I knew the weather wasn't going to be perfect. While the majority of SE Asia enjoys a warm, dry season from December to February, northern Vietnam throws its toys out of the pram and shrouds itself in chilly mist. So I was hoping for dry weather, even if the limestone peaks would be covered in fog. And I got it! It was chilly on the boat, particularly at night, but overall comfortable weather.
I didn't mind the mist. I came to the conclusion that it would be nicer in the sun, but the mystique that the mist gave the mountains, that loomed out at you as you approach, was pretty special as well. Waking up to that view was incredible, even if there was no sunrise to speak of.
On the first day we left Hanoi and drove the four hours to Halong City where we transferred to the boat. We had lunch onboard and then visited Surprising Cave. I won't spoil the surprise, but don't get your hopes up too much. Apparently this cave is better than the other option, Dragon Cave. It was beautiful, and it was lit up with different colours. There's a nice view from a gap in the top of the cave too.
There was then the option to go kayaking, or to sit on the boat for 45 minutes. Wooo.
There was a really random pre-dinner 'party' that we were all called to, at 5.59pm sharp. They played intense techno music and had the disco ball flashing, and promptly turned them off for dinner at 7pm. Post-dinner there was karaoke (with nothing newer than Like A Virgin) and people dispersed to the 'sundeck' to chill for the evening.
The following morning we visited a pearl farm, which was interesting to a point, but of course was mainly a shop for tourists. We are in 'Nam after all.
As with all tours, you find people who paid varying prices for exactly the same thing. I met people who'd paid as little as US$85 for the same two-day one-night trip as I paid $110 for. But I didn't shop around, and for the ease of it just booked of through my hostel. Partly because of 'it's the end of my trip I can't be bothered anymore' laziness, and partly due to knowing I could trust the hostel's endorsements because I'd read positive reviews online. Whether that was worth the $25 commission they took, I'm not thinking about. You can of course find trips a lot cheaper than that, but how safe the boats are you don't know. There are stories of deaths from sinking vessels on the traveller grapevine.
As with a lot of experiences travelling solo, you can be in an incredible place, but what makes it is the people you meet. And that's why I'm so in love with travelling alone.