Upon hitting Hanoi in northern Vietnam, one of the first priorities was to seek out information on getting to Halong Bay. In Vietnam there are hundreds of travel agents including in Hanoi, and they tend to be situated inside the hotels themselves too to make it even easier to book trips. After sifting through the tips in my Vietnam Lonely Planet travel guide, I chose a 2 day, 1 night cruise in Halong Bay on a fairly new cruise ship called the Paloma.
The best part of the trip, is that they pick you up from where you’re staying in Hanoi (where your plane is most likely to land) and drop you back afterwards. You can usually leave extra luggage safely at the hotel with reception, so you can travel very light.
There are many cruise ships to choose from in Halong Bay that cater for all budgets. Beware though, the older they are, the more sacrifices you’ll have to make. I chose one that was fairly new on purpose as I was advised they can get a little rough around the edges quite quickly!
The cruises in Halong Bay usually include meals. The Paloma didn’t disappoint! We were treated to lunch, dinner and breakfast. All were set menus (probably as June was a quiet time of year, meaning fewer guests and so less choice), but they included several dishes so you can pick and choose what you prefer.
On the first day we were taken out on a trip to see the floating fishing villages after lunch. You don’t have to but I highly recommend touring the villages by kayak! You can really get a taste of village life from a vessel similar to theirs.
Halong Bay is made up of nearly two thousands islands, many of them have been given descriptive names. The one below is called the Yen Ngua Islet or the Saddle Islet as it is made up of two large rocks joined together to form a saddle shape. Boats can actually pass underneath the tunnel that has been formed.
Half way through Kayaking we stopped and explored some buildings. There were several shops selling souvenirs (paintings of Halong Bay and lots of handmade items) but also a floating school that we were allowed to take a look around. It was holiday time so unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to meet the local kids, but the photos on the walls of them were adorable!
Back at the cruise ship, that afternoon we could take a swim around the ship in the deliciously warm sea. But watch out for jellyfish; they’re dinner plate-sized!
That evening there was a sunset party scheduled by the crew where we enjoyed a glass of red wine and some pineapple while we watched the gorgeous sun set behind the Halong Bay islands.
After the sunset party was a brief Vietnamese cooking lesson! Alright, it wasn’t so much a cookery lesson as it was a lesson on how to roll spring rolls! We managed to achieve this in startlingly different competencies but the chef fried them all for us nonetheless and supplied us with dips to taste the finished products!
Once we had finished dinner, we were invited out to the passenger boat at the back of the ship to join the crew in some squid fishing! By this time it was pitch black outside which was perfect conditions because the squid are lured simply using a flash light on the surface of the water. Other than that, we each had a simple bamboo cane with string on the end and a fish-shaped hook; no bait was needed at all, just a gentle up and down movement to make the fish-shaped hook look like it was a real fish swimming in the water.
On offer the following day was a very early morning tai chi lesson on the top deck, but unfortunately the weather changed from idyllic to stormy over night so we were allowed an extra hour or two of sleep!
It actually didn’t matter too much about the weather since our itinerary included visiting a cave on one of the islands. This cave was fascinating as it was huge and the locals had named some of the formations including the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, some symbols of good luck like a turtle and even a Buddha and the Virgin Mary!
If there’s one place I go back to, it will be Halong Bay without a doubt! I’m actually getting itchy feet to back right now having written this blog! But it will have to wait a little while until I’ve seen some other places first.
I tried to find my exact cruise online – the Paloma may only be available to book from Hanoi right now – but there’s a trip identical to the one I took here on Intrepid Travel if I’ve triggered your itchy feet for Halong Bay too!