Boat Trip to Halong Bay, Vietnam

On Wednesday 19th August we caught a taxi to the airport in the morning as our flight was at 1pm, but when we got there we were informed that it was delayed until 4pm. We were allowed to move flights to an earlier one but it still wasn’t due to leave until 3pm so we had a lot of time to kill in the airport. Natalie wrote some of the Sri Lankan blog and Jordan watched the beginning of a film that a guy in our room in Ho Chi Minh had given us. Our flight was getting more and more delayed and it turns out we actually got on our original flight at 4:15pm. Jordan had secretly booked one nights stay in an executive suite in a posh hotel without Natalie knowing so when he did eventually let the secret out it was even more annoying that we couldn’t get to Hanoi any sooner to enjoy the private room with jacuzzi bath, king size bed and flat screen TV. We got to Heritage Hotel about 7pm only to be told that our room wouldn’t be ready until 11pm as the aircon was broken! This really topped off a crappy day. We could shower and relax in one of the deluxe rooms which wasn’t as nice and we actually ordered room service there as we couldn’t be bothered to go out for dinner. Then when 11pm came we were finally told we could move into our executive suite. Thankfully they gave us a bit of a discount as we only had half the amount of time in the room due to the broken aircon and our flight being delayed. The room was beautiful – very clean with a huge king size bed which was extremely comfy (especially after dorm beds for so long), a huge walk in shower and jacuzzi bath big enough for two. It was luxury.

Because we didn’t have very long to enjoy the room we wanted to stay another night there but unfortunately they were fully booked so we found another nice hotel called Eco Luxury Hotel round the corner which was a bit cheaper but looked nice in the pictures. When we got there it wasn’t as nice as the first one and the bed was rock hard, but it was much nicer than some other places we had stayed and we wanted some privacy so all in all it was good. We spent most of the next day chilling watching films and going round tourist places trying to find the best deals for Halong Bay the next day. We found one small tourist agent which offered lots of different packages – some nice, some not so nice – and we settled for a middle of the range cruise which consisted of two days one night stay on the boat, including all meals for $80 each. It sounds expensive but it really was one of the cheapest we could find that was still going to be of a fairly high quality, and it included all the activities we wanted to do like kayaking, cooking class, trekking through Surprise Cave and swimming. 

So the next day we were up early ready to get our mini bus to Halong Bay. It takes between 3 and 4 hours to get there depending on the traffic, and you then get a smaller boat to the large one that you are staying on for the night. We arrived at Halong Bay about midday and lunch on our boat, which was called Papaya Cruise, was served at 1pm. The boats move so slowly that you hardly know you’re moving and it is very relaxing.

Lunch was tasty and we then had some time to relax on the sun deck before hopping off and walking through Surprise Cave. The cave was beautiful but there was far too many people there – obviously all of the cruises bring customers there so it was absolutely rammed with people and very very hot queuing to get in.

We then went to Hill Top Island where you can either climb the mountains and see some amazing views (something like 460 steps up) or you can relax on the beach and go swimming. We say swimming but the area of sea that you can actually swim in is very small and again very crowded. And sunbathing doesn’t really work there as by the time you get there it’s about 5pm and the sun is already going down. Both activities were definitely not as good as we thought they would be. The thing that turned the day around though was the kayaking at sunset.

It was beautiful and so much fun but unfortunately didn’t last very long. We simply kayaked around one of the 1,966 mountain islands and then headed back to our boat which had moored up for the night. We then had time to shower before the cooking class and then dinner. Again, ‘cooking class’ was a bit of an exaggeration. Our guide simply showed us how to make rice paper spring rolls, but he had already made the rice paper and cut up all the vegetables that were going in it. So he pretty much showed us how to roll and spring roll!

Dinner was at 7pm and was again delicious. We couldn’t fault the food, however drinks were not included and were an absolutely ridiculous amount so we stayed clear from them. Even the water was 5000 dong for a large bottle of water, when we were used to paying 2000 dong for a large one. That night Jordan tried his hand at squid fishing with no luck, and we chatted to the other guests on board. There was only 8 of us all together. Then we went to our air condition room to go to sleep. That’s another thing the tourist place exaggerated. They made out we had an air conditioned room but no one said that it doesn’t come on until after dinner and turns off at 6am the next day. So we had to shower in a hot and sticky room before dinner! Horrible.

The next day we were up bright and early as breakfast was at 7am and then we went to the Pearl Farm. Pearls are quite big in Vietnam and they export all over the world. It was interesting to learn how they cultivate the pearls and that only 30% of the oysters produce pearls, and most of them aren’t completely round so they can only be used for certain jewellery.

After the Pearl Farm we headed back to shore which took about 2 hours and had an early lunch at about 11:30am back on the mainland. We were really disappointed with the trip as a whole as not much of it lived up to expectations. Obviously Halong Bay is beautiful and was spectacular at sunset, and the kayaking was fun, but we were told it was two days one night when really it wasn’t even 24 hours as we got back to shore an hour earlier than we departed the day before. Many people had said you get what you pay for with the Halong Bay cruises and we actually think it might have been better to spend a little more money to really get the quality. Or to have paid a bit extra for two nights on the boat instead of one. Anyway you live and you learn. We had one night back in Hanoi before flying to Malaysia Borneo the next day so we stayed back in Hanoi Rocks as it was cheep and cheerful and we had just spent a bomb on two nights in posh private rooms and the Halong Bay cruise. We had an early dinner at our favourite cheap restaurant Mr Tom’s when we first got back from the cruise so that night we just wanted something little and went to a popular Banh Mi place called Banh Mi 25 and ordered a sandwich each to tide us over. The next day we were getting a taxi at 6am to the airport so an early night was in order.