This is a very cool (and touristy) place to stay and check out while in Vietnam. There are two sides of the city to stay in when visiting Ha Long Bay, Bai Chai and Tran Hung Dao. We stayed on the Tran Hung Dao side near the beach Bach Dang, this side has epic views of the islands in the bay and a sweet market to get all kinds of food and souvenirs. Our hotel was excellent if you are looking for something a little more than a hostel. It included breakfast in the mornings, a pool, a bar/restaurant on the top floor. The location was perfect and in walking distance to a nice indoor mall, the outdoor market, the beach and tons of authentic food and shops.
The island tour is the main attraction in Ha Long Bay, however be very cautious of where you book from. Some places (like our hotel) will charge you close to $35 per person and you will still have to pay for your cab, buy your own lunch and pay to visit many of the stops on the tour. If you catch a cab to the Bai Chai side you can book your tour right from the source and it will only cost $4 per ticket (you will still have to pay for some of the stops, but you will save over $30 per person). In total, the tour should not cost more than $15 per person and include all the stops, lunch and your cab.
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The tour is nice and we made stops at a few different caves, saw some of the more famous island configurations (fighting cocks, dog, cat, and a few more), we also stopped at a floating fish market where you could buy some fish for lunch and the deck hands would cook it up for you.The final stop on the boat tour was Tip Top Beach.
At one of the stops you could get on a paddle boat or kayaks and check out some cool caves and caverns within the islands. We opted to get a paddle boat because for the same price you could have someone else paddle you around. Our paddler was extremely nice and told us all about the caves. She lives on the bay in a floating village and in this picture you can see where her and her family live in the boat behind her.
We met some fine folks from England on our boat tour and had a great time talking about all our travels through south east Asia. Towards the end of our tour they decided we all needed a bottle of vodka to finish among friends. After ordering the bottle from the deck hand (that was on the menu) we where informed they did not have any but they where going to flag down another boat and get one.
After making a u-turn and flagging down another boat we came in to dock with them. This maneuver did not go as planned! We ended up t-boning this boat at almost full speed. As our boat rammed into this other boat, full of tourist, we heard a loud crash and cracking of wood. As we bounced off the other boat we could see a huge dent with splinters in there hull. The guide then proceeded to inform us he was not able to get any vodka…