As I was booking this trip, Ha Long bay was the main part that I was looking forward to the most; the beautiful islands and it's turquoise sea.
We booked our tour through Ocean Tours which can be found in Hanoi, or this can be done through Hanoi Rocks. The staff here were very helpful and the guy who organised our trip was from the UK.
As we was staying in HaLong bay for the night we only did a day tour. But there were other tours which took you from Hanoi to Ha long bay and back to Hanoi in the night. In hindsight, this probably would have been better, even though we stayed in an AMAZING hotel (city bay palace) Ha long bay city centre didn't have much to offer in terms of food or sights.
Our day trip cost us $40 US dollars, which included transfers, boat, lunch, kayaking and the palace heaven caves. Definitely worth it!
The bus set off from our hotel about 9-9:30am, taking us to the docks where we boarded a beautiful boat, had lunch where we was served a huge variety of different foods from sea food, chicken to vegetarian.
As we proceeded to Ha Long bay we could roam the ship, go onto the top deck and admire the beautiful views!
It was so breathtaking being surrounded by these thousands of islands. You can appreciate why it's become a wonder of the world.
We sailed on the boat for an hour or so until reaching a small island where we was given the option to kayak or go in a bamboo boat which took you around Ha Long bay and through mini caves. It was the perfect way to soak in the beauty around you.
After this activity we proceeded back to the boat which took us to the heaven palace cave. Our tour guide told us it hadn't long been discovered.
You walk up steep steps and into a small doorway which opens out into a huge cave, it's impressive stalagmite and ..... formation was lit with coloured lights and formed various pictures depending on you're own imagination. Once you've passed through the cave taking in mother natures impressive architectural skills you reach a viewing point with the whole view of Ha Long bay stretching for miles.
After the boat tour we had a taxi into Ha Long bay city. A word of warning please please please be wary of the taxis you get into; make sure they have signs on the side of the car!
HaLong bay city itself was very rural, and appeared the least 'tourist' place we had been to. There was little restaurants or places to eat and as my friend is a vegetarian it was very difficult to get this across due to the lack of english. However it looks as though in the next few years it will be expanding due to the success of Ha Long bay itself.
Our hotel provided us with a private bus transfer back to Hanoi, which was very cheap and little did we know it was a VIP bus with blankets, wifi and usb ports... that's how you backpack in style.
Ha Long Bay is one of those places where you can't appreciate the true extent of its beauty until you've been there.