Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Northeastern Vietnam. To the northeast of Halong Bay lies Bai Tu Long Bay, and to the southwest lies Cat Ba Island. All areas share similar geographical and geological characters. Renowned for its emerald blue water, thousands of towering limestone karsts and tiny vegetation topped scattered islets which rise majestically from the water.
It is a truly ethereal place and a sheer delight to visit and experience on an overnight cruise.
In the past few years tougher regulations have been imposed on cruise operators meaning they can only put down anchor in certain areas and must anchor at night near other boats for safety reasons, but these regulations take nothing away from the overall experience of Halong Bay.
So lets take a look at one of the many tour operators who offer Halong Bay cruises….
JEWELS OF HALONG BAY CRUISE WITH HERITAGE LINE
DAY ONE :
Arriving at Tuan Chau Port and checking in, we were delighted to discover that we had been upgraded to a Junior Suite! Fantastic start to this 3 day, 2 night Halong Bay Cruise.
Heritage Line operate 3 different boats which are collectively and affectionately known as the “Three Sisters”, each of varying size. We opted to take our cruise on the Jasmine, which has 23 cabins of three different size and price categories.
Ferried by tender onto the Jasmine, we were met by friendly smiling staff who greeted us with cool welcome drinks. After an introduction talk, safety tutorial and information regarding our cruise we were shown to our cabin, where our luggage was waiting for us.
What Was Halong Jasmine Like?
The Jasmine is built in the style of a traditional Vietnamese Junk and has tawny brown sails and dark wood cladding. A few years ago, new regulations were introduced to ensure maximum safety levels in Halong Bay, one of which was that all cruise companies were forced to paint their boats white, which is a great shame. However, the beautifully polished wood can be seen in the interior of the boat, giving the Jasmine an air of understated elegance which extends to the dining room, terrace and wide sundeck.
There is no stuffiness here, just experienced, friendly and willing staff who are enthusiastic and do their utmost to make you feel comfortable.
Jasmine Junior Suite
Our suite, located on the main deck and with a floor space of 24 square meters, was furnished in a classic and subtle french style. Amenities included air conditioning, phone, slippers, bath robe, safety box, mini bar, jacuzzi bath and separate shower cubicle. The piece de resistance was the 2 square metre balcony with 2 comfy chairs to sit back on and view the spectacular scenery and sunset.
After a sumptuous and multi course buffet, it was time to explore the outside deck as we sailed to pastures new through Bai Tu Long Bay.
In the humid and slightly misty atmosphere, the seascape feels quite mystical as the limestone karsts rise magestically from the emerald blue water and it is amazing to consider that these shapes have been over 20 million years in their creation. Tiny islets in various shapes and sizes are topped by green forest and there are wind and water-eroded grottoes dotted around, adding to the magical feeling of the Bay.
Tien Ong Cave
Our first stop was Tien Ong Cave situated on Cai Tai Island and which was officially opened for tourism in December 2010.
Although one of the lesser known caves, it is less visited and it was quiet and peaceful during our time there.
Climbing the steps into the cave entrance you pass a sign designating the area as an Archaeological Site. Indeed discoveries have included pieces of shells/pottery, stone axe/knife and fossils of bones from terrestrial animals. These discoveries may well illustrate life in the cave 10,000-8000 years ago during the Hoa Binh Culture.
The cave entrance is 50 metres wide and 14 metres high and is spectacular for its size of nearly 1,000 square metres. The stalagmites and stalactites are stunning and take many forms and shapes.
Cua Van Fishing Village
Halong Bay is home to four fishing villages which have a community of around 1,600 people. We were transferred by tender to the village of Cua Van, where the two of us sat in a small bamboo boat and a local resident rowed us around the village, showing us the sights. We saw the local school and the villagers at work, together with their families, they were cleaning nets, fishing, washing clothes, bringing in their haul for the day and ferrying fresh food from home to home.
These floating houses are maintained through fishing and marine aquaculture and tourism, although the village also receives government aid to assist them with supporting and educating their families.
What a wonderful insight into these people’s lives and way of life, and waking up each morning to that fantastic view must be amazing.
Back on board we were treated to a cooking lesson by the chef who encouraged passengers to have a try at simple dishes, which Richard did!
A splendid dinner followed and great conversation with our newly acquired friends, a couple from London and a couple from Australia and then a soak in our jacuzzi bath and we hit the sack as we were exhausted.
DAY TWO :
This morning those passengers who were on the 3 day/2 night cruise were transferred by tender to Heritage Line’s day boat, Halong Sunset. It was a surprise to discover that we were only numbered six, and our fellow passengers were the 2 couples we had already met and had dinner with.
We were welcomed on board by our guide for the day, Sam, who was friendly and extremely interactive and informative and outlined the plans for our day ahead. Then it was time for a leisurely breakfast as we cruised to the Halong Bay’s untouched areas, deep in Lan Ha Bay, our destination being Cat Ba National Park.
Viet Hai Village
After transfer to dry land, we donned our helmets and began a bike ride along the coast to an isolated village with an ancient past. Viet Hai Village is surrounded by jungle and high mountains and residents and visitors get around on motorbike or bicycle. We stopped at a local school and watched the local children having lessons which was great and we saw local animals and general life going on, all at a relaxed pace. The ride was about 9 miles round trip but great fun and we saw no other tourists along the way.
Back on board we were served a fantastic 5 course lunch. The food is vibrant looking, colourful and made from local produce and incredibly tasty.
After the huge lunch we all relaxed on the top deck as the boat moved on to our next destination, Ho Ba Ham area.
Kayaking Ho Ba Ham (Ba Ham Lake)
Everyone fancied giving kayaking a try so after receiving instructions on safety and kayaking techniques we all set off. Needless to say the Aussie couple were proficient, the other English couple and ourselves were useless. In fact I blame both the men, as we kept bumping into each others kayak, however once we mastered the technique it was great fun.
The lake is enclosed by vertical cliffs and comprises three lagoons linked by narrow tunnels. Coloured Stalactites hang from the ceiling and the only sound is the motion of your oar, which together with the aqua blue water makes for a stunning experience. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos as I didn’t want to take the chance of getting the camera wet!!! We later rejoined the main boat and enjoyed another great dinner.
DAY THREE :
Thankfully we had a lie in this morning as we were served a buffet brunch at 9.30am. We ate with the other 2 couples and then sat on the sun deck as we approached the dock. We said our goodbyes and we were met by our driver and headed back to Hanoi for the night.
OUR VERDICT ON HERITAGE LINE HALONG BAY CRUISE:
- The check-in process was smooth, speedy and well organised. We were made to feel extremely welcome throughout our time on and off board the Jasmine.
- We particularly enjoyed the size of the boat and small number of passengers on board, while there was a good proportion of staff who were always on hand to answer any questions. Instructions regarding safety and the itinerary were concise and informative and you always knew what to expect from the day and where you would be located.
- Whilst we were upgraded to a suite, we did view both the Superior and Deluxe cabins and we would have been happy in either of these rooms. Would we have paid for a Suite initially ….probably not, as we spent minimal time in our cabin and as already mentioned, the other options were lovely. However, we would have chosen a Deluxe Room purely for the addition of a balcony as this was a great way of relaxing at the end of the day.
- Meals were plentiful, fresh, colourful and appetizing with plenty of choice.
- We enjoyed the excursions over the 2 days and felt that they were spaced out so you felt relaxed and unhurried. There was also optional time for a beach stop and a short hike for viewing the Bay from overhead but we were happy with our choices.
- We were extremely happy with the length of cruise chosen, and would have regretted a shorter option. We would thoroughly recommend Heritage Line and Halong Jasmine.
RESOURCES AND TIPS :
- Heritage Line offer two other boats. The “Ginger” offers 12 cabins for a more intimate experience and the “Violet” offers 6 luxury cabins for an exclusive experience.
- I would recommend that you book with a mid-range/luxury operator and definitely spend 2 nights on the cruise – you won’t be disappointed. Consider the size of the boat and number of passengers before you book anything. Do you want an exclusive, intimate experience or a larger boat so that you can socialize?
- Check cruise itineraries to make sure that you see the areas you want and spend maximum time on board or participating in activities.
- Check out some specialist tour operators who offer taylor- made holidays to Vietnam and see which cruise companies they use. This will give you an idea which companies are reputable and recommended.
- When is the best time for a visit? While tours operate all year, the months of October and November tend to have sunny days, while Peak Season is late May to mid August. It is often drizzly between January and March, but the scenery takes on a different dimension and is still stunning. Year round tour boats may sometimes need to change the cruise itinerary depending on the weather, so just be aware of this.
Have You Been On A Halong Bay Cruise?
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