Ha Long Bay
Type: Cruise, Island Hopping, Beach, Fishing
Best Date to Visit: Nov-Dec, Mar-Apr
Things to Do: Island hopping, swimming, fishing, trekking and more
Points of Interest: Tuan Chau, Dau Go cave, Thien Cung cave, Ti-Top island and more
Ha Long Bay which means the ‘Descending Dragon Bay’ is a popular excursion away from Hanoi’s bustling and chaotic city. The bay is a UNESCO world heritage north east of the Vietnam in Quang Ninh province. Ha long bay is said to have around 1,600 limestone islands and islets, many of which haven’t been influenced by human presence due to their steepness, height and sharpness which make them dangerous to venture and discover.
A Luxury Cruise Experience
There is many ways in which you can enjoy ‘Ha Long Bay’ but most popular is to take a 2 or 3 day cruise, many take private boats and some stay on the shores. Activities such as canoeing, trekking, scuba diving are available at some areas of Ha long bay which after experiencing the serene scenery, the reason why so many come here.
I experienced Ha Long Bay through a 2 day voyage with ‘Paradise Luxury Cruises’ which has plenty of tours to offer, they have a fleet of many named ‘Paradise Elegance 1’, ‘Paradise Elegance 2’, ‘Paradise Peak’. ‘Paradise Luxury’ and many more. I was in ‘Paradise Elegance 1’ and I will write about my the tour and my personal experiences with them.
Our itinerary went like this.
07:30 – 11:30 Transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay
11:30 – 12:15 Arrive in Tuan Chau Island. Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel
12:15 Transfer to Paradise Elegance Cruise ship
12:30 Welcome drink, cruise information and check-in
13:00 – 14:30 Lunch at Le Marin Restaurant (onboard)
14:30 – 15:30 Cruise and sightseeing along Halong Bay
15:30 Visit Sung Sot Cave
17:00 – 18:30 Happy Hour (Buy one, get one drink), free time
17:30 – 19:00 Anchor at Coconut Tree Island for overnight stay
Cooking demonstration at L’Odyssée Sundeck (onboard)
19:00 – 22:00 À la carte dinner is served at Le Marin Restaurant
21:00 Enjoy live music at Le Piano Bar (onboard)
06:30 – 07:00 Tai Chi demonstration at the Sundeck
07:00 – 08:00 Light breakfast, coffee & pastries
08:00 Visit Titov Island (1 hour) for swimming or hiking
09:00 Breakfast Buffet
09:30 Bill settlement and checkout
10:30 Return to Tuan Chau Marina
10:45 – 12:00 Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel
12:00 Return to Hanoi
So our journey started on an overnight stay in Hanoi having booked our hotel as a package deal with the cruise. The pickup from the airport to our Hanoi hotel using a luxury limousine van was inclusive of the package deal. Staying in the capital first was a good way to start off our Vietnam experience not only to climatise but also to soak up the atmosphere for the days to come. However the next morning an early wake up was required for the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’, the pickup arrives 07:30 which means a rushed breakfast. Again the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’ is inclusive with the whole tour experience and uses the luxury limousine van (used from airport to Hanoi hotel). Before the journey starts the driver will introduce himself and a bottle of water would be given to each passenger. The journey takes about 3 hours with a stop over to a lovely Vietnamese product factory which sells paintings, artwork, clothes and food products, however strictly no photography is allowed. This stopover also acts as a little toilet and snack break from the long journey.
Upon arrival at the Halong Bay area you get off at ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ at Tuan Chau island where you will register, check-in, get little instructions and receive your key card for your room in the boat. At this point you will no longer need to carry your baggage around as next time you will see them is at your room. Before leaving for the boat you will be invited for light lunch at the hotel until the transfer to your boat is ready (main buffet lunch is served on-board the boat). The transfer to the boat is about 5 minutes where you will get an extraordinary welcome, my highlight is petals getting thrown on you from a balcony upon stepping foot on the boat, which doesn’t usually happen. A quick welcome dance, safety and information briefing (whilst sipping on some welcome drinks) will be given before you get to go down and enter your rooms for the first time. After a brief wind down in your rooms the buffet lunch will be served, whilst the cruise starts to move.
After cruising through the spectacular majestic limestone islets for about 2 hours you arrive at the first stop at ‘Sung Sot Cave’. This excursion is somewhat tiring going uphill with plenty walking required, if you are not fit or would just like to relax then it is possible to stay on the boat and rest. However ‘Sung Sot Cave’ is an awesome sight to see and I advise everybody who has the chance to see this sight. After the tour which takes about 1.5hrs – 2hrs, you return to the boat, which is then a time to relax and have a rest. Alternatively if you don’t want to rest then the bar is at happy hour at this time which means 2 drinks for the price on 1.
At about 17:30 there is a cooking demonstration/ lessons. This is a fun way to end the evening and to learn Vietnamese cuisine under breath taking sceneries, after completion a certificate is awarded at dinner. After that there is a 3 course ‘A la Carte’ (included in the package), divided into 2 menus ‘Western Cuisine’ and ‘Eastern Cuisine’, from what I can remember the ‘western cuisine’ had steak, roast chicken, pasta and more a like, ‘Eastern menu’ had food such as noodles, spring rolls and so on. Usually during dinner there is a live band or pianist but ours didn’t have one, but our host ‘Ronald’ was very good at conversing and entertaining his guests. The last activity on that day is ‘squid fishing’ here patience is required and although I didn’t catch anything, I still enjoyed the experience. After that I then ordered a few to drinks, returned to my room and then called it a day and slept in my nice comfortable ‘Queen size bed’, the only bad side is that the televisions didn’t work as well as it should due to signals being difficult to reach.
Next morning, I woke up around 05:45 ready for a morning ‘Tai Chi’ session. The sunrise was spectacular from my balcony, and more so at the sundeck where the tai chi took place. The morning exercise took about 20-30 minutes full with warm up stretches, the martial art itself then a warm down. It was a weird experience and I definitely know I didn’t do it correctly but the result was interesting, my body felt very good after and throughout the day. After that, light breakfast is served which means a simple tea and coffee with some croissants and biscuits, only small bite until the full breakfast buffet which is served at 09:00. However before that there is another excursion out of the boat and onto ‘Titov Island’. This is an island much more challenging than the first outing at ‘Sung Sot Cave’ with much longer walks and steeper stairs, but it is not necessary to go to the top of the island and many just stay at the shores swim on the beach. However hiking to the top is enjoyable and it is the highest point of ‘Halong Bay’ overall, which has beautiful, majestic panoramic views. I didn’t get to swim in the beaches but all guest were told to be careful of jellyfishes, which didn’t sound very safe anyway.
Upon returning to the boat there is about 10-30 minutes to freshen up and then the breakfast buffet is served. The buffet is like any continental breakfast found in any high end hotels, with hot and cold foods, fresh eggs, a good choice of juices and many more. After breakfast you start to feel the end of the cruise as you bill out at this point and pack to leave your luggage out of your room for collection (you wont need to carry your luggage again until arriving to the ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’. The last chance to take photos and videos and catch last glimpses of these islets are at this point of the journey. Upon arriving at the harbour you say farewell to the amazing staff and head to ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ where you await your transport back to Hanoi. The last offering from the whole tour package is the light lunch whilst waiting for your ride back to the capital. When your ride arrives there is another 3 hours ride with a stopover, the whole cruise experience sadly ends.
Overall the cruise was a fantastic experience for all the family to enjoy, although younger kid may have limited to do. Firstly the boat was spacious with rooms good enough to be compared to a 5 star hotel. The staff in the cruise were very nice and knowledgeable, loved to converse and take care of their passengers with in high regard. The activities such as canoeing and fishing were good additions. The only small downside is that the television and Wi-Fi signals can sometimes be very weak. Although the cost of this cruise was very high plus a few add-ons, I still believe the experience was well worth it and thought that the 2 days wasn’t enough.
“Thank you for reading”