Picturesque Halong Bay, Vietnam
When planning out our Vietnam portion of our travels, we knew that Halong Bay was one of the must visits during our time in the Northern part of Vietnam.
The only problem was that we were going during a not so ideal time in terms of weather, as it was winter time. Being the Los Angeles kids we are, we weren’t sure if we would enjoy our time if it was too cold. We also read a lot of mixed reviews about it, as it has apparently been “ruined” by tourism and is filled with trash and other tour boats. We figured we should probably go to decide for ourselves.
There are tons of cruise companies to choose from, and based off what we read online, it was a general consensus that you get what you pay for when it comes to cruises in Halong Bay. There are lots of companies in Hanoi and around town that offer extremely affordable rates, but most are 3rd party resellers, so it’s kind of a crapshoot of which boat you’ll end up with. After a lot of research, we decided to book directly with Dragon Legend Cruise which is part of the Indochina Junk company. Their boats are pretty new, as they were built just a few years ago and they also cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay, which is a less crowded and saturated area with other cruise ships. Opting for the Dragon Legend Cruise was a little higher than what we’d usually spend given our budget, but since we didn’t want to take the risk of having a bad experience with a bad boat, we decided to splurge a little more.
We opted for the 3 Day, 2 Night cruise since we were coming from Hanoi and is about a 3-4 hour drive to the dock. We were picked up in a super swanky luxurious van that even had wifi!
Once we arrived at the dock, we were separated into different waiting areas and the process was very smooth and organized. This was a nice surprise, as having been in Vietnam for almost a month at this point, we were expecting the norm of crowds and “organized” chaos.
We boarded our boat and our tour guide Kenny gave us a quick overview of the planned optional activities for each day.
We then checked into our room that was really luxurious with an en-suite tub! There were huge windows in the bedroom and restroom, which you could enjoy the incredible views.
Once the boat started moving, the views kept getting better and better. It was like looking at a watercolor painting, it was really stunning!
The days leading up to our cruise, it was pouring rain and miserably cold, and we weren’t sure how it was going to be once we got to Halong Bay. The day we arrived though, it stopped raining and we were actually able to kayak through the bay!
I really liked that this cruise went on a less populated route, as there were hardly any other boats around us, and it felt like we had the whole Bay to ourselves! It was really stunning and it was surreal to be kayaking through it. A quick video below of the view from our kayak:
Another bonus of our boat was that it was a pretty small group of just 16 people, so they set up our dinner banquet style so we could all eat together and chit chat with one another.
After dinner, they had small poles for us to try our luck at squid fishing. It seemed hopeless as nobody seemed to be catching anything, but Minh ended up catching one – and was the only person to catch anything that night!
DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS
The first planned activity for day 2 was Tai Chi in the morning on the deck. Minh and I were thinking of skipping it and sleeping in, however, at dinner the night prior, it seemed like everyone was going to participate, so we didn’t want to be the poopers who didn’t show up.
We got up to the boat deck and we were the first ones there, and only about 3 other people showed up! It was really cold, but wow, that view.
This was our first time ever doing Tai Chi, and I would describe it as an extra slow motion kung fu. It was kind of funny to see this small Asian man in his white silk PJs trying to teach a bunch of large Westerners with bad balance how to do Tai Chi.
We did lots of stretchy poses and by the end it actually felt nice and we were ready for the day! I told Minh once we get older we should join the people we always see in the morning at Barnes Park back home..heheh.
After breakfast, we visited the Vung Vieng Fishing Village which is a village of people who actually live in floating houses in the bay.
We rowed around the Bay some more and were taken to a UNESCO World heritage geological cave.
Lunch was set up at the bottom of the cave, and it was basically our own private beach! The sand was super soft and was what you imagine when you picture paradise (so it turns out, the island is actually named Paradise Island!). The only caveat was that it was really cold out, so we didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we would have liked. I imagine in the summer, it must be so amazing!
A few more activities set up that night included a spring roll demonstration and some entertainment put on by the crew.
Day 3 Highlights
On our last day, it started raining, so we were lucky to have avoided it for the main part of our tour, as the 3rd day was basically cruising back to the dock to head home.
We headed back to the dock and loaded into our luxury vans back to Hanoi. We had a pit stop at Yen Duc Village for a water puppet show. I was expecting it to be one of those cheesy tourist trap things, but it was actually much cuter and entertaining than I thought it would be. It was a nice bonus that this was included as part of our tour, and glad that we were able to watch a water puppet show!
Our Halong Bay cruise was a great experience. I think the company did a great job of providing a lot of optional activities for people so that you don’t get bored of being on a boat. The 3 days, 2 nights was perfect for us, as we got to see and do a lot at a relaxed pace. Despite it being gloomy the whole time we were there, it was still just as beautiful and made the scenery look mystical and dramatic. I imagine in the summertime when the weather is much nicer and you can enjoy swimming and more outdoor activities, you could probably stay even longer.
We were half expecting Halong Bay to be a place that has lost its charm and character due to irresponsible tourism and disregard for keeping it clean. It’s possibly the case for the more popular side near Cat Ba Island, but the route through Bai Tu Long Bay, had a lot less trash (sadly, there’s still a good amount you’ll see) and hardly any other boats. I’m glad to say that we really enjoyed it, and would recommend going with a tour company like Dragon Legend Cruise who are organized, professional, and go on a less populated and polluted route to ensure a great experience.