Time of year: Late October 2016
Purpose of trip: As part of our round the world trip, we were determined to see Halong Bay. In reality, that is best done by an overnight junk cruise.
Why we chose this place: Halong Bay is unlike anything else, with thousands of limestone mountains rising from the sea. This provides a stunning backdrop and a chance to view the unique lifestyles of the fishermen and their families who spend their entire life on the sea.
We chose the Dragon Legend II (operated by Indochine Junk), because it had great Tripadvisor reviews and it’s a large (therefore sociable) and luxurious (which we felt we needed at this stage in our trip) boat.
How long we stayed: We organised an extended trip with Indochine Junk which included an airport pickup, a night in the lovely Hanoi Pearl hotel, transport down to Halong and back (it’s about 3.5 hours each way), overnight trains to and from Sapa, a trekking guide and a night in the Bamboo Sapa hotel. This itinerary in total was 4.5 days.
This review just covers the 24 hour Halong cruise aboard the Dragon Legend II.
Our accommodation: The cabins on the boat are all ensuite and delightfully decorated in an oriental theme. Large picture windows (including one in the bathroom, if you want to watch the world go by whilst you’re in the tub) give you a great view on the amazing scenery. The bed was extremely comfortable and we felt for the time that we were in the cabin, that we were in very luxurious surroundings.
The bathroom has a large spa bath, although it’s worth noting that the cold water is in fact from the sea. Fortunately, there is also a freshwater shower, to use after a soak in the bath.
All cabins have a view out to sea.
Service: The staff from beginning to end were fantastic. From our drivers, to the waiters, to Kenny, our local guide, we couldn’t have been better looked after. At one point we had an issue in that the plug wouldn’t stay down in the bath, and within moments we had 4 of the crew in the cabin sorting it out.
The standard of english spoken by the customer-facing staff was excellent, and we had a laugh with the waiters, some of whom had given their names as Paul Scholes and Lionel Messi. If you wanted to chat about soccer (you’re looking at the wrong people with us, I’m afraid) these guys could talk til the buffalo come home.
Location: Confession here. We didn’t go to Halong Bay. We actually cruised around Bai Tu Long Bay instead. The captain made the decision that Halong Bay was too busy with other junks and we’d get a better experience by turning to port after leaving the harbour, rather than starboard. They look very similar and I’m sure we’d have had just as incredible scenery whichever location had been chosen.
Scientists are still arguing about how the limestone formations came about, but it appears to involve several different types of erosion over the millennia. Whatever, the root cause, it has left a truly stunning environment.
Food: We had lunch and dinner on day 1, and breakfast and lunch on day2 whilst we were onboard. Each meal consisted of many small courses, which were Vietnamese in style and simply delicious. The chefs did an excellent job.
What we paid: We paid US$1,050 for the entire 4.5 day trip for the two of us, so it’s not easy to work out what this portion would have been independently. I believe this portion of our trip, including the transfers from Hanoi, would have equated to approximately half of that price.
Activities close by: The 24 hour cruise has an itinerary which includes visiting a cave inside one of the formations, sea canoeing, getting up close to one of the floating fishing villages and swimming to a deserted beach. There is a spa onboard, as well as a small seawater pool and a sun deck. Plus there are some really great people (you wouldn’t be in a place like this if you weren’t interested in travelling) to get to know. And you’re only onboard for a short time. Let’s put it this way … we’d be very surprised if you turned on the TV in your cabin!
What empty nesters might really like about this place: Everything! This isn’t the sort of excursion that people take their children on, so the boat was fully of pre-nesters and empty-nesters – both groups equally vibrant and world-curious. The accommodation, crew and food were all fabulous. And Halong/Bai Tu Long Bay has to be seen at least once. It is jaw-dropping!
What empty nesters might not be so keen on: The transfer from Hanoi is a a long way. Just make sure that you’re in a comfortable vehicle.
In the interest of disclosure, we received a small discount on our trip with Indochine Junk on the promise of writing a review. If we had had criticisms about any aspect of the trip or the service, we would have written about it. For more on our disclosure policy, read here.