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If you search Ha Long Bay youll find mixed reviews ranging from the enthralled couple who spent their honeymoon here to the unimpressed wanderer who hates the crowds. Ha Long does have 500 hundred tourist boats, and a few hundred thousand visitors a year, from what Im told, but I am usually that latter category of hard to impress wanderer and still found this cruise to be wonderful. The area has to manage its human impact, for sure, and youll see plastic bottles around as a reminder of how few places on earth are untouched, but Im glad I went. I also picked up a few plastic bottles while I was here, hopefully others can do the same.
I would make a couple recommendations if you dont want to feel like you bought into a tourist train in this location: 1 late season seems to be key, I am here in September 2 Upgrade- I took one of the nicest cruisers on the bay and the difference in its size and quality was really visible I saw one of my other cheaper options roll by and I could see it was much smaller and more crowded, much older boat too.
Youll see lots of photos online taken of 7 -10 boats all in a cluster over a half a square mile or so and we did anchor in gatherings each evening, but I suspect that is due to Ha Long preservation requirements, and Im 100 for that if its the case. Most of the daytime there was only a boat or two anywhere in my line of sight, and they werent close. Easily cropped out of any photo I wanted to take- just not at anchor. Getting on and off the boat was also a bit of a clamor- six or seven languages being spoken rapidly around you, six or seven little kids running around, but once on the cruiser with my own space to be, I felt more comfortable.
Accommodations: Excellent, see photo. Large king size bed, private bath, jacuzzi tub, window to the outside was large and also opened for air or in the event of an emergency- many other yachts do not offer opening windows. AC got up and running and kept the room cool, TV didnt play the movies it was loaded with but I didnt care at all- didnt need to watch any TV on this trip. Robes, bathroom amenities: comb, soap, shampoo but no hairdryer. Excursions offer beach towels. All appeared clean, well cared for. Wifi worked on the galley/bar floor, hosts will be the first to tell you its hit or miss during parts of the day as we move near/away from signal towers.
I had a cabin on floor two sea level near the front of the boat. Liked this a lot- away from noise of entertainment after 10pm I sleep early and rise early though you will hear the anchor chain in the morning no problem for me, I was always already up and showered. Floor three might hear more of the evening noise up to about midnight, though you are closer to the top deck and the galley/bar in those rooms.
Food- Excellent- see photo of meals and menu many revolve around meats and fish, a pescatarian wouldnt have too many issues but a true vegetarian would likely have fewer meal options at lunch and dinner. Quality was excellent, Vietnamese-leaning tastes but palatable for nearly any culture I would think. I was stuffed full after six delicious courses every lunch and dinner. Outing day aboard the day boat was just as good, too! A range of beverages available for your relaxing needs, 2 beers to 7 rum smoothies, and paid on a cumulative bill at checkout. You are permitted to bring your own beer and snacks aboard- so I had a room supply as well for when I woke up too early for breakfast 7am and wanted a snack.
Staff- Cant say enough good things- everyone was so attentive, they learned us all by name as it was a smaller group. I was traveling alone and they checked on me often, excellent hosts for any need from dietary, entertainment, assistance on excursions. Tommy was a wonderful and attentive host, personal and friendly.
Activities- Loved kayaking to the beaches, though on a cloudy day the paddling was more appealing that sitting on the beach when it was warm but not sunny. Beaches are smallish due to the land formation, naturally. The day boat to the kayaking was great, hosts equally as attentive as the mother ship. Very scenic, I felt it was worth the second day 3 day, two night cruise includes an extra day trip further into the scenery. Our day boat did the whole shebang even though there were only three of us that opted in literally only one couple, myself, and the crew on a day cruiser that was probably 60 feet long and had two floors for sitting/sunbathing.
Attire: The activities, beaches, wet hardwood floors aboard the boat potential rainstorm odds decent all suggest using very sensible footwear I would recommend a Teva or ankle-strapped flip flop rather than just the toe thong variety. No need for full-on Keen water sneaker necessarily, but treads and staying-on power will be your friend stepping on and off kayaks, wet boats, beaches with coral shards. Light rain jacket also a positive choice. Sunscreen was applie
Very well organized trip. Not an issue, but... it is like 4 hours both ways on the shuttle to Halong Bay from Hanoi. Unless you fly there, which I don't even know if that is available, the van is the only way to go, but it is a day trip total coming and going. I'd also suggest staying in an Old District hotel. We stayed at the Marriott which ended up being a 50 minute cab ride in the crazy Hanoi rush hour traffic. The boat was great, good crew, attentive, clean and decent food. VERY organized time schedules, although my only complaint was the details for what was to happen during the trip wasn't real clear. The scenery is fantastic, although the smog/fog was pretty bad and we were unlucky in that it was pretty cool low 60's for a high during the day and overcast except for the last day. Kayaking was ok only, as it was rough waters and pretty cold. Not a lot of kayaking to be honest but we did stop at an incredible beach and with low tide was able to walk on a submerged 6 inches sand bar between islands... Was really awesome. Beautiful place and overall the trip was great. Very good value for the price.....