- Accommodation: Bhaya Cruises – Since my mom was visiting us while we were in Hanoi, she picked out which Ha Long Bay junk tour she wanted to do. Bhaya is definitely not for budget travelers and is probably considered one of the most luxurious of the cruise lines. In most cases we heard that people just book their Ha Long Bay excursion through their hostel or guesthouse in Hanoi.
We decided to go with Bhaya cruises after reading good reviews on Trip Advisor. Rosie booked it online via email with someone from the company. Since my mom was with us we obviously went with one of the nicer boats, not one of the cruises geared towards backpackers. For $700 we got a 2 day/1 night cruise for 3 people, including a private car transfer to/from Ha Long Bay (a 4 hour trip), 1 double bed cabin and 1 cabin with 2 twin beds, all meals and all excursions. So despite the high price it was actually a pretty good deal considering everything it included. The only thing we had to pay out of pocket for was beverages and tips to the staff (optional of course).
We left the hotel at 8:15am in the morning and arrived at the harbor of Ha Long Bay around noon (with a few pit stops including a mandatory rest area/tourist trap). When we arrived they told us we would be on Bhaya Classic III with about 30-40 other people. It felt a little too “cruise-y” at first, but once we were on the boat we all changed our tune. Our junk looked like one of the nicest boats in the fleet, so either we lucked out or paid more! The rooms were really nice – comfortable beds, nice sink with private toilet and shower (with hot water!) and our own balcony, even though we were on the first level. We went up on the top deck as we cruised along and admired the amazing view of the limestone cliffs jutting out of the water. Although it wasn’t very really sunny, at least it wasn’t foggy either.
I’m still not entirely sure of the origins of Ha Long Bay and how it was formed over the course of thousands of years, but I think it has something to do with plate tectonics and sea water levels. “Halong” means descending dragon in Vietnamese, which is a very apt description of the rock formations. The sheer vastness of the bay is astounding; it seems like it goes on forever and there are great panoramic views. I think we literally took 500 pictures over the course of 2 days! The slightly overcast sky lent a real zen-like quality to the landscape – it looked so tranquil, even a bit eerie at times, like you were in a dream state.
After a buffet lunch on board they took us to a floating village in little row boats. Afterwards Rosie and Mom went kayaking, which they said was really fun. I didn’t bring a change of clothes so I didn’t want to get soaking wet while kayaking. We had cocktail hour on the top deck and then ate dinner in the dining room. The food was just okay, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything special either. After dinner we went to bed early, exhausted from a long, but very fun day!
The next day we woke up around 6:45am. We ate a light snack and then took a smaller boat to the “Surprise Cave.” My expectations were really low; I thought it would be some kind of tourist trap a la the Blue Grotto in Capri. Now I understand the name of the cave though – we were completely shocked by its size, it just went on and on. It’s definitely the biggest cave I’ve ever been in. They lit the cave with neon colors so you could walk around in it. Some people thought the lights were cheesy, but I thought it looked cool. After we got back from the cave we ate breakfast and then packed up our things. We got back to the harbor around 10:45am and then drove back to Hanoi.
The boat really exceeded all of our expectations. We’re all not cruise people at all, but this was the perfect size and length of time. I think we would have gotten cabin fever if we were on there for another night. Everybody on the boat pretty much kept to themselves, and there were no assigned seats at dinner or anything of that sort. That was great because we just wanted to visit with our mom who we hadn’t seen in a long time. Like I said, I think 2 days/1 night is the perfect amount of time for the cruise during the rainy season, maybe in the summer months there’s more outdoor activities to do, but we got a great feel for the bay in 2 days.