would be! My expectations were high and they were perfectly met. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    As long as I can remember, Halong Bay has been one of my dream locations. I promised myself I would see it before I hit the bucket and this gorgeous area is a major reason I came to Southeast Asia in the first place.

    I went, I saw and I was nothing but enthralled! Sailing through the bay on a beautiful wooden boat, I sat on the edge as the wind gently blew through my hair and the sun warmed my skin on the clearest, blue-sky day. It was everything I could have ever hoped for, leaving us all sitting in silence and awe.

    Now, due to Ha Long Bay being such a hotspot destination for anyone visiting Vietnam, it’s no surprise that there are a million and one tour operators to choose from — but many don’t give what they promise.

    Many people have had disappointing tours, did not get what they paid for with hidden add-ons, unclean boats and unfriendly staff or incredibly inflated prices.

    READ MORE: Behind the Lens: Experiencing the Wonder of Halong Bay, Vietnam in Photos

    That said, I was advised by many people to simply skip the hassle of booking a tour in Hanoi or Halong City and head straight to Cat Ba Island to do a tour of the famous bay. This option offers reasonable prices with less chance of getting scammed.

    PHOTO: The bay will leave you utterly speechless!

    Below is a step-by-step guide on how to do it and which company to choose.

    1) From Hanoi, head to Luong Yen Bus Station Hanoi and purchase the bus-boat-bus ticket. Cost: 210K one way (the journey is roughly 5 hours) Departs: 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

    2) The first bus takes you to Haiphong, and you will hop onto a ferry for 45 minutes and then another bus directly to Cat Ba town. The entire process is very easy, straightforward and hassle-free. Just buy your ticket at the Hoang Long ticket counter the day before or the day of and enjoy the ride!

    3) When you arrive in Cat Ba, stay at Cat Ba Hostel for $2 a night — it is within walking distance of everything. It is cheap but clean, offering hot showers and friendly staff. Drop your bags off, book your tour and head straight to Cat Ba National Park by scooter for incredible scenery or go to the beach and soak up some sun!

    4) Decide if you want to do a day tour or an overnight tour on the boat to cruise Halong Bay.

    PHOTO: Kayaking through the bay and caves was an adventure in itself.

    1 Day Tour

    If you would like to do a day tour, the best company is Cat Ba Ventures. You meet in front of the office and the shuttle bus will drive you to a port where you will get onto a two-level boat for the day. Complimentary water is provided and there is a brief introduction by the English-speaking guide. You then spend the majority of the day cruising through fishing villages, Lan Ha Bay and the breathtaking Halong Bay.

    Around 11 a.m., you are then hopping into a two-person kayak to explore rock arches, hidden lagoons and caves (some of which you get to wear a headlamp to guide your way through — this was a highlight for us!). After kayaking, lunch is served, consisting of fresh seafood, vegetables and potatoes (but vegetarian options are available).

    Once lunch is over, we spent the rest of the time relaxing, taking in the sights of Halong Bay before our last stop — a time to jump off the boat and swim before heading back to Cat Ba Island just in time for sunset!

    Starts: 7 a.m.

    Cost: $26 a person (no kayaking) or $29 a person (with kayaking)

    READ MORE: Wyndham Chooses Halong Bay for its First Hotel in Vietnam

    2 Days, 1 Night Tour

    If you are looking to do a nice, two-day tour of Halong Bay, I highly suggest you book a tour with Hanoi Rocks Hostel called “Cocktail Cruise” and skip the now-unnecessary trip down to Cat Ba Island.

    Their tour has a nice atmosphere with other likeminded backpackers and combines a perfect balance of sightseeing on a beautiful sleeper boat of Lan Ha Bay, Halong Bay and Cat Ba National Park, plus kayaking and sleeping overnight on a private island, among other activities! 

    Cost: $89 a person

    PHOTO: If you are in Cat Ba, a day trip to Cat Ba National Park is a must, with easy hiking trails and remarkable views.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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