Hạ Long Bay
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly a beautiful place to visit. Located roughly 3 hours from Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay's unique feature is the limestone pillars topped with green vegetation. It is true that there are many cruise boats filled with tourists but the Bay is an expansive 600 miles and can accommodate the traffic so that it does not feel crowded. We chose a 2-day, 1-night cruise but if you want some more down time on your trip, this is a good spot to sit back and relax on the Bay.
Enjoy the Bay: Hạ Long Bay is a great way to take a break from busy Hanoi. Time on a small cruise is quiet. Our room had private balconies to sit and enjoy the gorgeous views and remarkable limestone pillars.
Kayaking: Our cruise included an option to go kayaking on the Bay. The water is calm and easy to navigate. You can also go through caves on your own (photo right). Another quiet, and enjoyable activity on this beautiful bay.
Boating Through the Caves: Our cruise also included an optional early morning boat ride through some of the larger caves in the area. As these are guided (rather than self-propelled kayaks), it was available to more people with the only downside being the larger number of boats.
Where We Stayed
Sapphire Cruise: Booked through Swan Cruise, our "Sapphire" cruise ship was clean, well-acquainted, and had excellent customer service. Rooms had air conditioning, large bath tubs, and private balconies. The mini fridge came in handy when local villagers sold drinks from guest balconies. Meals on the cruise (included) and drinks (not-included) were quite nice, with beautiful presentation. $556 for one night (4 people, 2 rooms, activities and meals included).