There isn't anything to say about Ha Long city, it is quite desolate except for a couple of buildings.
It is however full with people who know exactly what every single tourist is here for. It seems easy to bat them off, but wading through to find the real location of sale isnt all that easy, especially when they close at inconvenient hours. We did manage in the end and we got charged only for $7 for the trip. Most people get charged about $10-$20 if they are lucky. We weren't too sure at first if there was going to be a junk for us, it didn't seem too well organized, but one did come for us in the end (1/2 an hour late).
On board there wasn't many people, 4/5 Chinese tourists and 8 British lads who had joined the ship as a means to get to Cat Ba island. It got more interesting because we were there when they were bargaining for the ticket and settled in the end for $20 dollars each!! When we told them we only paid $5 (for the boat, $2 for entrance into the national park) and we were getting a tour out of it, one of them was saying "Ah, don't worry they are doing the tour, we are only going to Cat Ba", which is backwards, but we weren't gonna press them on it. We had a bit of a laugh with them on the ship whilst they were draining the boat of all its beer. In this sense, we didn't avoid a party boat (which was our aim), but they kept the noise down. One of them did start steering under the influence, but we weren't going too fast.
Half way to Cat Ba, we stopped at a floating fish shop, where we could have bought a whole fish for $50 and the nice lady would have cooked it. They had a nice mix including one we couldn't identify what it was (see pic).
The scenery and caves were all as splendid as people say, the pictures speak for them selves.