HaLong Bay was on the list of things we wanted to do but didn’t know if we’d be able to do on this first trip to Vietnam. We had tried to consult with some tour companies before
coming but because we had to be flexible on our dates due to not knowing how quickly we could get our visas & across on the train from China. When we explored the options this way the tour companies were also quoting us extremely high costs ranging from $800-1200USD for a 3day 2night cruise.
So considering the above we decided to wait and see if we’d have the time to go. This did risk not being able to get tickets due to boats filling up but we were OK with that especially since it was still slow season. We found we had just enough time to get a city bus to HaLong Bay and see the area ourselves without a tour which also would have meant no cruise but again we were willing to compromise & enjoy what we could. We got off the city bus quite late and found an Italian restaurant to have dinner where we could also use the Internet to find a hotel, which in our typical fashion we had not booked yet. While at dinner a tour guide walked up & gave us a brochure for the cruises. We again decided to take the opportunity to explore our options & after finishing dinner we met him in their office.
After some discussion we booked a 2day 1night cruise with Cristina cruise lines for approximately $360USD. Before coming, we had heard all these comments about making sure you went with a “newer better” boat even though they cost more. We’re here to tell you that’s a bunch of rubbish! We saw other boats from a distance while in the water & they were all relatively the same. The pictures in this blog are unaltered from their original state & depict the way the boat was when we were there. It was clean & well kept & the staff were all very friendly & accommodating! Our tour guide was Uy and he did a wonderful job! There were not problems communicating in English & he went above & beyond to assist in anyway.
When we first embarked we were introduced & shown our rooms. They gave us time to check and report if all was ok and then it was time for lunch. The meals were good but if you’ve been in Asia for a bit you will notice they’ve been westernized quite a lot to accommodate tourists who are less familiar. Personally we would have loved to have had more authentic cuisine but also understand the others around us may have been put off by that since many of them were unfamiliar with that kind of food.
Outside of mealtime our time was divided quite swiftly between activities, all of which were included with our tickets. The first was a canoe ride through the pearl farms where we picked up a gift and got to see the different kind of pearls & hear where they originated from. After that we were taken to a small beach for Kayaking & swimming.
**Please note to ask about jellyfish before swimming! We had a wonderful time but since swimming had been suggested & we missed swimming we decided even in the cool whether to hop in. After going about 500 meters out I began feeling small stings(like pins & needles) on my wrists & About that time Robert felt something slimy go across his chest. We booked it back to shore to find out that at that time of year there are many jellyfish in the water. Thankfully they are not poisonous & do not hurt like the man-o-war or bluebottles we’re used to in Hawaii but still frightening and left little red dots across my arms & hands for a few days. By the time we got back to the main boat it was time for drinks & dinner. The rest of the night was filled with great company & travel stories as all were from different parts of the world and had travelled to a vast number of places. The crew showed us squid they caught fishing off the boat & offered to let us have a go at it as well if we liked but many of us were quite comfortable chatting and sharing stories.
The next day they offered caving but we decided to take that time to stay back & relax on the boat. I’m sure the caving would have been nice but we had been quite busy since entering Vietnam & needed a break & the boat was quite peaceful to relax & take pictures. When everyone returned we packed our things up to disembark and they then taught us how to make spring rolls & we had lunch.
A few in the group had purchased the 3 days/2 night which I’m sure is lovely but for us the 2 days/1 night was perfect. If you are in Hanoi & do not want to venture into the public bus there are agents to sell tickets there & the tours will pick you up from & drop you back off in Hanoi as part of the package. I would recommend using this service, at the moment anyway. Ha Long itself is quickly developing and there is much construction across the town not giving much to do aside from the cruises. Here I have attached a picture of the local area to give you an idea although I can imagine this will be complete relatively quickly for western standards as they seem to do construction quite quickly. Since we took the less conventional route to Ha Long Bay we did get the experience of the public bus & were assisted in finding a clean $20USD hotel the night we arrived & got to explore the local area before the cruise at noon. By doing this we saw areas that felt more like the real Vietnam instead of just the tourist sites & we got to see some views that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. We went to breakfast at the top of a local hotel that had what appeared to be the best views of the whole area & rented a scooter to explore independently for a few hours.
All & all we had a lovely time in HaLong Bay & below I’ve provided the details of the cruise we went on, the hotel we stayed in, as well as where we had breakfast if you find yourself looking for views of the area outside of the cruises.
Feel free to contact with with further questions or comments here or to purchase photos of the area go to my Website.
- Thien Thach Hotel: email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 0333 843 668 Address: Box 9 Tourist Route Dig Garden Bai Chay Ha Long (This is where we stayed for approximately $20USD the night before the cruise.)
- Cristina Cruise Lines. This is the name of the cruise we went on. Unfortunately I do not have their direct contact information but if you ask for them through the travel agent that books your cruise they should be able to get you onto one of theirs if there are tickets available.
- Saigon HaLong Hotel. We did not stay here. This is where we ate breakfast and had large views of HaLong. Great for breakfast & a view of the area!