Halong Bay was one of the main reasons I had always wanted to visit Vietnam. Its surreal landscape replete with emerald waters and thousands of gargantuan limestone islands looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel, and like nothing I had ever come across before on any of my travels. Although you “can” do a day trip there from the capital city of Hanoi (the nearest major city and where most visitors to Halong Bay will be traveling from), it’s not at all worth it. Even though the construction of a new highway between the two locales cut travel time in half, you’re still looking at roughly 2.5 hours each way spent in a car or bus. But if you still need convincing as to why you don’t want to do a day trip there, here are five reasons for an overnight cruise in Halong Bay.
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1.) You’ll never feel rushed and you’ll have the time to truly relax
The bus ride from Hanoi to Ha Long City (where we then transferred from a small boat in Tuan Chau Wharf to the big boat) wasn’t at all bad, but it was nice knowing that once we got on the touring boat, that would be “home” for the next 24 hours. Not a case of, well, in six hours I’m having to disembark and then do the bus ride back to Hanoi. We got on board and then had time to just be- whether it was swimming off the back of the boat in the waters of the bay, reading up on deck or on one’s personal balcony, or like me, taking photo after photo of the wonderful landscape. All of the organized activities were optional so if you truly just wanted to sit around you could. This was a nice pause and I think what finally helped me fully get over my jet lag. And nothing beats waking up and looking out your window knowing you slept the whole night in such an incredible setting. This is the top of the Five Reasons for an Overnight Cruise in Halong Bay.
2.) You’ll be served some of the freshest seafood
The lunch I was served after boarding was just okay, a buffet comprising both Vietnamese and more Western style options. However, the dinner we were served, a four course plated meal, was spectacular. I’m not one for squid/calamari (no matter the preparation or sauce), and yet that night at dinner I was ravenous ( because of my bike fall, I feel…) and so I ate every last bite. But the main course of tilapia was sublime and if you’ve been following my blog all these years, you’ll know that I’m only a periodic fish eater at best. But nothing beats eating fish that was literally JUST caught from the waters right outside your stateroom window. And while it’s not seafood, never did I imagine that I would have the most delicious bowl of butternut squash soup in Vietnam.
3.) You’ll get to go kayaking in one of the most picturesque of settings
Okay, so I didn’t get the chance to try kayaking, namely because the previous day I had fallen off the bicycle I was riding and got banged up really bad and was not up for giving my upper body an intense workout. However, everyone on the cruise who did go kayaking said it was wonderful. I mean, where else in the world do you get the chance to kayak in such an otherworldly locale? In fact, one of the women on my Mekong River cruise who, like me, had spent some time traveling throughout the country before the cruise began said that kayaking in Halong Bay had always been on her bucket list. The other good thing about it is that the waters are incredibly calm and tranquil (i.e. no crazy currents, tides etc).
4.) You’ll be rewarded with spectacular sunsets AND sunrises
I absolutely adore sunsets (I say sunsets because I’m typically never awake for sunrises). However, since I was traveling in Halong Bay in February when the sun rises much later, I was awake to witness both the sunrise and sunset. I know that I lucked out with the weather since the woman from my cooking class in Hanoi who had done an overnight cruise in Halong Bay less than a week before me had the worst of weather- rainy and zero visibility. Not only did I have no precipitation but also absolutely perfect weather. I saw the start of the beautiful sunset when I was still in the village of Việt Hải (site of my infamous wipeout on the bike) but also once we returned to the boat and I got to take picture after picture of the setting sun in the bay with other boats making the perfect backdrop.
5.) You’ll have the chance to visit a local island village
When visiting major cities in Vietnam like Hanoi and Saigon, obviously you’ll be introduced to moments of culture shock. However, being major cities, you’ll also find many of the Western comforts of home (i.e. Starbucks, fast food eateries, air-conditioning, etc). However, in a place like Việt Hải, an extremely small village located in a jungle setting with the mountain range of Cát Bà National Park flanking it, you’ll get the chance to see what life is like for Vietnamese people who not only live in a rural setting, but a rural setting on an island. Places like Việt Hải rely on groups from Halong Bay cruises to visit as it helps them move forward into the 21st century with modern innovations like electricity and running water finally being the norm. I also learned that there was no hospital there nor even a doctor, just two nurses. (I found this foreboding since less than 30 minutes later I wiped out on my bike; thankfully first aid was enough and medical services were not required.)
Have my five Reasons for an overnight cruise in Halong Bay convinced you to go yet?
Note: Although there are three day/two night cruises, my personal opinion is that an itinerary of that length is overkill. You’ll visit other islands but the scenery at that point is going to look pretty similar, not to mention WiFi and cell phone data really won’t work so it’s also a matter of how long you want to be off the grid.
My personal experience: I booked with Serenity Cruises (a company based out of Hanoi) and I can’t recommend them enough. Communication with them prior to sailing was always fast and responsive and the voyage itself, starting from getting picked up at my hotel in Hanoi, was flawless. The staff on board were all wonderful and very kind (especially after my fall from my bike as they were quite concerned if I was okay). My favorite part were the cabins. The pictures on the website looked awesome but I wasn’t sure if they’d be as awesome in person. Well, they were. The cabin was spacious and the bathroom massive, complete with both a shower and a soaking tub. There are undoubtedly much cheaper companies you can book with, but I was not looking to scrimp on this bucket list level experience. As I was traveling alone, I was also given a reduced single rate which I appreciated, since generally when traveling alone you have to pay a single rate (i.e. it costs more). I paid $270 which included roundtrip transfers between Hanoi and Halong Bay, my accommodations, all of my meals, and all activities.