Although travelling is perceived as a luxury, it is possible to travel on a budget. Although a monotonous task, if you set time aside to thoroughly compare prices – you can easily travel on even the strictest budget! (What I did before embarking on a three month backpacking journey through South East Asia). This way, I managed to experience Ha Long Bay for just $12! And guess what? You can too (luckily sans the research), so let’s get to it!
A LITTLE KNOWN SECRET
Cat Ba Island: Situated slightly more than two hours from Hà Nội, Cat Ba Island is only accessible via ferry but luckily, combination tickets (so bus and ferry) can be bought for as little as 200,000 VnD ($8). I recommend the company ‘Good Morning Cat Ba’ as albeit being pricier ($14), the costs include the bus journey to the ferry, the journey to the island via the ferry, and another bus journey to your accommodation – and trust me, you can’t walk from the port to your accommodation because Cat Ba Island is huge.
On Cat Ba Island, I recommend booking accomodation in the city centre, near the port as, despite being an island, Cat Ba is also home to a national park, complete with caves and everything! So basically, if you’re visiting mainly for the cruise around Hà Long Bay, staying near the port is just convenient but if you have more time and want to explore the island thoroughly, accommodation is a-plenty. And if you’re worried about transport around the island, fret not as taxis (and even Grab) are easily within reach. But back to a tour around Hà Long Bay for just $12!
HOW TO TOUR HALONG BAY ON A BUDGET
Once in the city centre, head to the main stretch of road facing the ocean – aka opposite the port – as that’s where you need to go to buy yourself an affordable half-day tour around Lan Hà Bay and Hà Long Bay. Most companies are selling the same tour (kayaking, snorkeling, hiking etc), with the starting price, or shall I say advertised price, at $20 – just continue walking, or haggling, until you find a company selling the same tour for $12.
Tip: Inform the tour operator that you were offered a lower price than they are charging and you will definitely be offered an immediate price reduction.
Pro Tip: my friend and I actually asked a tour company to write the price on the paper detailing the itinerary then showed that paper to another company while asking for their price and that’s basically how we paid $12; and if you’re worried about that being unethical, just remember the prices aren’t fixed meaning you’re just price-matching with competitors.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A TOUR AROUND HALONG BAY
So what exactly does this $12 tour around Hà Long Bay include? Well, for starters, it’s not just around Hà Long Bay! The tour also includes cruising through Lan Hà Bay but starts by slowly passing a local fishing village – in the middle of the ocean. The boat, a double decker, then continues its journey around Lan Hà Bay and Hà Long Bay, with beverages and snacks available on-board.
Eventually, the boat docks at a shallow area so you can kayak through caves and into hidden lagoons – you’re given around an hour to explore the area, which is huge; if you’re worried about your safety, what with kayaking in a random area of the ocean, don’t be as you’re given a life-jacket and there are clearly labelled signs hanging over ‘dangerous’ area. Honestly, there’s nothing more memorable, or scenic, than squeezing through a narrow passageway into a lagoon surrounded by blue water and cliffs.
After kayaking, a simple yet scrumptious lunch is served on-board – freshly prepared whilst everyone was busy exploring with their kayaks. If you’re a solo female traveller, lunch can be the perfect opportunity to mingle with other travellers; especially considering the fact that you will probably be sat with others, at random. Yes, the tour includes others – from less than 10 people up to 20 people, it really depends on your luck, which also depends on if you’re visiting during low or high season.
Once everyone is satisfied, it’s onwards to another secluded location around Hà Long Bay: a seemingly random sandbank cupping the edge of a limestone. Based on the weather, you can either swim, snorkel, or relax on-board, the choice really is yours. I visited in the beginning of April and it could get rather chilly hence why we weren’t provided with snorkeling equipment; but I did swim to the sandbank and back to the boat cause why not, right (all the while totally not regretting my decision while embracing the infamous ‘yolo’).
The last stop (sadly) of the cruise is Monkey Island – known for, you guessed it, monkeys! Again, you’re given a choice of staying on-board or jumping off into the warm sand of Monkey Island, which is actually more famous for its view point than monkeys. Being an avid (barefoot) hiker, I obviously had to climb to the viewpoint on top of the island and I would highly recommend you to do the same as it boasts a breathtaking view of the endless islands dotting the Gulf of Tonkin.
However, do note that the hike consists of mainly climbing over jagged rocks so bring suitable shoes – or if you’re like me, go barefoot and get stared at by other hikers not-so-secretly whispering how you’re crazy. If you’re unfit to hike then even relaxing by the beach as the sun sets is an unforgettable experience – especially when a monkey snatches your Pringles from you!
AND THAT’S A WRAP
The cruise back to Cat Ba Island is just as beautiful as the cruise out of Cat Ba Island, not to mention bittersweet when you remember how you only spend $12 for such an eventful day tour. So in all, visiting Cat Ba Island is a must for those on a budget and wanting to avoid inflated prices; and not to mention, the hordes of tourists flocking to the famous Hà Long Bay Island.
Have you been to Halong Bay? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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