Start with early morning hotel pickup in Hanoi and head to Halong Bay, located approximately 100 miles (160 km) to the east of Vietnam's capital city.
Travel in comfort with your guide in your climate-controlled private vehicle for about three to four hours, passing lush rice paddies and fruit gardens during your journey. Your guide shares details about the villages you pass, which represent the diverse cultures of northern Vietnam.
Upon your arrival in Halong Bay, your captain welcomes you aboard your sailboat. After a brief orientation, set sail on shimmering waters that reflect thousands of limestone islets, including many that contain grottoes. Snap photos from the boat's wide deck or sit inside the cabin where you are protected from the elements.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay means ‘dragon descending to the sea,’ named for a family of dragons that legends report as having helped the Vietnamese people fend off invaders. The tales say that the dragons spit out gemstones that turned into the islets dotting the bay. Explore some of these gems at scheduled stops on your cruise.
Visit Thien Cung, also known as Heavenly Cave, which you approach by sailing through a passage that is surrounded by thick foliage. Disembark to see the cave up close, strolling along a wooden walkway that leads into the cave. Admire the rock formations inside and hear about local legends from your guide. Next, sail over to Driftwood Island to visit Dau Go grotto. Ascend 90 steps to reach the cave entrance and see stalactites that hang from the ceiling like a frozen waterfall.
Enjoy a delicious fresh seafood lunch on board your boat as you sail around landmarks such as Cho Da (Stone Dog), Dinh Huong (Incense Urn) and Ga Choi (Fighting Roosters) — rocky islets named for their animal shapes. If conditions allow, you have the option to swim in the bay or rent a kayak (own expense).
In the late afternoon, sail back to shore and disembark for the drive back to Hanoi. Your full-day tour ends with a visit to Dong Trieu ceramic village en route to your hotel.