Halong Bay Cruise

OKAYYYY I have finally started blogging about le epic tour de southeast asia that QY and i went on! we covered Bangkok, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Phuket. IN 2 WEEKS. LIKE A TIRING? The trip involved a lot of waking up early and travelling, but it was an eye opener! And we thought we should do it before we both started working proper.

So the first thing I’ll blog about is the Halong Bay Cruise, because I think there really isn’t much info you can get about it on the net. QY got to know about it through… Top Gear. Where the guys had to convert their motorcycles into watercraft, to navigate through about 2,000 limestone islets to find a floating bar.

We went in early Feb, which wasn’t the best time to go because it was cold, and a little foggy. That said, you still get to enjoy the emerald green waters and almost untouched islets in the UNESCO-protected area. A cruise on a junk boat will set you back from about USD$90 – $200, depending on how many days/nights you choose to take, as well as the cruise provider. What we heard from our hostel dude was that they more or less offer the same services and itineraries, so you should just settle for something mid-ranged. I also read somewhere that since they were awarded this new seven wonders of nature thing, the government instructed all boat operators to paint their boats white… which I feel would totally strip the boats of their character and antiquity!

We paid USD$100 each for a 2D1N cruise on a junk boat called Alcova, which included transport to and from Hanoi, meals, visiting a scenic point, an amazing limestone cave, a “cooking class”, flower carving destination, kayaking and of course, a room on the boat.

Point to note, the trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes 4 hours and is really less than scenic. You’re not gonna be in a comfortable, roomy big bus either. So prepare for the worst (ok, it’s not that bad) – bring a long a book, an iPhone filled with games, or what have you to keep yourself occupied. Plus. The motorists in Vietnam are crazy. Don’t sit in front, or you might just keep getting minor heart-attacks. There’s a rest stop about 3/4 into the journey where the toilets are really nice and clean, and you can pick up some souvenirs or snacks or drink some tea.

Day 1:

Arrived at the jetty, took a bumboat to our actual junk boat, had welcome drinks and lunch was served. Guide explained that we could address him as ticket. (I heard tiktik…) Reason being, he will always be calling for our tickets, because we need to get them stamped at certain destinations.

front of the boat – decorated with traditional looking baskets of… pineapples and coconuts.

lunch: squid

fried pork, and i forget what else.

First stop, Tip Top Island (I heard tee top and we were trying to decipher – tree top? tik tok? I’m guessing it’s Tip Top because it only makes sense) where we had to make an ascent of many many stairs. Perhaps a 15 minute climb? So that you can, as you rest at a pagoda trying to catch your breath, take in the stunning panoramic view of Halong Bay.

the climb up

hello. and the view.

more of  le view

waiting for the return of our boat

Next, we got back on the boat and travelled a bit before we were chucked in kayaks and were launched into the water… in a place where many other tour boats had launched their inhabitants into the water in kayaks. We were told to follow the rest, as they were led by a guide to a limestone cave where you could spot bats and monkeys. Alas were the last to leave the junk boat, and the couple before us had lagged way too far behind… so. Yup. We were lost. It took us quite a while to get back to our junk boat as well, because we weren’t sure if it was going to pick us up at an “end point” or something? So anyway, we paddled way out, and then tracked back, and were lost for like an hour before finding our boat. (Didn’t help that all boats looked the same!) It was too cold to go swimming. So most of us just returned to take a shower.

view from the kayak

yey, lost at sea.

Next? “Cooking class”. I put this in quotation marks because we didn’t actually cook per se- we made spring rolls. And the ingredients were all prepared by the chef on board. So all we did was to wrap. It should actually be called wrapping class.

ingredients prepared for us


after which, dinner was served. Most extravagantly displayed.

corn soup

some… meat in a crab shell

fried squid

fried spring rolls

 boiled prawns + veggie flower display

rabbit pear

gross drink

QY and I also decided to be adventurous and ordered this ghastly drink called Crouching Tiger, i think that’s what it’s called. It was a mix of tiger beer, and lemongrass, and i don’t know what else, but it tasted really nasty. To make up for it we had 2 shots of the best rice wine we’d ever had in our lives that was stored in a claypot on board the boat. BEST. EVER. never could find it anywhere after :<. It was cloudy and sweet, with a pow of alcohol. And soon, POW i was asleep.

Day 2:

Woke up to an amazing view of Halong Bay’s waters in the morning. Had a scrumptious breakfast as we were on route to Sung Sot Cave (Cave of Surprises) – named as such because it’s surprisingly huge, and has many surprising features naturally formed by limestone; including a happy Buddha, a turtle, Guan Yin, and… a penis. I kid you not.

breakkie! wish i could wake up to this every day!

some mishmash of juice.

one of the many strange looking bins en-route to the surprising cave


can you spot “the cannon”?

close up 🙂

view from the highest point of the island that the surprising cave is located at

fisherwoman hopes to sell her catch of the day to chefs on board cruises

Returned to the boat and were treated to the chef’s display of flower carving prowess as we headed back to the jetty.

from a carrot!

from a potato!

And then, the 4 hour ride back.

I would say Halong Bay is really gorgeous. But I think 2-3 days would suffice because there’s nothing much to do but take in the beauty of limestone islets and the green waters.


I will blog about Hanoi next. I think.

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