After our disappointing experience at Sapa we were looking forward to our next excursion. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned by its vast uninhabited islands of jeweled limestone formations. There are many travel agencies in Hanoi offering a range of packages, all competitively priced.
We booked the package through our hotel and decided to go with Indochina Junk, staying on the Dragon Pearl 2. Indochina Junk have many positive reviews on TripAdvisor and sail to a quieter part of the bay – Bai Tu Long Bay. They’re priced mid-ranged to high depending on which junk you go on, but when it comes to attractions like Halong Bay, you get what you pay for!
A private mini bus collected us from the hotel at 08:00am from Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It takes about 4 hours to get to Halong city. The mini bus had a comfortable interior design with free WiFi and bottles of water.
When we arrived at Indochina offices we were greeted warmly by the staff who showed us where to wait. In total there were 18 of us going on the cruise, consisting mainly of couples and groups of friends. We met our guide Tony, a cheery guy who explained what the itinerary was for the day. Then we went off to board the Dragon Pearl 2!
The Dragon Pearl 2 is a comfortable junk showcasing traditional interiors and modern features.The staff welcomed us on board with fresh juice whilst Tony talked about safety procedures and activities. There were options to go kayaking, swimming on a small beach or to simply relax. Fully briefed we were then able to check into our cabin. Our double cabin was cozy and clean with complimentary bottles of water, the en suite bathroom was a spacious size too.
Still feeling fragile from Sapa, I gave kayaking a miss on the first day and opted to stayed onboard, instead watching in awe as we passed the countless limestone formations. The option to kayak was also available on the second day which I joined in.
Meals onboard were fantastic. If you love seafood you’re in for a treat! Over the course of our stay we tucked into huge prawns, fresh crab, mussels and fresh fish (there were also meat options on the menu – chicken, beef and pork). Dishes come out individually and there between 5-7 dishes the waiters bring out per meal. All our meals were fresh, flavoursome and beautifully presented – a big ask for any restaurant to achieve, let alone a tiny kitchen on a boat!
There were several highlights from our cruise. On the second night we had a BBQ in a cave, which was amazing! The Thien Canh Son cave is actually owned by Indochina Junk which made the experience super exclusive. The cave was adorned with a candle pathway leading to a beautifully laid table. The food was superb, simple but so tasty. The staff go out their way to make sure everyone had a great time, they even brought a cake and gift for a couple celebrating their honeymoon.
A personal highlight for me was star gazing in the evening. After our evening meal a few of us would go on the top deck to watch the stars, it was such a beautiful sight against the silhouettes of the islands. We tried taking a photo but nothing could capture the beauty above us.
On our last day we started off early to see the Vung Vieng fishing village, we visited the fishing farms and floating school. We briefly stopped off at a Pearl farm where we shown how pearls are formed. It was a quick but informative experience.
Before we disembarked back on land we said our farewells to the crew and captain who kindly shook all our hands and thanked us for choosing Indochina Junk. Even though we arrived back on land, the fun didn’t stop there! Our next stop was a visit to the Water Puppet theatre. Even though we didn’t have a clue what was going on, it was great to watch a traditional display of puppetry combining culture and humour.
The only negative I had about Halong Bay did not involve our cruise, but more an environmental concern. Due to the lack of education for locals living in the bay and the recent influx of tourism there is an increasing problem of waste ending up in the water.
There were many occasions where we saw rubbish floating in the water throughout our visit, the worst culprit being styrofoam. Tony explained how the government is trying to tackle the issue by relocating water-village communities on land and to increase environmental awareness. I hope that further action will be taken to minimise wastage in Halong Bay, its upsetting to see such a beautiful sight in disregard. Hopefully with the right guidance and support from the area action can be taken to clean the water and prevent further disposal of waste materials in Halong Bay.