Ha long Bay seemed like such a touristy place… We really hesitated but made up our mind because we were supposed to go with Oanh, Marc Jaen and Jean over our first weekend in Vietnam. We hoped to organize something nice and cheap between the 6 of us, unfortunately it did not happen.
Oanh had a family emergency, Jean had to stay in Hanoi for his uncle’s birthday, and Marc Jaen was in Vietnam for 3 days only, which was way too short to do something cheap from and back to Hanoi. Good tours were at least $100 which was out of our budget, and cheap tours have a reputation of using sinking boats, or having rats on board. As cool as it sounds, we ended up switching plans and going to Bai Tu Long Bay, a little further North, as pretty, but much less touristy (in fact it’s a weekend getaway for Vietnamese citizens, and being there in the week we could tell we were the only tourists). We arrived in Cai Rong late in the day to watch the sunset over the harbor, and took the local slow boat to Quan Lan island the next day. We sat in front to enjoy the beautiful karts coming out of the water. Once there, all the kids seem really happy to practice the little English they knew, they would all wave at us and shout a “hello” to us. Most people were very friendly. We read that the most beautiful beach in Vietnam was there so we rented bicycles to check… But it was so full of trash that we didn’t even stay. The following beach was very nice but it was too windy to swim, and the water wasn’t clear enough to my taste. It turned out to be a good nap spot! The island is still authentic with wildlife everywhere and untouched landscapes, it’s not the Ha long Bay tour but it’s more what we’re into. We took the local boat back to Ha long City, a little faster than the way in unfortunately, but we stopped at fishing villages and had an amazing view of both bays. If time is not an issue I would definitely recommend to get out of Ha long Bay where there are so many tourist boats and explore further.