Introduction

Most travellers to Hanoi also plan a trip to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was not an exception: I had read so much about it and enjoyed lots of pictures, so of course I wanted to include a Halong Bay cruise into my Vietnam travel itinerary.
What makes Halong Bay so popular? It’s probably one of the most iconic features of Vietnam and a breathtaking location like no other. The 775 limestone islets at the heart of the bay stretch for 334 km2, creating incredible scenery best seen from a boat. The number of tourists is dramatically increasing here and by recent estimates reaches about 2,5 million foreign visitors per year.

01 halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020253While Hanoi's old name is Thang Long (Ascending Dragon), Halong literally means Descending Dragon. Legend has it that once upon a time, when Vietnam was invaded by enemies, the Jade Emperor sent Dragons down to help the Vietnamese people. The dragons breathed not fire but pearls, which then turned into thousands of stone islands. They emerged in the sea like great walls thus stopping the invaders’ boats and letting the Vietnamese win the battle.

Planning

As my trip had been scheduled for late March / early April, I was happy to find out that September/October and March/April are considered to be the best times to visit the bay. I rarely leave planning the main parts of my trips to chance and wanted to book my Halong Bay cruise in advance too. I saw I could do it on Agoda, the site I’d had good experience booking my Asian hotel stays with, so I decided to go for it. There were a whopping 80 cruises to choose from! First I had to decide on the length of my tour and cruise. The Halong Bay is located 170 kilometres from Hanoi and a one-way trip takes about four hours, so if you go for a 2-day, 1-night tour, you spend almost 24 hours on the boat. I chose this option to have a full experience of the place and the sights. Then I had to choose the boat. Many of the reviews I checked complained about old boats of poor quality, so I decided to look for a new one. I also wanted to have the trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi included in the package. In the end I decided to book a 2-day 1-night Halong Silversea Cruise for 170 euros, including the transfer from Hanoi and back.5 silversea cruise ship halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020024The ship was new, launched at the end of 2015, and could take 40 passengers on board.

The cruise

Arriving at Tirant Hotel in Hanoi the day before my cruise, I asked a concierge to contact Silversea Cruises, and they confirmed I would be picked up at 8.20 a.m. The next morning I was ready on time when my transfer to Halong Bay arrived.
After one and a half hour drive we had a 30 minute stop at the Hong Ngoc shopping centre. On the one hand, you may say it’s a tourist trap; on the other hand, you are not forced to buy anything. This was an opportunity to watch disabled people of Chan-Thien-My Company make embroidered pictures – their workplaces are positioned in front of the building.

1 hong ngoc artists at work thesanetravel.com 1020004

The shop was quite large and you could buy different kinds of souvenirs, pieces of art, clothes, handbags etc. Food was also available. I didn’t check prices carefully myself but the other travellers said they were a bit higher than in other parts of Vietnam. And of course the stop was a chance to visit a clean toilet.
4 hours later we arrived at the Hon Gai Port in Halong.

3 pier halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020348

First we boarded a smaller boat for a short sail to the Silversea Cruise ship.

4 small boat halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020347

It was my first time on a ship overnight, and I was really impressed by the cabin I checked into. There was no visible difference from a neat hotel room at all. The well-decorated 18m2 cabin had a large bed and a convenient bathroom.

7 cabin silversea halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020338

I also liked hallways with pleasant lighting and paintings on the walls, the dining room and the sundeck on the top floor. 

6 cabin silversea halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020337

8 silversea cruise ship hallway thesanetravel.com 1020041

9 silversea cruise sun deck halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020167

When we started the cruise, I had to share my attention between the sights and a delicious lunch, plenty of tasty food beautifully served. 

food silversea halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020072

The drinks were served for additional charge, and I bought a bottle of wine that would last me the whole stay. I ran in and out between the servings to take pictures as the scenery was just breathtaking.

halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020080

The only pity was the foggy weather with no sun and the temperature of just about 20 degrees Celsius, not enough for swimming or sunbathing.
One interesting feature of Halong Bay is floating villages we saw nestling in the sheltered bays between the stones. These constructions allow landless people to farm sea creatures – each house is built on planks with nets attached to raise fish, crabs and shrimp in the water below. We’d see such villages throughout the whole trip.

water village halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020187In the late afternoon we sailed to Cat Ba Island to visit a cave located a short bus drive away from the pier.

halong bay trees thesanetravel.com 1020101

The cave was not very big with no lighting inside – spoiled by the later visits to Phong Nha caves, I would say I was not impressed. Then we returned to the ship and sailed for a while, then stopped for the overnight stay. We had an excellent dinner followed by karaoke.

night halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020190Next morning before breakfast I had to choose between tai chi and kayaking because both of them started almost at the same time.

kayaks halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020204

I chose tai chi and was glad I did: the trainer seemed to be a professional. It was a great start of the day even though some exercises were quite straining for me after a few years’ break from my tai chi classes.

tai chi halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020206After breakfast we were invited to a cooking class to make fresh spring rolls from prepared ingredients.

cooking class halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020328

It was my first time doing it, and this new acquired skill proved to be useful later on when I could make my own spring rolls at street food stalls in Hanoi.

cooking class spring roll halong bay thesanetravel.com 1020331A little past noon we were back at the pier to get back to Hanoi by bus. We arrived there at around 5 p.m. I enjoyed my cruise very much: the ship, the scenery, the meals, tai chi and the cooking class, plus the excellent service. The only drawback was the faltering English of the guide but his attitude and care about travellers made up for that. So if you decide to do a Halong Bay tour, I can definitely recommend Silversea Cruises. Have you been to Halong Bay? Please share your experience in the comments section!

  • Published by Anita on May 29, 2016
  • Traveled March 2016
  • DSC 7536 m

    About the author
    Anita is a part time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman
    from Latvia, 
    traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner
    planning and executing her travels by herself. Follow Anita also on Instagram.

     
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    Comments   

    Lesa
    #16 Lesa 2016-06-09 18:37
    Your pictures are epicly amazing. I feel like I am there in Halong Bay with you. It looks like you chose a great cruise ship out of the 80 to choose from!

    Nice post.
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    Amanda Williams
    #15 Amanda Williams 2016-06-09 10:24
    This place looks amazing and the mist over the bay only serves to make it look even more mysterious. I love learning how to cook different foods and so would love to do the cookery class. There is quite a skill to rolling spring rolls isn't there!!
    Quote
    Samantha
    #14 Samantha 2016-06-09 08:57
    This looks like an awesome time! I'm hoping to get to Vietnam within the year...and Halong Bay is on the list! Thanks for this post :)
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    Melai
    #13 Melai 2016-06-09 08:11
    This is the second time I've seen a post about Hanoi cruise. It looks interesting and your photos are inviting. It's nice that they prepare different activities for everyone so there's no time to get bored. And learning too. :)
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    Erika Bisbocci
    #12 Erika Bisbocci 2016-06-09 04:58
    I've been traveling in Southeast Asia for a few weeks and everybody I've met cannot stop talking about Vietnam. Ha Long Bay is one of my top Bucket List items in Asia and your pictures only fueling my desire to go there even more! The colors in the first photo you took are stunning! Most pictures I see of Ha Long Bay tend to be greyish at best due to the haze.

    I'm not much of a cruise person, but this one seems pretty epic!
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    Gina
    #11 Gina 2016-06-09 03:15
    This cruise looks insanely beautiful and the food looks even more amazing! I've been hearing a lot about this Halong Bay Cruise and it makes me want to try it. I love being on the water as it's such a calming effect.
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    Stephanie
    #10 Stephanie 2016-06-09 01:36
    Wow, those accommodations are pretty nice!!! Sorry the weather wasn't quite right to swim, but it looked like a peaceful and relaxing way to explore a new place.
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    Crazy Travelista
    #9 Crazy Travelista 2016-06-09 00:49
    Halong Bay has been teasing me for years now. I'm not into cruises, but I think this would be an exception. It looks so fun and the rooms are super nice! Great photos!
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    Rosi C.
    #8 Rosi C. 2016-06-08 23:32
    I hope to visit Vietnam. I will add this.to list of things to do. Looks like a fun experience :-)
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    carmelisse
    #7 carmelisse 2016-06-08 22:09
    I've never been on a cruise before, now I want to go on one so bad!
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