Everyone puts a Halong Bay cruise on their Vietnam bucket list.
I think it’s well deserved, but, I do think you need to be somewhat informed when you make your booking. I wrote this during a trip to Vietnam almost two years ago, but I think it’s still relevant.
We are in the middle of our Halong Bay Tour, and I’m FREEZING. The weather did not hold out for us. Everyone told us that it would be cold in Hoi An, and it was not at all. Everyone told us it would be cold in Hanoi, and we still wore shorts. Everyone told us Halong Bay would be cold, and I didn’t believe them. I wish I packed my warmer jacket…
I’m pretty sure most people that travel to Vietnam take a Halong Bay Cruise. Most options are one day (because it’s a 4-hour drive from Hanoi, this would be waaaay to quick to see the bay), or 2-3 days. For Mike and I, it was difficult picking out what “junk,” or cruise, to take since there are so many options and not an easy way to browse the differences.
I stumbled upon a blog that reviewed the junk we ended up taking, which was Vega Cruises. We settled on them because they were the cheapest, most well reviewed mid-range option. I would have loved to take one of the more expensive nicer boats, but we travel too much, and our budget reflects that. I think with Halong bay cruises; you get what you pay for. Ours was cheaper than many, and the main reason is that we only spent one night on the boat.
We were picked up yesterday from our hotel and joined the other passengers for the drive to Halong City. There were 13 of us and our guide. Four hours and a pit stop at a tourist market selling Vietnamese crafts before we arrived on our boat.
The boat itself was pretty nice!
We enjoyed relaxing in our room (it was a bit too cold on our balcony) and viewing the scenery for the first few hours while we cruised to our first stop: surprise cave. This cave was impressive, and we had enough time to take pictures and enjoy it.
From the cave, we took kayaks to explore the islands and hongs, including a cove. Even though we were cold and slight wet from the paddles, it was pretty enjoyable. It was almost dark by the time we got back to the boat. In summer, there is more time to kayak and explore because the days are longer.
Our boat was parked for the night, and the wind had died down, so Mike and I enjoyed drinking beer on our balcony followed by a very fulfilling seafood dinner. I wouldn’t claim it was the best food we’ve had in Vietnam, but it was tasty. After dinner, our guide challenged us to some fun games, with a free beer as a prize. As a group, we succeeded only in one challenge. And then it was time for bed.
I slept better than I thought I would, the beds were very comfortable, and the boat didn’t rock too much.
Breakfast in the morning was at 7 am and was slightly unfulfilling. The only thing “cooked” was fried eggs, but it also included some fruit, bread, and spreads for the bread. The mango juice was good.
After breakfast, we headed for Titop island and climbed to the peak to see the view. The view would have been even more spectacular if we had better weather.
Afterward, we headed back to the boat and checked out of our comfortable, warm rooms and on to a second “day” boat where we would spend most of our time on the second (and last) day with the few others that choose to have a second night in the bay. Our travel companions for this portion were a family with two kids from Hungary. They were nice, and it was fun to watch the kids play together so nicely. This boat had 2 decks; the bottom was mostly enclosed, but two doors didn’t work so it wasn’t completely enclosed, enabling the wind and cold to make that deck uncomfortably cold. The top deck was worse, though, it was open and would have been great in warm weather, but just too windy to spend much time there.
We cruised for a few hours before our planned island stop to go biking and hiking. The stop was worth it; it was nice to be active and get our blood flowing and feel warm, and also see the countryside where they were just beginning to plant rice. The hike was short but interesting. Mike and I both almost tore our clothes climbing up and down some sharp rocks.
Back in the boat, we had lunch, and again it was excellent. My favorite was a fish dish with a bunch of herbs, and the French fries. After lunch, we went kayaking again around the bay. Tip: bring a waterproof bag for your camera to have with you while you kayak.
A few hours after lunch we arrived at Cat Ba island where we spent the night at a very very Chinese looking hotel. Cat Ba island reminded me of China somehow; I think it had to do with the numerous ugly concrete buildings. We had dinner on our own that night.
The next morning we hopped back on the very cold boat for a few hour ride back to the overnight boat. I think I spent those hours huddle in multiple layers of cold trying to keep warm. We arrived at the overnight boat, but it wasn’t the Vega junk. Apparently, the Vega junk had some mechanical problems, so we shared the last few hours on another tour companies boat. I’m not sure how their passengers liked that, but we needed the ride! It was warm, but the buffet brunch wasn’t nearly as good as the food we had with Vega.