Halong Bay can be quite busy and touristy but it was one of my top reasons to visit Vietnam in the first place. These 1,969 karst islets have been awarded the UNESCO world heritage site status and once you see them for real, you will know why! The fact that King Kong Part 2 – Skull Island was filmed here, simply adds to the charm and chaos of this pretty destination. However, if you want to enjoy the beauty of this place minus the maddening crowds, head to the flip side of Monkey Island Halong Bay which boasts of the lavish Monkey island resort with their own private beach.
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Choosing the Right Halong Bay Cruise
Choosing amongst thousands of types, styles and cruise itineraries for Halong Bay was a stressful job, to say the least. After talking to over 50 travelers and tour agents, I finally found the perfect match. There are several “fake” tour operators, websites and scams going around so be very careful while making your booking.
After doing my due research and reading raving reviews on TripAdvisor, I headed to the office of Friends Travel Vietnam in Hanoi. This was the best decision I made. This Dutch owned company has excellent staff who take you through each and every tiny aspect of your itinerary in great details. They ask for your preferences and give options based on cost, activities, cruise quality, number of days etc. We spent around 30 mins talking to their rep who patiently explained all options, giving us realistic pros and cons which helped us make a decision on the spot.
Finally, we opted for a relaxed style with one night onboard a cruise and one night on private monkey island Halong bay with a few activities roped in for good measure like Kayaking, caving, short hikes etc. Our tariff of USD 160 per person, included accommodation (1N on cruise and 1N in an ocean front bungalow), all activities and delicious meals.
Note – I am not affiliated/partnered with Friends travel Vietnam in any way and I paid full price for my 2N/3D cruise with them. Their services were just so good, I simply had to mention them here for benefit of all readers.
For all the wild party lovers, I would highly recommend the Castaways island tour organised by Vietnam backpackers hostel on their private island. I spoke to the guy who organised these tours for 6 months plus several backpackers who had just amazing things to say about this getaway. Fun filled water activities, full board and non-stop partying is guaranteed if you opt for this ultimate party cruise. Priced at USD 219 for 2N/3D, this was my first choice. However, I realized it was better for solo backpackers and after 2 weeks of traveling solo in Vietnam, I finally met my hubby in Hanoi so we could use some relaxation away from the party crowds and spend some more “us” time.
Whatever you choose, be sure to read reviews first and talk to some people before you book. I would also recommend going to the tour office and booking in person vs. paying online.
Tip – Hanoi to Halong Bay takes over 6 hours one way, so don’t opt for the 1N cruises – you will just end up feeling tired and stressed at the end of it. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing, isn’t it?
The Lovely Monkey Island Cruise Liner
We were onboard the fantastic monkey island cruise liner and loved every bit of it. Our room had an amazing view of the bay with chairs laid out on the patio. The cruise itself had a cozy dining area and a wonderful sun deck with lounge chairs offering ultimate relaxation. Its the perfect place to get work done so I got a chance to document my Vietnamese adventures.
Activities While Cruising to Monkey Island Halong Bay
You can enjoy an array on activities on your cruise and off it. From stunning deck views, cooking classes and chatting with fellow travelers, our monkey island cruise liner was cozy, comfy and relaxing – Just what the doctor ordered after two weeks of running around Vietnam, trying to explore as much as I could.
We had our fair share of activities which were easy and optional. So, if you just wanted to chill with a beer on deck, by all means – go for it! If you are like me and don’t like to miss out on anything, you will be making your way to the Sung Sot cave first.
Exploring Sung Sot Cave
After seeing the huge lines at the cave entrance, I was immediately disappointed. I am not a big fan of busy places (unless its a club, then I would like it to be crowded) so looking at hoarding of visitors struggling to make their way up the narrow staircases was a big fat turn off for me. When I entered the cave though, I knew what all the fuss was about. This beautifully lit up cave looks so alluring and psychedelic what I was drawn to it at first sight.
Not only the interiors, the view from outside the cave was one of the BEST Halong Bay viewpoints I had seen on the trip.
Kayaking Around Halong Bay
Even though it was overcast and the water was cold, kayaking along the bay was so much fun. It was incredible to be able to go right up to the karst formations or even inside caves – basically, you hop on a kayak and go anywhere you want! How cool is that?
The Lavish Monkey Island Resort
Finally our monkey island cruise docked at the lavish private resort which basks in natural beauty and is conveniently located on the other side of the busy monkey island.
After gushing over our fancy ocean view beach bungalows, we had a lovely lunch with the stellar views of Halong Bay.
If that wasn’t incredible enough, the private white sand beach was beautiful and monkey island resort offered many games to enjoy in your free time. You can choose from playing table tennis, pool, volleyball etc.
While at the resort, we also enjoyed one of the best (And steep) hikes on the island. We hiked right to the top of the island to enjoy surreal 360 degree views of the bay and hiked down over to the other side to feed the monkeys. The hike was quite tough but surely worth it.
After 3 days of fun and frolic, our time at monkey island Halong bay came to an end. We were sad to bid adieu but excited for new adventures that followed.
Have you visited Halong Bay? Which cruise did you opt for and how was your experience? Tell me in comments below.