Posted by Daisy on

Cruising in Ha Long Bay. It’s on everyone’s must visit list when visiting Vietnam, and it was most certainly on ours. Our only query was, how do we sift through the mountains of tour operators to find one that suits us? After many an evening spent browsing blogs and looking at websites, we decided to go with well reviewed (and mentioned in Lonely Planet, I believe) Vega Travel.

A quick jaunt down to their office in downtown Hanoi and we were booked on a 3 day, 2 night excursion. It’s more popular to do 2 days, 1 night, but this was a bit of a Christmas present to ourselves. You gotta splurge sometimes! And this wasn’t a *true* splurge compared to the prices of other companies.

Pick up and boarding

We were picked up from our hotel almost on time, and trundled along in our little mini bus out to the bay. The drive was around 3-4 hours and our tour guide, Duc, spent much of it telling us humorous stories and cracking jokes. It was a smooth journey, though did include obligatory ‘tat shop’ toilet stop.

Once we arrived at the port we couldn’t believe how many boats there were. Obviously we were aware of how popular Ha Long Bay is, but to see the sheer amount of boats bought it into perspective! Some of them didn’t look so nice, so we were secretly praying we’d booked a nice one as the bus rolled along.

cruising in ha long bay

Spoiler: we did book a nice one! No sooner than we’d gotten off of the bus and we were boarding and ready to cruise in Ha Long Bay. Neither Adam or myself had many warm clothes packed, and it was quite cloudy and overcast, so we were quickly bundling up into our long sleeves and trousers. It’s hard adjusting to 14 degrees when you’ve been used to 30 degrees and above!

First days first

Our first ‘day’ was more of an afternoon, but still stuffed with activities. We began with getting settled into our rooms and then sat down to lunch. It was great to chat with everyone on the boat and get to know more about them and where they were from. The food wasn’t too bad either!

Kayaking was our main activity of the afternoon, and we spent an hour or so paddling around the bay and into lagoons. We were one of the first groups to arrive and so got to kayak around in peace. This was brilliant, and a running theme of our time on the boat.

We were the last group of the day to enter Surprising Cave. Which is, let me tell you, surprisingly massive! Our group had it all to ourselves and clambered around inside, taking in the vast space, whilst Duc explained some of the history to us. Surprised we were! It was really lovely to walk back down the steps to our boat as the sun set.

Dinner time was another multi-plate affair, we enjoyed trying oysters (cooked!) and attempting to de-shell prawns. We also made spring rolls, or rather, attempted to. Adam stuffed his a bit too full and it exploded! The after dinner challenge involved some puzzles and Adam braved up and figured one out! He amazed the whole group and bagged a free beer. Not bad! Don’t think the staff were expecting anyone to get it, either…

Day two

On day two we were up bright and early, and were first in line to be up Mount Titop. Duc had given us strict instructions to not stop on our march to the top or else other tour groups would overtake us! I thought my legs were going to drop off 3/4 of the way up, but we made it! The views were spectacular and we’d managed a bit of sunshine too.

Duc was right, not ten minutes after we were at the top and it was rammed. There was the opportunity to do some swimming once we were back down at the bottom but we both chose not to, preferring to rest our tired legs. You’d think we would be used to stair climbing by now, apparently not.

Splitting up

After the first activity and breakfast, we cruised through the bay and transferred boats. The 2 day, 1 night crew were heading back to land, but for the 6 of us that were in it for 2 nights, we were off to Cat Ba Island!

We transferred onto a smaller boat and spent the next few hours cruising through the bay. The skies were a lot brighter which meant we could get some good shots! This was the perfect opportunity to read and nap. Once we’d docked in Cat Ba, we were straight onto bikes and breezing across the island.

It was such fun cycling through Cat Ba National park. We love to cycle when we travel, having done so in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Thailand, so this was a nice treat.

After stashing our bikes we did a little jungle trekking with Duc. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold. We scrambled over rocks and up hills and emerged to a stunning view. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!

Walking on the hill chicken

The remainder of the afternoon was spent cruising on the water before docking at the main harbour on Cat Ba. We took a quick bus round to the Hung Long hotel. Duc checked us in and we got our rooms for the night. The rest of the evening was free time. First things first, make use of the lovely hot shower and comfy bed! Our guide, Duc, invited us out to a local dinner with him. This wasn’t part of the itinerary but we were eager to go and so met him at 7:30 with one of the other couples!

cruising in ha long bay

Duc took us to a local place he visits when he’s staying over on the island. Their speciality was ‘walking on the hill’ chicken, which apparently makes it extra tasty. There was also sticky rice with coconut and our new favourite sauce, which is a mix of salt, pepper, lemon, and chilli. We spent the next few hours discussing differences in our countries, and daring each other to eat parts of a chicken we’d never eaten before. Safe to say we had an amazing time!

The final day

There were no activities planned for the final day. We had a not so great buffet breakfast in the hotel, then boarded our little boat to go back to the main junk. It was a leisurely morning cruise back to shore with just enough time for one final lunch before boarding the minibus.

Cat Ba

Mount Ti Top

Surprising Cave

  • Cat Ba
  • Mount Ti Top
  • Surprising Cave

Did we enjoy it?

We sure did! We were very happy with Vega Travel and we felt that we’d booked well. It wasn’t too cheap, nor too expensive, and the wealth of activities available meant we weren’t bored for a second. As a couple, we weren’t looking for the typical backpacker boat. We were worried we’d be stuck with a bunch of old folks, but found that most of the passengers with us were couples around our age too. This made for a great atmosphere whilst cruising in Ha Long Bay.

Being the first or last at an attraction was a real draw for us, and made the trip feel that bit more special. When we slept on the boat we were in a bay with maybe 2 or 3 other boats. It was pitch black outside, which was incredible. If you are looking for a reasonable, entertaining, exciting cruise, then consider Vega Travel!

(We paid for the tour ourselves and all opinions are our own. No sponsors here!)