Cruising Ha Long Bay
We started our northern Vietnam journey in the capital, Hanoi. We arrived planning not to spend much time there as we had heard from friends there wasn't too much to do besides explore a dirty city (Please comment below if your opinion differs!).
We went to Hanoi specifically to explore Ha Long Bay. You may have seen it in pictures - an emerald bay with thousands of jutting limestone rocks (known as Karst). These rocks have formed over 500 million years (A number difficult to even comprehend)!
The name Ha long in Vietnamese translates to descending dragon. Legend has it that gods sent dragons to help the Vietnamese defend against invaders. Various rocks appeared abruptly over the sea ahead of the invader's ships causing many to sink and crash into one another. After helping protect the country against a foreign invasion, the dragons choose to settle in Vietnam peacefully and forever live in the bay.
The bay consists of over 1600 different limestone monolithic islands, which all have thick jungle-esque vegetation on top. In many of these islands, there are caves inside.
You may be thinking how does one get to Ha Long Bay!
Many people explore the bay by doing a cruise, but another option is Helicopter! For those of you who aren't cruise lovers, I know what you're thinking, do I really have to get on a cruise? The answer is certainly no (although you'll probably have to get on a boat!). From my experience as well as from friends feedback, I do recommend it, even for you cruise haters (myself included!).
There are a variety of options when selecting a cruise. You can make an overnight booking or stay on the cruise for a couple of nights. I would say that most people do only one night. You can also select between budget cruises and luxury cruises. I would be careful with budget cruises because safety on board is usually not the top priority. Ultimately you do get what you pay for. I believe luxury cruises are about 200 $ USD and budget cruises are around 60 $ USD.
Luxury cruise pros:
Suitable for romantic occasions ( Ryan and I lied and said it was our honeymoon)
Fun activities - such as kayaking through Ha Long Bay Community Village, learning how pearls are made, exploring caves and cooking classes (we got to learn how to make fresh spring rolls!).
Luxury cruise cons:
A limited amount of time to enjoy (Pretty rushed)
Recommend looking at mid-range options and above
Constant activities - hard to relax
Drinks aren't included, but you can bring alcohol on board
Cruise line we went with: Cristina diamond cruises
If you want to find out more about different options of cruises, I recommend checking out lonely planet. They have an impressive run down: Lonely planet link
Tip: Don't opt to stay on an island for the night. We had friends do that who regretted it - They ended up meeting some friendly creatures during their evening. If staying in Hanoi, please be mindful that the drive out to Ha Long Bay is 2 hours + on a big tourist bus with a few pit stops!
Overall I do recommend seeing Ha Long Bay with an overnight cruise! It's incredibly touristy which isn't my cup of tea, but it's certainly a once in a lifetime experience.