Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cruising in Halong Bay, Vietnam

1 of the best side trips from Hanoi is to go to Halong Bay or Sapa. Halong Bay has been decreed as a UNESCO Heritage site so this was a no-brainer in terms of choosing between Halong Bay and Sapa. You have to book a tour for Halong Bay as all junks operating in the area belong to some tour group or junk company.

Simply put, the amount you are willing to pay for your trip to Halong Bay reflects the condition and type of service you will receive. For US$100, you may get a 1 storey junk and for US$140, a slightly better 2 storey junk with meals included. There are many tour agencies organizing trips to Halong Bay and you can walk around the Old Quarters looking for the best bargain or simply arrange for the trip with your hotel concierge (and with a better peace of mind knowing the junk probably won't sink). We decided to take the Dragon Pearl 2Day 1Night tour with Indochina Junks for US$140 all meals and activities included.

Indochina Junk has Hanoi's finest luxury cruises and we were to board the Dragon Pearl I on arrival at Indochina Junk's jetty. The Dragon Pearl I was launched on June 2010 and the Dragon Pearls are modelled on the traditional Chinese junks that used to sail the Halong waters.

A typical itinerary will be as follows:-

Day 1: Hon Gai Harbour - Bai Tu Long Bay - Thien Canh Son Cave

07.45 Pick up at your hotel in Hanoi by shuttle bus.
12.00 Embark at Hon Gai International harbour.
13.00 Check-in, enjoy a welcoming drink and cruise briefing.
13.30 Have lunch while cruising in the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay, admiring the fascinating rock formations in the bay.
15.00 Enjoy swimming in the crystal clear water.
15.40 Explore the secluded Thien Canh Son Cave.
16.45 Short cruise to Hon Co Island where you can relax on a white sandy beach, swim or kayak.
18.00 Back to the junk for relaxation.
19.00 Have dinner and stay overnight on board.

Day 2: Vung Vieng Fishing Village - Hon Gai Harbour

07.30 Enjoy the bay’s morning landscape with a cup of tea or coffee. Have breakfast in the open air.
08.30 Visit Vung Vieng fishing village in a rustic rowing-boat, meet the local people and pass through the floating school and fish farms.
09.30 More leisure time for swimming in the middle of the bay.
10.00 Cruise back to the harbour while an a la carte lunch is served.
11.45 Disembark. Farewell.
15.45 Arrive in Hanoi. End of trip.

Following the itinerary, we were picked up at our hotel at 8am in a comfortable minibus for a 3.5h ride to Halong Bay. This includes a 25min stop at a traditional art and craft center for a toilet break and some stretching. On arrival at Halong Bay, you will meet with your fellow travelers (15 of us) and take a launch to the junk. After boarding the Dragon Pearl I, a short orientation was given by the tour guide and lunch ensued. This new junk took 2 years to build and is still freshly lacquered.

The Jetty at Halong Bay

Dragon Pearl I and the Germans onboard

Post lunch, we were taken to visit the caves to see the stalagmites and stalactites which had accumulated over the years in Halong Bay. The view from the caves is amazing and we were brought to the beach to kayak after descending from the caves. Kayaking is done in pairs and the guide will take you around the bay to see the amazing limestone formations. Those who do not wish to kayak can simply swim in the bay area. Towels are provided and because your shoes and slippers get muddy after climbing in the caves, the crew will wash and dry your shoes too.

En route to the caving location

Exploring the caves

View from outside the caves

Meals served onboard

After a long day out and a long hot shower, dinner took place at 730pm. Food served was delicious and you can either enjoy the company of your fellow travelers, squid fish or retire to your room post dinner.

Day 2 morning, you are greeted with a beautiful view of Halong Bay and breakfast is served onboard. Post breakfast, we were taken to the fishing village and were rowed into the inner sanctum of the fishing village where a small tourist center had been set up to sell pearls and shell jewellery. On return from the fishing village, an early lunch was served and then we cruised back to the main jetty for disembarking. Prior to disembarking, the guide will ask if you would care to tip him and the crew. This is of course at your own discretion.

Life in the fishing village

Boating under the caves in Halong Bay.

Overall, Halong Bay is GORGEOUS and very picturesque. It is definitely a place to relax with your other half and enjoy one another's company.

Halong Bay in the morning

Hotel: Onboard Dragon Pearl I
Hotel Review: Oriental design room with ensuite toilet that had full hotel amenities. Towels and bottled water are provided.
Weather: 28-34c

Inside the Dragon Pearl I room
Posted by fongie on 6/26/2011 03:42:00 PM in , , , ,