For this next blog, we set sail along the limestoney pinnacles and islets that make up the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay.
A must for any traveler passing through Northern Vietnam, Halong Bay often makes the bucket list of travelers from far and wide so it’d be a real unwise move for you to skip past this blog post, buster. If you’re looking to book yourself a luxury cruise, find out how to do Halong in style or you simply like to follow the travels of this intrepid young discoverer then you’re in the right place.
Deciding on a Tour
There are countless tour companies and providers offering trips around Halong Bay so it can be a minefield separating the riff from the raff. I highly recommend TripAdvisor, if you don’t already use it, and i recommend only booking tours from reputable websites and companies that you can cross reference on TA. I’m not saying there are dodgy tour providers, I am just making sure this once in a life time opportunity is everything that it should be for you.
Aside from this: a day trip, an overnight trip or a multi-night trip will make up the first part of your decision making process when planning Halong Bay. A one day trip is only for those who really really cannot afford the time. Out of the bay and back will be your course for the day and you’ll likely spend as long on your transfer from Hanoi (4 hour round trip) as you will on the junk boat. Perhaps consider an overnight boat as these often return to Halong Bay at around 10am, leaving you plenty of time to make your next connection. A one night trip is a good balance between budget, time and overall experience- sunset, sunrise, breakfast, a private room and a leisurely journey are just a few of things you will gain from this classic journey. Halong is all about peace and tranquility and you will really appreciate spending the time and taking it all in -slooowwwly. Two nights (or more) provides more activity time, more exploration and more photo opportunities… Nobody ever complains about spending too long in Halong Bay. The choice is yours!
We opted for a one night stay on a luxury cruiser recommended by friends, who had also been recommended it by friends who had also been recommended it by friends and now I am recommending it to you, friend. You heard it here first; albeit fourth hand. Scoring an average TripAdvisor score of ‘Bloody Excellent’ we knew we were on to a winner but were totally amazed by our Bhaya Legend experience. The boat was called Legend for a reason and provided an unforgettable, breathtaking experience surpassing all expectations and previous experiences on some pretty incredible cruises (which include shipwrecks in Cyprus, turtles in Thailand and the Corals of the Great Barrier Reef ~ I suppose thats 3 more blogs for the list!).
After a smooth 2 hour transfer from Hanoi, complete with a mini market and toilet break (is it OK to call this a Shop ‘N’ Plop?) we arrived at the Bhaya Cruises terminal desk. A pleasant, airy, modern facility with friendly staff, welcome drinks and (most importantly) some of the most eye catching boats of the whole marina. The fleet used by Bhaya are equally impressive in size, decor and quality. Our terminal housed about 40-50 excited travelers and all were called to the boat except for us and a very tiny couple across the room from us. To my relief, they were just regular sized people sitting very far away and this was clear when they sat at our table at the command of our Cruise Manager. It seems that everybody else had booked a two night cruise on a large boat and the four of us has chosen the one nighter. “Ah, shooks”, we thought that we’d, perhaps, been served a stinker.
So we board our boat which hides in the shadow of the three tiered monster docked besides us…and my word… we’re in heaven. Pure luxury awaits us on this boat. It’s a 3 cabin, 6 sleeper boat with a staff of 10 which includes chefs, waiters, the manager and maid service to captains, mechanics and more. Our room was far better than what we’d left behind on dry land.
The interior of the boat is very cosy and our wooden, decked room and bathroom could easily be mistake for a 5* retreat. As for the views…. Oh, the views. Ever-changing panoramas of sea, limestone and sunshine will never bore me. A small private balcony is the perfect place to unwind in privacy with a book, cocktail and a view. Upstairs the boat housed 6 sun loungers and a viewing deck but the majority of our time was spent on the lower deck in the communal dining area where we were brought treat after treat of tasty Vietnamese dishes. A five course lunch was laid on soon after boarding as we drunk in the surrounding scenery.
A few hours into our serene, peaceful, heavenly sail we disembark at our first stop, a Water Village Tour. Out of our boat and into the gondolas, we sailed past a small floating community, complete with a school, floating shops and community areas. It’s incredible to think that some of these people never step foot on dry land whilst making a living soley by selling their catch to the local port. The great thing with our small party aboard Bhaya Cruise’s Legend boat was that we avoided the crowds; Son (our ship manager) ushered us to each activity way before any other boat dropped anchor and we’d always wave at the newly arriving crowds as we departed. This definitely added to the luxurious, peaceful experience so a big thumbs up to Bhaya for this. Next stop, a Pearl Farm. Potentially a tourist trap but actually an informative, friendly floating workshop that grows, harvests and sells all things pearl. We learned about the farming process, manufacture and our party lucky enough to watch an oyster being opened to reveal a fresh Pearl (their first success of the day). With no pressure to buy we left satisfied and returned to our boat for a bit of down time.
Later that evening a 4-course Vietnamese dinner was served and the wife & I contributed by helping to make what we’re undoubtedly the best spring rolls I have ever eaten aboard a boat in the middle of Halong Bay. We watched the Sunset with cocktails in hand as the boat bobbled peacefully in the open water surrounded by similar overnight cruises. I snuck up for sunrise before getting a bit more shut eye because in the morning we were heading to Ti-Top island.
Now for the slight downside (or at least topsy turvy side) of our trip. The four of us staying on the boat were given the option of a) visiting the brightly lit caves or b) visiting Ti-top island for swim and sunshine. The wife and I opted for A but conceded to the Germans who wanted to choose B; and they were more desperate for a swim than we were inclined to argue our case. Ti-Top island is home to a man made beach which is a stopping point for every single junk tour. Your stop here will like be for around an hour before your allocated slot is up. The water is not clear (damaged by diesel from all the nearby tour boats) and the beach will become crowded. In our eyes, you’ve got a beautiful surroundings and a sunbathing spot right on the top deck of your boat- no need to disembark, the swim here isn’t great. The Germans conceded that the swim wasn’t ideal and perhaps the caves would have been better. Now for the topsy-turvy-side. I’ve also heard the caves are strange and very artificially lit. Ti-top wasn’t fantastic but there was a massive mountain that I enjoyed trekking up and taking some fantastic photos so it seems both options had their pros and cons. A quick departure saw our boat whizzing back to the bay, with us full up on chicken noodles. Our coach was waiting for our boat back at the terminal so it wasn’t long before we were back at the Shop’N’Plop and before you know it all peace and tranquility were lost as we were back in Hanoi and, once again, surrounded by the buzzing of scooters.
Carl from the future speaking here: Now that I’m back perhaps you’d like to check out what happened next, or indeed what happened before…. The following blogs are from my Upside Down Heart Tour; click until yours is content!
STAFFAN SCHERZ (FEATURED IMAGE)