The Truth About Halong Bay cruises

Brad, Stefanie & Jack after a 16 hours bus ride from Sapa to Halong bay

Brad, Stefanie & Jack after a 16-hours bus ride from Sapa to Halong bay

Coming from the lovely town of Sapa, in the north-east of Vietnam close to the Chinese border, I met 3 lovely people from Adelaide, Australia… Brad, his girlfriend Stefanie & his younger brother Jack.  It was supposed to be a 12h busride but it became 16h.  Don’t need to tell you that we were glad to see the limestones of Halong appear around noon.

Unfortunately it was raining but I had booked a 2-day tour in Halong Bay with ‘White Cruises’ in the Hang Be travel agency situated in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.  There was no escape…  I embarked with 12 other people on ‘Halong Wonderland’, an old vessel that was definitely not worth the name.  But it was ok as we all thought it was just a vessel that would bring us to our cruise boats because everyone of us had paid a different price

The cruise we were supposed to get...

The cruise we were supposed to get…

and booked different cruise boats such as the luxury ‘Pearl Dragon’ cruise.  In the brochure those cruise boats looked brand new, with large sails, deluxe rooms, exquisit dining rooms,… Big was our surprise when the tour guide told us we would all stay on this dirty, old boat for the night giving everyone the same small room with basic facilities no matter if you booked a standard or deluxe room.  In the evening the guide even called me and introduced me to an older man who was just transferred from another boat.  The guide told us that we will share the room.  We laughed & firmly refused. So the older man was transferred again to another boat.  Meaning that literally everyone gets the same thing no matter what you booked.

Our cruise with 'Ha long Wonder'

Our cruise with ‘Ha long Wonder’

During our trip we didn’t see those Asian deluxe boats anywhere!  Just those classic old vessels all over the bay.  We tried to talk about it with the tour guide Tim and asked him how it’s possible to propose luxury boats in the travel agencies with different luxury categories, different room types, etc in their brochures and deliver the complete opposite.  Tim acted like he didn’t understand well and left us with unanswered questions.  Just another big scam that we all had to endure.

Putting that aside, we entered the beautiful bay of Halong and enjoyed the scenery.  Our first stop was the cave of Dong Thien Cong.

View at the exit of the cave

View at the exit of the cave

One of the most beautiful & largest cave in Halong Bay.  We climbed about 400 steps to the entrance & explored the cave for about 15 minutes.  Once at the exit, we had a nice view on the bay.  Next we cruised to a floating village were whoever wanted could go kayaking.  As the weather was not great, many of us didn’t.  Larisa, a woman from Argentina & myself decided to give it a try and we kayaked around the islets.

Finally our boat cruised to Cat ba island, where we ankered in the bay for the night.  During the early dinner, I had the opportunity to get to know the others.

Meet the gang on the 'Ha long Wonderland' cruise

Meet the gang on the ‘Ha long Wonderland’ cruise

Larisa & Ainhoa, 2 Argentinian sisters travelling with their parents Juan & Amelia, Francois & Margaux, a French couple, Michiyo & Haruyaki, a couple from Japan & Hwang, a young South-Korean woman travelling with her 2 little daughters Chae Yeon & Jiwoo.  After dinner we all went to our cabins very early to relax, hoping for a sunny day and a beautiful sunrise.

Unfortunately the sun didn’t show up the next morning.  It was another foggy day giving the bay a mystical touch.  We all went for breakfast around 7.30 AM and when we finished around 8AM the crew suddenly asked us to check out from our rooms even it

Foggy day in Halong Bay

Foggy day in Halong Bay

was written that we had to check out at noon.  They were very insisting so we all went to our room to get ready and pack our bags.  The crew contantly knocked on the doors, saying that we had to hurry! The worse part about it was that for the next 2h30 we just had to wait on the boat without any explanation.  Apparently they had to pick up other tourists from Cat Ba island.  The problem was that their bus broke down and they had to wait for 2 hours for another bus.  And so did we…  The crew didn’t inform us at all, they just told us that they didn’t understand when spoken to or that they didn’t know.  Of course they knew & understood but it’s much easier to pretend not to understand.

The 'Fighting Cocks'

The ‘Fighting Cocks’

They really didn’t care. Finally we left Cat Ba island after waiting for 2h30 in the harbour.  We had now a new guide and he told us with a big smile that he was sorry for their delay caused by the bus and that we were sailing now back to Halong city.  ‘What about the planned itinerary along the beautiful islets of Halong’?   He kindly told us that we would take another route straight to the harbour, being back on time… meaning skipping the planned panoramic route.  Unbelievable!  On top of that, he came back after half an hour and asked us if we knew why so many boats gathered around an small island.

Me @ Halong Bay

Me @ Halong Bay

I knew it was because it was the symbol of Halong Bay, the famous ‘Fighting Cocks‘  We asked if we also could go there to take a look but he answered that he was just a guide and didn’t steer the boat.  So I stood up and went to the captain to ask him kindly to make a 5-minute detour to the ‘Fighting Cocks‘ but he answered rudely ‘NO !‘  Nice… Great, friendly staff!

In the end I really enjoyed the company of my fellow travellers on the boat and the beautiful limestone views, but the cruise on itself was an horrible experience.

So my advice when visiting Halong Bay…  Just take a daytrip or the local ferry to Cat Ba island.  You’ll see the beautiful limestones on the way.  And if you book a 2 or 3-day tour, be very careful and don’t take the Deluxe rooms because you will all get in the same old boats & in the same rooms anyway!  But don’t be too desperate!  My friends booked a cruise as well with the vessel ‘Catharina’ and although they ended up in the same kind of boat, their boat was very chique and they had an amazing time with the staff who kept buying them drinks and with whom they hd a great time!  But they had the same problem… the people on the boat had paid very different prices for different boats but ended up in one and the same cruise… So just be very careful and don’t expect too much!  Just go for the unique scenery of Halong Bay !

2 Responses to “The Truth About Halong Bay cruises”
  1. Dong says:

    I like this sentence “So just be very careful and don’t expect too much! Just go for the unique scenery of Halong Bay”. Yes, even Vietnamese people have the same issues while traveling there. Disappointed a little bit, but the scenery is outstanding !
    Have a good trip !

  2. Good afternoon. Thanks. Really enjoyed reading this page.

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