Ultimate Halong Bay Blog: 1 Delightful Day by Emerald Islets

Halong Bay Blog: Until we made it on the boat toward the pool of limestone rocks, I hadn’t any clue what to expect in Halong Bay. Even as we left Hanoi, my friend had told me ‘it was nice’ and I believed it.

My Vietnam trip was 2 weeks and there were so many beautiful places that I was jaded by scenic nature. Yet with Halong Bay, the trip was relaxed and gave me space to breathe in all of it.

When the boat took off I spotted the first peculiar stone islet. And then came the endless limestone islets that overwhelmed me every time we passed them. Oh, now I get what this is.

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I visited Halong Bay only for 1 day while most travelers prefer to take a 2-day itinerary here. But I didn’t regret the 1-day option. It seemed quite sufficient. Read my Halong Bay itinerary planning post here.

This post, however, is my personal experience – the Halong Bay blog. Feel free to sit back for a read :)

Halong Bay Blog: The Plan

Our plan was simple. We had a one-day tour booked – get to the pickup point and return that evening. The rest was taken care of. I strongly believe this is what most people pick to visit Halong Bay when going from Hanoi

You see, the World Heritage Site is hard to get to for most travelers – it’s a 3-hour drive from Hanoi, not to mention the additional ferry tickets to get around the islets. Thus it’s best to let local agencies take charge of these little day-trip packages to Halong Bay.

Evidently, these make the trip way cheaper (and easier) than getting there on your own. So we went along one too! My friend whose family lives in Vietnam booked us the day trip and we were set to go.

Picking the Ha Long Bay Tour

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Halong Bay Blog: Look at that view!

This shot I took above is how Ha Long Bay from a trek viewpoint on any usual touristy day. As plain as the picture, there are quite several options for the cruises. Some are day tour cruises while others are luxury junk boats for longer stays.

That iconic cruise on the right-hand side with its orange sails is the Genesis cruise with its pool. Honestly, it doesn’t take over a day to get around Ha Long Bay. But it sure is nice to linger and bask in the bay’s views. The overnight trips have a few additional activities like squid-fishing at night.

Having firsthand experience of the spot, even though it was for a day, I handpicked these reasonable Halong Bay trips on Klook.com for you. Being a partner of Klook, our readers get better deals on the site, so go grab your deals today!


Refer to my Halong Bay itinerary guide to choose how many days are right for you.

Let’s dive back to the Ha Long Bay blog now.

Pick up at Hanoi Opera House

Anyone who has traveled to Hanoi knows that the Hanoi Opera House is popular for two things. The Opera House itself and then for being the most common pickup spot for travel agencies.

On a busy morning, the closed entrance is packed with tourists waiting for their guides and pick-up vans all to different places. The pickup drivers and guides on the other hand shout out the names of their day’s passengers to call them out quickly.

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Halong Bay Blog

After all, most trips take over half a day just for the drive making it crucial to get going as early as possible. It was not far from a fish market – except it was the fish picking their buyers who’d paid in advance.

Traveling from Bắc Ninh ourselves (where I was staying with my friend’s family), we barely made it on time to the Opera House. In my defense, it was a 30 km morning rush on Vietnam’s public buses to Hanoi. Nevertheless, we were early for our fish (the pickup van).

The minivans, excited guides, and confused tourists reminded me of my day trip to the Mekong Delta from Saigon City.

A Sleepy Drive, Drizzle, and Indonesian friends

The minivan took off as soon as we all squeezed ourselves in. Though the space was small, the AC helped keep everyone’s composure throughout. But with my lack of sleep (like most of my nights in Vietnam), I dozed off unmindful of the squeeze.

When I woke up, we were at a highway stop with a high ceiling resembling a gas station. Everyone dispersed from the van for the brief 15 minutes or so – some headed to the restrooms while others checked out the food stalls for breakfast.

It had begun raining now, making for a muffled ambiance of the crowd taking shelter under the big roof. Among them, I stood a step away from the drizzle with a few others from our van and my friend. After making a small talk with some of the other travelers with us, we learned they were from Indonesia.

Indonesia! Me and my friend had spent a decade of our childhood in the city-island Batam Riau, Indonesia. So we indulged in the conversation in Bahasa Indonesia. There was a Kevin who was traveling solo in his mid-twenties and three girls in their thirties touring Vietnam.

Speaking Indonesian, we got along quickly.

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Halong Bay Blog: yoohoo

The Cruise Ride Begins

By the time we reached the destination port, it was almost afternoon. We waited for the guide to confirm our group’s boarding and quite soon, we hopped in.

Like most of Halong Bay’s day cruises, this one was a one-floor boat with wooden dining tables and benches lined up on either side of the aisle with a view over the waters. One table could fit 5 to 6 people comfortably – so we sat in with our newfound friends.

I brushed up on my Indonesian as I spoke and they commented on it being a particular accent. I chuckled, I wouldn’t know. As we settled in, the food orders came around – a buffet of various seafood and I vividly remember it being delicious with swifts of complimenting sea breeze.

We headed up to the rooftop terrace – even then I hadn’t an idea what Ha Long Bay was all about. Facing the horizon we were headed to, it wasn’t a clear line of the sea and sky, instead, I could spot some islets in the distance.

Halong Bay must be an island we’re visiting, I thought.

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Halong Bay Blog

Another post for you to read: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Vietnam’s Past of War and Glory

Peculiar Islets of Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay blog: Fun fact – did you know one of the most searched terms regarding this UNESCO World Heritage Site is ‘Halong Bucht’ along means Halong Bay in German? I found it out long after I visited.

And I was unsurprisingly wrong. Halong Bay wasn’t an island, it was a bunch of over 1000 limestone islands and most were unnamed.

As we neared and passed through an endless trail of these, I looked closely. Unlike an island, we’d imagine these were limestone islets. They stood like stone pillars amidst the green waters with striking greens spread around most at the top.

Most had no shore, just a block of stone rising off the waters. It seemed similar to the movie scenes I’d seen of Phuket and Krabi in Thailand. Also, that James Bond movie scene… but apparently that was in Ao Phang Nga in Phuket, Thailand which looks quite similar.

Walking the Thien Cung and Sung Sot Caves

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Halong Bay Blog: These caves ran pretty deep.

We took a bunch of pictures on the boat before our first stop. I’m not sure if it was Thien Cung caves or the latter as both did look quite similar.

Sadly, there wasn’t anything adventurous about exploring it except for the little squeeze between rocks a few times. Most of the floor had been set up neatly with a lit pathway and steps throughout for the endless trail of tourists.

However, it was the enormous caves themselves that spiked my interest. The limestone caves weren’t only strange from the outside, but they had odd shapes inside too.

Some formations seemed like they’d been carved by someone but they were all natural. It was an extraordinary sight. No wonder it made this made it on the 7 Natural Wonders of the World!

Another post for you to read: Here’s why I’ll never visit Ba Na Hills in Vietnam again

Thien Cung caves
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Halong Bay Blog: I’m sure this is the Thien Cung Caves

Trekking the Ti Top Island

Ha Long Bay blog: Considering the tropical heat, even the caves had been terribly hot. The boat’s breeze helped as we cruised off the caves and to our next stop – the Ti Top Island.

Ti Top Island was different from the limestone islets – it was that one normal island amidst the rest with a beach and steep green peak around it. Something like the Cast Away Island. Too many movie references today eh?

A crowd of people were playing by the beach with sand castles, volleyball, and swimming. Can we swim in Halong Bay? I guess that cleared the question.

However, we hadn’t much time left on our itinerary so we got straight to the peak. We were told the top viewpoint was breathtaking. So we began. This one had steps as well but with the abrupt high steps that seemed to never end, I can call it a trek.

We took a couple of breaks climbing the tiresome unfair stone pavements. Upon reaching the top, all the huffs and puffs evaporate – it was beautiful.

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Halong Bay Blog: The weird shirts were perfect for the heat

Though there were a dozen other tourists along, it was calm enough and I could listen to the breeze’s light dabbles. The waves hitting the far bottom faintly mixed with the wind’s voice. This is where I got the best of Ha Long Bay’s pictures.


We had one activity remaining and it turns out – it was kayaking! Technically, they gave us a choice between swimming and kayaking – and we picked kayaking.

Although there aren’t any sharks in Ha Long Bay, maybe you’d find jellyfish that irritate, it had been along since I had kayaked. Also, after all the leg cardio from Ti Top Island’s climb, I could work my arms out.

Let’s be honest, Kayaking is quite fun as well. So we picked up our life jackets and paddles and jumped right in. We had one hour of kayaking which sounds short. Later when our weak arms softened after a few strokes, we realized it was a lot.

Nonetheless, it was a sweet day. We joined the rest and passed through a cave entrance of sorts that opened into a large limestone lagoon. It took quite an effort only to make it to the other end.

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Halong Bay Blog: Everyone boarding the cruise with their hats.

Our Indonesian friends joined in later in two other kayaks and we raced a little bit. Even with the hat and the sunscreen, the blistering sun didn’t fail to tan our skins. Sighs* why do I even bother?

Heading Back

Sweaty, tanned, and exhausted we returned to the boat. Our shorts were wet from the kayak seats. Already super tanned, we didn’t mind hitting the boat terrace again to dry ourselves out on the way back.

While Kevin stuck with us on the way back to Hanoi, the girls stayed back in Halong Bay. That’s another option if not a 2-day cruise package – stay at one of the hotels in Ha Long Bay. A popular choice here is the A La Carte Ha Long Bay.

As the red sunset peeked into the minivan’s windows and the scenic landscape zoomed past, my eyelids felt heavy and then shut eventually.

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Halong Bay Blog: Drying ourselves out on the boat

Halong Bay Blog: Tailpiece

The Hanoi Opera House became all familiar later. Right the next day, we returned to the same pickup spot for Trang An tour in Ninh Binh. That’s another wholesome story. Surprisingly, we met with the Indonesian friends again!

Anyway, this brings us to the end of this Ha Long Bay travel blog. If I had a chance to go to Halong Bay again… I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, the spot is amazing but Vietnam is so rich with natural landscapes that I’d look forward to visiting the other parts.

Maybe I’d return for a more specific activity like snorkeling in Halong Bay – I’ve heard it’s amazing. But since I’ve missed so much in Vietnam (I’ve yet to see Cat Ba Island, Sapa, and Phu Quoc, the diver’s paradise).

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Even Hoi An is something I wish to visit again as we didn’t have much time to get around (we spent too much time in Da Nang). But with Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay, it’s beautiful, but that’s pretty much it.

Happy Traveling!

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Manas Patil

Hi there! I'm a 22-year-old dude all the way from India, I love traveling and building itineraries! Sign up and get your FREE COPY of my travel checklist to get the best of your next vacation!

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