I’ve always sworn off vacationing on a boat. It has more to do with not being able to get off it when I want to, the risk of uncontrolled sea sickness of which I can be prone to, and the feeling of being trapped on a floating vessel, in a small cabin. But on Sunday January 31, 2016, I found myself on the Royal Palace with the tour company Halong Bay Cruises No Limit Group for an overnight trip on Halong Bay.
Halong Bay, located in north east Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, occupying an area of 1,533 square kilometres and 1,960 to 2000 islets, most of which are limestone, created over a period of 500 million years.
To reach Halong Bay from Hanoi, the mini bus journey took three and a half hours. But it was worth it, especially getting a glimpse of Vietnamese life in the towns and rural villages outside of Hanoi city.
On arrival at the port, it’s a busy scene, even for the end of January, with people waiting to embark their vessel, and those waiting to leave. But the transition onto our boat, the Royal Palace was quick, and I found myself excited at this first time experience ahead.
In spite of my need to reenact certain scenes from James Cameron’s movie, Titanic, while on board with a fellow passenger (I’m flying Jack” photo moment taken) I hate to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my cruise experience, with one night more than enough to not only see Halong Bay, but to live life on a boat! Here are my top five moments on board;
Having stayed in three different hotels in the one week I spent in Hanoi, my cabin on board was my favourite of all the rooms. I loved the wood pannelling, the cute and small bathroom which was adequate in size, my double bed with rose petals scattered, but most of all, the two windows that revealed the beauty of Halong Bay. I was so warm and cosy in bed, I could have stayed there all day watching the limestone karsts and isles of varying shaped and sizes drift past my window.
There were other tour boats and groups when we arrived at Hang Sung Sot and a lot of steps up into the first cave, but the trek is well worth the effort. The views of the bay from two look out points are great photo opportunity moments, and the second and last cave is very grande and impressive indeed with some unusual rock formations.
I love kayaking, and a paddle on Halong Bay was part of my overnight cruise package. So after our cave hike, we were on the water in double kayaks with forty minutes to explore the area we anchored at. Passing under a limestone karst, we entered a smaller bay surrounded by more more towering limestone. It was so incredibly peaceful, until I challenged two other kayaks to a quick race across the bay.
The food we were ate was amazing! On arrival, and after a briefing, we were served a 5 course lunch while the boat journeyed into Halong Bay. Dinner also consisted of 5 courses with the food so beautifully presented, it was worthy of any top class restaurant. And as a vegetarian, was well catered to.
On the first night, we were given an opportunity to wear Vietnamese traditional clothing, which was loads of fun! With the King traditionally dressed in yellow, me and my friendly fellow passengers had some great laughs as we posed in our colourful gowns.
As much as I wanted to lie in bed all morning, I dragged my well rested self up to the top deck for a tai chi class. I’ve never done tai chi before, but my first ever class was one to remember, with limestone karsts to inspire me.
We also visited a pearl farm on the bay to learn how pearls are made. This is an interesting experience if you are into pearls, but as they have never appealed to me, I was somewhat horrified by the entire process of how they are created. I can only liken the experience to some form of oyster alien abduction of which an appropriate blog piece is due to follow. And the short cooking class was fun as well!
The staff on board our boat were great, and our host and tour leader Daniel was friendly, helpful and informative. It’s a definitely a tour company I’d recommend for your visit to Halong Bay.