There are tons and tons of companies that will book you onto Halong Bay cruises. It’s a big tourist racket, so pay attention to TripAdvisor, Flyertalk, and Milepoint for recommendations on the most reputable vendors. They were responsive and delivered everything as promised, up until everything went wrong with the tour, but that’s for later.
I had booked an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, which included the 8 hour roundtrip bus ride from Hanoi. The morning of the tour, the bus arrived promptly sometime after the scheduled 7am pickup time. I hopped on and we made our way eastward out of the city. Very quickly the crowded, urban feeling was swept into the city’s outskirts, then into rural Vietnam.
As we drove through the countryside, you’d see really tall and thin houses off in the distance. I was told this is because houses are taxed based on how much physical land they occupy. So everyone builds these really skinny houses that go up 3-4 stories, even out in the middle of the countryside.
We’d pass through a village every now and again, when the scenery would get a bit more interesting.
The tourist boat center split everyone up into groups according to their boat, and after everyone had arrived, we made our way to the Dragon’s Pearl of the Indochina Junk company.
It may look a little junky (pun intended), but the reviews were excellent, this is one of the nicer boats on the Bay. A few years ago the government decided that the boats all needed to painted white, so the former array of differently colored boats is no more, just white boat after white boat.
As we boarded, we were directed to our rooms to put our stuff away.
It was a small room but appointed very nicely with local decor. There was a freshwater shower in the restroom as well, so, although spartan, the room was perfect for an overnight cruise on Halong Bay.
We all met in the dining hall for our orientation. Lunch was included with the tour, and we had the option of buying alcoholic beverages. So I did.
About the bay
The lady from Indochina Junk began her orientation lecture by telling us how the Bay was formed eons ago and today enjoys UNESCO protection. She said there are over 2000 islands and that her company would be taking us to a section of Halong Bay to which they have exclusive rights so our pictures wouldn’t be crowded out by other boats. The weather was bad so we wouldn’t be staying overnight in the bay and would come back that night. We’d be visiting a private beach to swiWAIT WHAT DID YOU SAY?! She said it so smoothly that nobody even noticed, but I asked her to repeat that one part, about the weather. She said that yes, the governing authority predicted the weather would be bad that evening so no boats would be allowed to stay out in the bay that night. Someone else asked if that meant we’d be staying in our rooms while docked in the harbor, but I don’t think she understood the question, so she just politely nodded.
Thinking everything was still ok, I stepped out and enjoyed the beautiful Halong Bay.