In short…ask what operator is doing your tour…do NOT go with JOY Travel…I am on a strict budget and even I say now that I would have rather paid double to not go with them again.
I managed to get my tour for $50 for 3 days and 2 nights, all inclusive except for beverages. Other people on the exact same tour paid 60 to 100 dollars! Also everyone thought they were on different trips. So I, knowing I took the bottom of the line tour was expecting the penny pinching circumstances. But what I didn’t ‘pay’ for was hair in my bed (uncleaned sheets) at Sunflower Hotel Two where they have you stay on Cat Ba Island, used condoms in my bathroom on the boat, 39 mystery bites in my room on the boat, and a guide that yelled at me while rumbling his fist at my face because I commented that he was doing a clay face mask while our bus back to the boat was 2.5 hours late making us miss sunset in the bay. They also re arranged our tour to do the hotel first night, boat second which meant after a 2 hour hike we had no where to shower. Then they proceeded to make everyone pay to go to Monkey Island claiming there were no beaches on Cat Ba (there are 3)…and half the people had already paid for it.
In addition to this, my friend paid 18 dollars to get bus-boat-bus to Cat ba island. The guide gave him an admission ticket and lunch then proceeded to tell him after the fact that he owed money. When my friend expressed confusion his bags were taken from him and the boat was pulled into the middle of the harbour. There he was threatened with physical violence, and the price he ‘owed’ tripled. They lied and said he was stranded to swim to shore because there would be no more bus to the other half of the island.
They don’t let you bring any of your own drinks on board and threaten to charge you their price as a corkage fee if you do, even for water which is triple the average price. We were yelled at for passports even though half of us had ours at embassies in Hanoi and were told we didn’t need them. Also I was told by our guide not to bring my runners for the hike which was a severe safety hazard.
We were to have ‘English Speaking Guides’ for the whole tour including the caves and trek…that didn’t happen. They just yelled at us to be on time then were hours late themselves. We also had kayaking and swimming included…which really meant you can swim between 6 and 7 am but we wont wake you up and you can kayak for 20 minutes on one side of the bay, if you cross a line you pay 100,000vnd.
The food was actually fine for what I paid. 4 slices of white bread and half an egg on the last breakfast was a bit off putting but what can you do.
Anyway, everyone I know that did the BUNGALOW tour had a great time…you shouldn’t pay more than 95 for that. All tour offices book through the same actual operators at Halong Bay. It is NOT cheaper to go from Halong City than Hanoi, if you want to go on your own it is pretty reasonable as well. You can also do 2d/1n tours open ended and spend longer on Cat Ba. Keep in mind its a 4 hour drive from Hanoi, so unless your pressed for time I’d do at least 3 days. Also, lots of people hear about ‘Castaway’ through Hanoi Backpackers. A couple girls I know went rock climbing on Castaway beach and said for the price (200) it was NOT worth it. You will meet equally as rocking people on other boats/in Cat ba…and as it is the liquor isn’t included and it is a much heavier drinking environment.
There is a bar on Cat Ba ….I want to say Rose bar? free drinks for ladies and chose your own music…Fusball…it was definitely a decent time.
Otherwise Halong bay was…pretty…Beach 2 (the only free one) was pretty nice…but in comparisson to Thai beaches and the Milford Sounds I was pretty underwhelmed…the joys of longterm travel.