We went in the off season, (December) so we didn’t really worry about booking ahead of time. We literarily trolled the harbor looking for nice people, a nice boat, and an affordable price. They have the day tours where the boat goes around scenically, but we both really wanted to stay the night. So, after some obligatory haggling, we made reservations for that night.
We had just come from sunnier climates down south, so we both wandered the streets looking for clothing more suitable for a windy boat (unlike the bikini weather we had been enjoying). There were slim pickings as far as affordability. Vietnam sells a lot of high quality merchandise, and we just wanted some cheapos we could use for the month and then donate. In the end we found some male sweaters and flannel that we could layer.
We ended up on a boat for one night. The views were beautiful. The food was delicious. The beers were cheap and made it easy to make friends with our fellow companions. The boat went around for a day tour, and some people left, but the brave ones stayed for the full overnight experience.
There is something really peaceful about sleeping on a swaying boat. Especially knowing that you are crossing something off your bucket list. Many people later asked me about the basics. The showers… we never found out. The bathroom seemed clean enough, but Marie and I both found the weather far too cold to undress and brave getting wet. Instead we put on more layers before we slept.
Overall I really enjoyed my time on the boat and would suggest that anyone who takes the time to experience Ha Long Bay also takes the time to really experience it. Don’t just take pictures from the shore you land lubber. Step aboard and see the bay in the way it was meant to be seen.