Cruising Halong Bay in Vietnam

To do, or not to do… That was the question!

                We oscillated back and forth on this one quite a bit, I’ll be honest, whilst planning our Vietnamese Vacation over the Christmas and New Year holidays last year!

I was pretty convinced I wanted to visit Halong Bay but Arjun was refusing to buy into the idea. He doesn’t like a very hectic pace when he travels, and the 3-hour journey from Hanoi just for spending one night on-board a boat in a bay full of limestone karsts simply wasn’t appealing to him. “Didn’t we already do that in Thailand?” he said! And then we met friends who had some pretty nasty experiences to share from their trip a few years ago, and he almost had me convinced to let this one pass.

But I can be a pretty stubborn little lady, and fortunate as it was for me, this was one time he actually thanked me for being as annoyingly headfast and stubborn as I am.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and perhaps one of the country’s most popular travel destinations, Halong Bay is a collection of some 1,600 islands and islets scattered about the Gulf of Tonkin, located just off the coast of northern Vietnam.

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Wonderful vistas over Halong Bay, Vietnam

Literally translated as “descending dragon”, there’s a bit of mystery and intrigue to Halong Bay in Vietnamese folklore. Legend has it, that the Gods sent a Mother Dragon down to Earth to help the ancient Vietnamese people defend their country against fierce invaders. Along with their mighty fire-breathing prowess that incinerated the enemy, the Mother Dragon and her children were said to have also spewed giant jade and emeralds all across the sea. These solidified into great islands and islets of differing shapes and sizes, thereby creating an impregnable wall to stave off the encroachers. And that is how Halong Bay came to be – the Bay of Descending Dragons…!

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay

Whether it’s the legends and folk tales that have caught your fancy, the premise of a memorable cruise on the calm blue waters of the South China Sea, or simply a desire to escape the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s colourfully chaotic capital city of Hanoi, making your way over to Halong Bay is a must!

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay

There are plenty of companies offering All-Day as well as Overnight Cruises to Halong Bay; Pick wisely

Day trips, though possible, are not advisable. It’s a 3 to 4-hour journey by road from Hanoi, and Halong Bay certainly deserves more than just a fleeting glimpse. Overnight cruises are offered aplenty, with the option of both one-night and two-night cruises.

It’s important to decide beforehand what sort of experience you are looking for; cruises cater to everyone from the budget conscious to the flash-packers and more. If you’re looking for a party boat full of intoxicated revellers you’ll find that too, but if it’s a romantic retreat you’re after, choose wisely! Do bear in mind that as is usually the case, you get what you pay for, so if there’s one experience you are willing to splurge on while in Vietnam, let this be it!

After a fair bit of research, we zeroed in on Paradise Luxury Cruises as our choice of preferred Cruise Companies and I’m happy to report back, we came back very happy troopers indeed.

Cruising Halong Bay in Vietnam

Most companies that offer Cruises to Halong Bay include a complimentary pick-up and drop-off to your hotel in Hanoi, but with Paradise Cruises you have to book this facility separately. We were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi promptly at 7:30 am in a luxury minivan. After weaving through the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter to pick up another 2 couples from their respective hotels, we made our way out of the city. The drive took us through rolling green expanses of Vietnamese countryside, interspersed with small villages and local communities, and was a smooth and comfortable one for the most part.

In a little over 3 ½ hours, we arrived at Tuan Chau Island, the access point to Halong Bay, where Paradise Cruises has its own private marina. After a quick and efficient registration / check-in process, we found us a table in the Café & Lounge, also run by them, nibbled on some snacks, and waited to board.

  • The Cruise

All boats in the Paradise Cruises fleet are built to resemble traditional junk boats (ancient Chinese sailing ships), and do a remarkable job of blending in traditional Vietnamese elements of design and aesthetics with modern luxuries and creature comforts. Paradise Luxury – the cruise we were on, was truly gorgeous.

5

The cabins are spread across the 1st and 2nd decks, and the 3rd deck consists of a stylish restaurant and bar with glass windows across the room, allowing for stunning views across the bay. The top deck is entirely open, the 360 degree vistas making the perfect companion for that sunset cocktail…!

  • The Cabin

Consisting of just 17 tastefully decorated Deluxe & Deluxe Balcony cabins in all, there are never more than 30-35 passengers on board, ensuring that a certain level of camaraderie and intimacy develops between all present.

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Inside our cabin on-board Paradise Luxury

Our Terrace Suite on the 2nd deck was lovely; small but uber-comfy. But the best part? Our own private terrace, right at the front of the boat, replete with our very own lounge chairs.

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Our very own private sun-deck? Yes, please!

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Who wouldn’t want to wake up to views like these 😉

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • The Activities

The Cruise Staff have a pretty choc-a-bloc itinerary planned for their guests during their 24-hours on board. Excursions include everything from riding in bamboo boats steered by locals to kayaking through caves, hiking and climbing up the biggest cave in the Halong Bay area in search of the best vantage point, and the chance to get in some beach time on a private island as well.

Luxury Cruise Itinerary to Halong Bay, Vietnam

All activities and excursions are optional, of course; and you can always choose to remain on the boat itself, lazing about. But if you do opt to go along, you’ll be rewarded by views like this:

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

 And this:

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • The Food

With everything else going so well, how could the food be far behind! All our meals were served in the restaurant on the top deck, and with views like that for company, the ambience couldn’t have been better.

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Breakfast never tasted better … 😉

Meals were set menus with multiple options for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Lunch was served immediately after we checked in to our cabins on the first day, and consisted of Grilled Aus Beef steak served with fried mushroom and organic vegetables; which Arjun loved. I opted for the baked mushroom crepes with sun dried tomato cherry and aroma salsa, and I have to say was one of the best vegetarian stuffing in crepes that I have had.

In the evening, post the activities of the afternoon, the staff held a cooking demonstration in the restaurant, and after learning how to make them, we got to eat the delicious Vietnamese spring rolls as well. Also on offer was a small shot of traditional rice wine to taste, which was just a bit too pungent for my liking.

Dinner that evening was a pre-set menu; and was sadly a bit of a letdown after everything that had come so far. Beginning with Traditional Vietnamese pickles, and moving on to fresh rice-wrap rolled with Halong Squid cake, the appetizers were appetizing enough but nothing outstanding.

The next two courses fared better. Pan fried Halong Sea Bass fillet with honey soya sauce and forest mushroom came served with pan-fried fresh noodles and hit all the right notes, even for someone like me who usually steers clear of fish. The Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Vietnamese spices came served with traditional sticky rice and had me wishing I’d steered clear of the previous dishes. Clearly the star of the night, I sadly didn’t have enough room left in my tummy to truly savour it.

The dessert, on the other hand, was a different story. South East Asian desserts are a bit odd for my taste, and baring Mango Sticky Rice in Thailand, I’m yet to find any sweets to my liking. These stuffed sticky rice balls with green bean sweet soup convinced me I should stop the search altogether; I’d best stick to fruits or ice cream in this part of the world. :/

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Dessert… Though I wish I hadn’t

The Last Word: Is Halong Bay crowded? Yes! Go back and look at the pictures taken from vantage points during my excursions and you’ll see; the over-abundance of cruise ships is hard to miss. Is it over touristy? Perhaps. All the boats dock at the same excursion points, and all the 30-plus guests from each of the 30-plus boats congregate in the same caves and climb the same stairs and jostle elbows at the same vantage points. But is it worth it?

After having spent a night out floating on the waters of Halong Bay, sipping my chardonnay and staring out into the darkness of a cloudy night sky, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt and without batting an eyelid, absolutely! Halong Bay is popular for a reason – and that reason is quite simply that it is gorgeous.

Luxury Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

We came back very happy troopers indeed…!

So swallow the cynicism, disallow the disdain, and give it a chance. Halong Bay is worth it!

Did you enjoy this post? Have you travelled to Vietnam and taken a cruise out to Halong Bay?
Did you love it or hate it? TELL ME EVERYTHING…
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 Disclaimer: I received a discounted Media Rate for this 2 Days / 1 Night Luxury Cruise on-board Paradise Cruises; but I’m an opinionated little lady and I tell it like it is…! All opinions, good or bad, are entirely my own!

I’m linking this post up to the awesome fortnightly Blog link-up #MondayEscapes, hosted by the lovely ladies over at Packing my Suitcase & My Travel Monkey.

Packing my Suitcase

About Upasna | Life On My Plate

A twenty-something Food+Travel Blogger, based in New Delhi, India

40 comments on “Cruising Halong Bay in Vietnam

  1. Sounds like you got a great tour while there. I’ve heard so many hit and miss stories about boat tours in Halong Bay. So much so that I just went to Cat Ba Island instead! I’m glad yours worked out well – that boat looked like pure luxury!

    • It was indeed lovely Caitlin. I’d heard quite a few negative stories, which was the reason we were in two minds about going initially! But I’m glad we went 🙂

  2. Great post and review. We will be heading to Vietnam later this year and planning on visiting Halong Bay. Good to know that it is still worth the trip despite the number of tourists.

  3. I have never been to Vietnam so this post was pretty refreshing to read! I am pretty stubborn as well, so, definitely someday I’ll get to convince someone to join me on a cruise around Vietnamese islands!

  4. You won’t believe but I was looking for articles about Vietnam yesterday and nothing was so satisfactory….and your post is such a relief from my disappointment of yesterday!! I loveeeeed it..and Halong Bay is on my list since 2 years and I might to di over Xmas if the tickets go a little cheaper than what they are now…Thanks for sharing this

  5. I’m glad that you didn’t leave Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay and that you had a wonderful experience with Paradise Luxury Cruises. And that you were able to convince your husband to come along for the ride! The scenery looks amazing and your pictures are beautiful.

  6. I never tire of reading posts and seeing pictures of Halong Bay. It simply is one of the must do things in Asia. Alas, I’m just to do it – thanks for reminding me to get around to it sooner rather than later!

  7. I saw your post at the right time. Right now, I’m considering going to Vietnam in December and this post convinced me that I should. Have you heard of a company called Halong Tours? They have a special Groupon deal I’m considering.

    • Glad for the timing and glad to have convinced you 🙂 but unfortunately.. No, I haven’t heard about that company. Don’t remember coming across it while I was researching my trip either, sorry !

  8. Great story! I am always keen to take the kids places and have far too many places on the bucket list – more than the remaining years of their childhood. Naturally, they will decided where and if to travel for themselves in years to come. Vietnam and Halong Bay are top of the list even more so now. I think we must certainly splash out on a good cruise experience too. Thanks!

  9. Halong bay looks lovely. I have been all over SE Asia but skipped vietnam – def going to Halong and keeping this in depth guide at hand 🙂

    • Hehe… there’s lots he has to tag along for whether he wants to or not, he’s quite a sport! But this time he was probably happier than I was!

  10. I love your post, especially the detail regarding the food, always my favorite part 🙂 I’m curious what the price ranges are for these cruise? Yours obviously looked like it was at the high-end. #MondayEscapes

    • Thank you … yes the food is always my favourite part as well 🙂
      Well, there are cruises catering to every budget honestly This one was one of the costlier ones but it was definitely worth it 🙂
      You could check the prices on the Paradise Cruises website for their current offers !

  11. Good to hear that you enjoyed the Ha Long bay overnight cruise, despite the packed itinerary 🙂 It was my favourite part of my travel to Vietnam. #MondayEscapes

  12. We are currently living in Thailand and those rocks look just like the ones in Krabi (Ao Nang and Railey specifically!). My husband and I are hoping to make it to Vietnam in the near future and after reading your post Halong Bay is definitely going to be on the itinerary! Did you find there were many children, or specifically toddlers on the cruise? We have a 2.5 year old who will be with us when we travel to Vietnam.

    • Yes, I have travelled to Krabi myself and they are certainly similar. It was on of the reasons my husband wasn’t too keen initially, because it reminded him of Krabi and Ao Nang. But he agrees as well, Halong Bay was lovely!
      Well, our particular cruise boat didn’t have any toddlers. But I did notice some families with toddlers at the excursion points where all boats dock, so I’m sure it won’t be a problem. Ours seemed to be a child friendly boat as well in fact. I’m sure you won’t face any challenges 🙂

  13. I lived in Hanoi 20 years ago and went to Halong Bay many times. Back then there were only 2 or 3 boats that offered over night cruises! I’m finally going back,taking my kids later this year and can’t wait so I’ve started to research different options. I know it’s going to be unbelievably different but I’m trying hard not to compare. My kids will love it as it is and there’s no point saying how it’s changed! Thanks for being honest about the crowds, I know we’ll still go there as like you say it’s a stunning place. #mondayescapes

    • Oh how wonderful! How was your experience living in Hanoi? it’s so colourfully chaotic now, I wonder how the city was 20 years ago.
      I’m sure your kids will love the cruise 🙂

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