My cousin Timmy and I took a Halong Bay Cruise in October 2015. I know it’s been a while, but I guess better late than never. There are too many trip reports and hotel reviews I haven’t gotten to yet, and I’m going on the next one in less than a week. So, it’s time to pick up where I left off. Right here.
Part 1: Mandatory Emirates First Class Review: NEW YORK-DUBAI EK204
Part 3: NON-Mandatory Emirates First Class Review: DUBAI-BANGKOK EK374
Part 4: Radisson Suites Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel Review
Part 5A: Kuala Lumpur Part A: Bangkok Airport Lounges, Malaysia Airlines Short Hop, Hilton Doubletree Kuala Lumpur
Part 5B: Kuala Lumpur Part B: Petronas Towers, KL Hop On Hop Off Bus
Part 5C: Kuala Lumpur Part C: Cabs, Batu Caves, Silver Leaf Monkeys, The Fireflies
Flying to Vietnam, Hanoi Airport, Vietnam Visa on Arrival, Ride to Halong Bay
We arrived in Halong Bay around 6 or 7 pm, and stayed for one night at the Paradise Suites Hotel.
Paradise Suites Hotel — perfect for spending the night before the Halong Bay Cruise
I can’t say enough good things about this property. It’s a solid 4+ star hotel, and the only reason I don’t rate it 5-star is that it doesn’t have a pool.
The room was old-class gorgeous; there were 2 wonderful singers in the lounge, the restaurant was excellent, the food was fantastic, and the prices were ridiculous. The night at the hotel cost us around $60 per room, and great dinner with wine and beer set us back around $35-40.
The hotel also offers a sumptuous free buffet breakfast.
We didn’t explore the town itself, although we booked a cab and went to the night market, which was almost closed, and nothing special anyway. The hotel is located quite far from what I could think was downtown Halong, but the upside is that it’s a 5-minute walk from the cruise office and the pier. The downside is that this huge area around the port was virtually empty at any time of the day.
How to Pick Halong Bay Cruise
You can book a Halong Bay Cruise in Hanoi or Halong, but I honestly wouldn’t. There are all kinds of cruises, from ultra-budget to ultra-luxury, and from a-day cruises to 2-day/1-night to 3-day/2-night. We booked in advance and chose an upscale 3-day/2 night option and it was fantastic! I used this site to book the Aphrodite Halong Bay Cruise that had been recommended by a member of my Facebook group (thanks again, Bunda!).
We found a really good price via the Halong Cruise Deals. Everywhere else I looked was more expensive. Timmy and I booked 2 balcony cabins for $450 each.
The Vietnamese travel agent was absolutely great in every respect. Very polite, responsive and proactive when things weren’t going too smoothly. We couldn’t find our driver at the airport, and despite the call quality being really spotty, she still managed to direct us toward each other. Highly recommended: Ms. Thu Huong.
By the way, if you’re on T-Mobile and been enjoying its 20-cent per minute service abroad — well, Vietnam isn’t there yet. Vietnamese roaming charges can easily send you to the poorhouse, so buy a local SIM card.
TIP: If you want to stay in Halong Bay and Hanoi, do what we did — ride to Halong Bay directly from the airport and visit Hanoi on the way back. This way you will save on one trip from the airport.
We booked a private car for $120 from HAN airport to Halong and from Halong to Hanoi. However, if your schedule allows, fly to Halong Bay on a seaplane. It’s just a 45-minute flight instead of a 4.5-hour ride, and the views seem to be worth the extra expense.
Aphrodite Halong Bay Cruise — the NittY GrittY
This is the office where we were all gathered before embarking on the cruise.
A small boat to take us to the big boat.
The team is greeting us aboard. Every single one of them, including the captain, is probably under 30.
That’s our boat.
Our cabins were about 180 sq ft, but nicely appointed. Aphrodite calls them luxury — well, I wouldn’t go that far, but “deluxe” sounds about right.
Nice bathroom too, and plenty of hot water, too.
I’m not sure if all Aphrodite rooms come with balconies, but it was certainly nice to have one.
The food was great — in terms of both quality and presentation.
No, this wasn’t for Timmy and me.
It was for this lucky couple.
Here is our 3d/2n itinerary, but all cruises follow the same route, from what I can tell.
This is a 2d/1n itinerary, but I don’t think it would be worth a 15-20 hour flight followed by a 4-hour drive.
If anything, I think it would be worth exploring the area some more, with private boaters who could take you to some outlying islands where Halong Bay Cruise boats don’t venture. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed our cruise. The scenery was truly stunning.
Halong Bay Cruise — Amazing, Stunning, Serene!
The most challenging part for this write-up was choosing the pics.
The locals are selling their wares to tourists …
… with their kids sleeping on the lower deck.
How is this …
… any less beautiful than the famed “James Bond” island? It isn’t.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a seasoned photographer or someone like me who can only push a big button — you can’t go wrong with a sunset like this.
Around 8 pm, they started a cooking demonstration. It was funny and engaging.
I swear, I even managed to cook … or at least roll … something.
On the second and third day, they taught people Tai Chi on the upper deck at 6 am. Both days I promised myself to be there, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Their 2-for-1 Happy Hours played havoc with my resolve. In the morning, however, I did wake up to this picture even if only for a few seconds it took me to snap it.
Later on, they took us kayaking.
Kayaking trough the Dark-Bright Cave was fun.
Especially since Timmy had to do most of the work.
And on the last day they brought us to the Me Kung Grotto.
It was smaller than I expected, but I love caves, and so I enjoyed this one.
Especially with these views that awaited us upon exiting.
After a delicious lunch, we sailed back to Halong and disembarked about 11 am, so the claim of 3 days/2 nights is a little bit exaggerated. But it was a very good trip that was totally worth the money.
Then it was back to the hotel, where we would wait a little while for a car to take us to Hanoi. And, there was live entertainment in the lounge again — during the lunchtime (sorry for my focusing impairement).
And I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s wrong with this picture on your own. 😛
Next: JW Marriott Hanoi Review and Hanoi tips for First-Time Visitors