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Halong Bay is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. Thousands of giant limestone islands fill the bay, and when it’s misty, it gives off the feeling of a haunted Jurassic Park.
I knew I had to visit Halong Bay, and there are plenty of tour operators offering different cruise packages. But over and over, I kept hearing the same refrain from fellow travelers:
“You have to do the trip with Hanoi Backpackers. It’s expensive, but so worth it.”
Plenty of Halong Bay tour operators run two-day tours for about $25 and three-day tours for $35. The Rock Long, Rock Hard Tour of Halong Bay from Hanoi Backpackers costs $70 for two days and $120 for three.
I decided to go with the two-day tour – and everyone was right. It was so worth it.
We stepped on board and our tour leader, Sebastian, gave us a brief overview of the rules. “Do not climb the rope ladders – they won’t hold your weight.” Check. “Do not swim after dark – you’ll freeze and nobody will pull you out.” Check again.
Then came rule #3:
“Do not, under any circumstances – and people have been sent home for this in the past – drink from your right hand.”
“If anyone does, you may shout, ‘Buffalo!’ at them and they must consume the rest of their drink in its entirety. The person who called Buffalo gets to then draw anything they want on that person’s face.”
This wasn’t our parents’ cruise, that’s for sure. (Also, see the above photo.)
“If anyone uses the words drink, drank or drunk, that person must immediately drop and do five push-ups.”
Oh, I was so in the right place!
Amazingly, for the first time in my nine days in Vietnam, the sun came out. The sun warmed our faces, the sea looked like a smooth piece of jade, and it was absolutely glorious.
People jumped in from the top floor of the boat!
Next, we went kayaking around the bay. The scenery? Incredible. I paired up with the only other American on the boat, a girl from Philadelphia, and we paddled our boat while cheering, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
We even paddled through a cave.
But after dinner, the party really got started.
“You’re going to need a lot of drinks for this one,” Sebastian warned us. It was time for an elaborate, enormous game of King’s Cup.
King’s Cup is a drinking game played by a large group with several decks of cards on the table. People turn over the cards, and there is a rule for each card turned over.
Every time we turned over a 2, we jumped up and screamed, “F*CK YOU!” at the top of our lungs, forcing the other table to drink. (“We usually hear complaints about that from the other boats,” Sebastian told us.)
My first card that I turned over was a Queen, which stood for cross-dressing – so I had to swap clothing with the first guy on my left. I was SO glad I wore my hippie pants! Don’t they look good on him?
The two best and most creative cards? The troll and Stephen Hawking.
If you were the troll, you had to sit underneath the table – but you could tap people on the feet, and they would have to feed you their drinks! One of the girls became an evil troll and drew all over everyone’s feet.
Poor Mike was stuck as the troll for 20 minutes. (I wanted to be the troll!! I kept getting the God card and had to make up rules for the other team to follow!)
If you were Stephen Hawking, you had to sit motionless – the only way you could signal for a drink was to tap your finger on the table. That went for smoking, too!
It was a crazy, crazy night. Before long, everyone at my table had to kiss the person to his or her left on the cheek before drinking, and all the guys at the other table were sitting in their undies. (Big surprise — I came up with the latter rule.)
Nothing made me laugh as hard as when the Stephen Hawking on the other team was chosen for cross-dressing — and had to be undressed and redressed by his teammates!
The game came to an abrupt end when a guy was pantsed by his mates…and then refused to pull his pants up, swaying in the breeze. “I don’t even care! This is fine! Do you like it?” In fact, his look-at-me-I’m-naked-from-the-waist-down speech went on so long, his mates had to “unpants” him.
But it was fine – because the boat turned into a dance party.
All of us who had been in Vang Vieng led the party in the Americano dance!
What a night.
The next morning, we cruised peacefully through the bay, admiring the stunning cliffs before us as we returned to the mainland. The sky had turned gray again, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful.
Would I recommend this Halong Bay cruise? Absolutely. My friends and I are still talking about this cruise, nearly a month later. We keep running into friends from the cruise as we travel through Vietnam, and each time, we reminisce about Stephen Hawking and the troll.
It was worth it to be on a cruise that was well-run. I’ve heard lots of stories about cruises being overbooked, and whenever this one overbooks, they tie on another boat and sail in tandem! Every moment was well planned and executed.
It was worth it to be on a cruise with cool people. While other Halong Bay cruises are filled with “newlyweds and nearly-deads,” this cruise was filled with young people – many of whom were already our friends from the hostel!
It was worth it to be on a cruise with organized fun. Yes, I’ve had loads of fun everywhere I’ve been, but having crazy games was a nice change from the usual low-key hanging out at the hostel.
My one regret? Going in January. I do wish I had decided to travel in chilly northern Vietnam during the summer months. Had that been the case, I would have signed up for the three-day cruise, complete with camping on the beach and wakeboarding!
Here’s something I learned later: the first day of the Halong Bay cruise was my 100th day on this trip. I could think of no better way of celebrating 100 days of travel!
Find a hotel for the night before or after your cruise here.