The highlight of the trip was a visit to Ha Long Bay. I chose Indochina Cruises, as though more expensive, apparently gave a better itinerary It was absolutely amazing. A bus picks you up from the hotel around 8am and then expect a 4 hour drive to the port. The bus is air conditioned and not too cramped. A short stop is made about half way through the journey and you are welcomed aboard with a bottle of water. I booked a whole cabin because otherwise you will end up sharing with someone at random if you are a solo traveler. The cabins are small but very comfortable. The Indochina boats are very new and the one I was on only had 5 cabins ( Valentine Cruise). The crew and guide were great - good food and luckily good company in the other guests, but all this is surpassed by the absolutely amazing scenery and beautiful vistas. Ha Long Bay is a busy port with many boats zig zagging around, but the Indochina cruises have a slightly different sailing route which means you do not meet up with many other boats on the way.
Stunning Halong Beauty
The first stop were the limestone caves, expect a climb of about 300 steps (cobbled and some quite difficult to navigate) to reach the top of the cave (the caves are up not down!). Inside the caves are amazing stalactites and stalagmites. it is cooler in the caves, but certainly not cold. The overnight stop is another two hours sailing away, and it was very calm sailing and so very peaceful, especially compared to the hub-bub of Hanoi. In the morning the sunrise is worth waking early for (at this time of year around 615am). The sunset was quite spectacular too, but blink you will miss it! The second day includes a visit to a fish farm. Another reason to recommend Indochina cruises( Indochina Sails) is because they are helping the farms to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Floating School at Cua Van
The second morning breakfast is served at 7.15am and "lunch" at 10.45am. You do need it by then! The journey back to the pier takes another hour or so and you may have to wait an hour for the bus to pick you up and drive back to Hanoi.