Jared and I have never been attracted to the idea of a cruise, but after three different friends told us about their cruises on Halong Bay, we knew we had to try it.
Though we have never been on a cruise, we weren’t sure that it was really our style. However our cruise in Halong Bay was only three days long with 14 guests on a the boat- the perfect introduction to cruising for us! Our fellow cruisers were friendly without being overbearing, and our itinerary was full without being demanding. It was without a doubt my favorite part of our Vietnam travels.
Halong Bay is on the northeastern coast of the country and is famous for the breathtaking islands that pop out of the sea. Cruises are the most popular way to explore the area, and the bay can sometimes be crowded with boats full of tourists. We chose the three day, two night option and made sure to choose a cruise package that kept us on the same boat for the entire voyage. (Many cruise lines switch you to a different boat for the second night, and I didn’t want to deal with that hassle.) We were able to book a room with a third bed for Jared’s sister; although it made it a little cozy, it saved a lot of money. Our cabin had a private balcony and bathroom, and was perfect for our short visit.
The cruise line picked us up at our hotel in Hanoi and drove us the four hours to the coast. Within 45 minutes of arriving, we were on our boat and having lunch! I struggled to wait for lunch to be served, because we were cruising through the islands and all I wanted to do was go on the deck to take pictures. Every meal had at least three courses and was very delicious. I may have told a slight fib when booking our stay and said that I was allergic to seafood; so I was always served chicken/pork/beef while Jared and Stephanie enjoyed the delights of the sea. Allergy- aversion- picky, however you want to word it, I wasn’t going to eat prawns for three days.
Our itinerary always had a morning activity and a afternoon activity. The times in between were spent eating, sleeping, or swimming. There was just enough to keep me intrigued, but not too much to overwhelm me. We visited a floating fishing village, toured a pearl farm, rode bikes on an island, kayaked in lagoons, and explored a cave. Listed out like that makes it seem like we were much busier than we were. Though Stephanie and I took awhile to find our kayaking groove, that was my favorite activity of the cruise. We wove our kayak through rock tunnels and would emerge into a pristine pools surrounded by towering cliffs. While the others would explore the little lake, Stephanie and I generally just floated in the current as we were so exhausted from fighting and laughing our way through the tunnels.
The bicycle ride was the least enjoyable activity. We were on Cat Ba Island, home to the endangered Cat Ba langur, and we rode to a small village. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the bikes we were given were terrible. As soon as we would try to switch gears, the bikes would lock up. One of our cruise mates was taking a selfie and ended up getting video of herself flying over the handlebars and into the road. Luckily, a nurse was traveling with us and patched up her wounds, but it just added to the unpleasantness of the excursion. And it was really too hot to be riding bikes in Vietnam in July.
There were also activities on the boat. A cooking demonstration, nightly squid fishing, and happy hour! I also greatly enjoyed swimming each afternoon. Our boat would drop its anchor in the bay, and we could jump off the bow into the water. We would swim around the boat, floating on our backs and hanging onto buoys, and then climb up a ladder into the boat again. The bay was very warm, and as there were no jellyfish around, I was happy to relax in the water.
We woke early on our second day to try Tai Chi, because. . . I don’t quite remember why we tried it. I think just to see what it was like and try something new. My favorite movement was where you slowly pull one foot off the deck, really gracefully, and then fling that leg and your arms out very suddenly. Jared said I looked like spastic chicken. The lesson ended with all of us standing in a single file line. I thought we were going to do some type of Conga dance, but we actually gave each neck and shoulder massages. I did not enjoy massaging a sweaty stranger at daybreak, and we didn’t return for the next mornings session. However, we tried it and now it’s a funny memory.
This was the first time that I have ever spent an extended amount of time on the water; I was very happy to discover that I don’t get seasick! I enjoyed our cruise in Halong Bay so much that I am considering more small cruises in our future. Floating down the Amazon, around the Galapagos, or following the Danube? I still don’t think that large cruise lines are for us, but I’m so happy that we tried this.
Next up- Laos!