We have actively avoided organised tours throughout the trip but unfortunately due to time restrictions and cost we had little option with the Halong bay trip. The trip is planned for three days and two nights, including all food, first night on the boat and the second in a hotel. Surprise, surprise as soon as we started, the advertised itinerary was turned upside down and activities and destinations were changed. Not a problem really, as you've got to expect these thing on trips here, the travel agents will tell you anything to get your money off you!
The advertised three hour bus journey was actually five hours but with optimism for the trip we managed to have lunch by about 2pm on the boat and could see the giant limestones in the distance. The place is stunning, nice just to sit and look around, although your boat in never alone in the water the place is crammed with tourists. After about an hour in the boat we stopped at some caves, as we arrived on the little island with music aloud, you could have been in Disneyland. The caves were stunning, it is however a little disappointing how destructive some Asian nations can be toward a site such as this. The walkway for the cave had been made by simply dumping a load of concrete in there. Anyway, some different people boarded the boat when we arrived back from the caves and we moved on and looked around some more of the bay.
The night was spent in a hotel on the largest of the limestone islands, Cat Ba Island. We soon found what a good deal we got on the price as many had paid for "superior" tickets but were actually staying in the same places as us, the usual cheap grotty rooms, but we didn't mind the slightest.
In the evening we walked down past the seedy "massage parlours" and sat on the front with a few beers.