Halong Bay in north Vietnam is a UNESCO heritage area, an area with over 1,600 islands, inlets and towering limestone formations that rise out of the sea.
We spent 3 days/2 nights aboard the Bhaya Classic II boat and had such a brilliant time. We were so happy to see a bit of sunshine on the 3 hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay as the previous days had been cold and grey in Hanoi. We found out later that we were super lucky – we had 2 days of warm sunny days – the first they had seen for 3 weeks!
We boarded our boat at midday and Sophie was in heaven as all the crew were on the top deck waving to us and showering us with rose petals as we came aboard. We got shown to our lovely cabins complete with a really comfy bed, window looking out at the sea and compact but perfectly functional bathroom.
Then we quickly went upstairs to the restaurant where we had a lovely buffet lunch as we left the port and came across the first of the many islands we were going to see. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the sun and scenery from the top deck as we cruised towards Dark and Bright lagoon.
We then got onto the small tender boat and headed towards a platform further in a cove where some kayaks were moored. We had the option to take a sampan (small boat rowed by a local) or take kayaks which we went for as you can go further into the cove. The kids in the front and adults paddling from behind and off we went!
We loved kayaking around the cove, the water was perfectly still and with the tall hills rising up all around us it was an amazing sight. We headed towards a cool cavern that we kayaked in and admired some of the rock formations before paddling through.
We then went a bit further up the cove and through a pitch black rock tunnel which was fun and a real test of ability to manoeuvre a kayak through a very small channel! Mike and Jack also saw some massive jellyfish in the water which apparently don’t sting and make good eating. Hmmm.
It was starting to get late afternoon so we headed back to the platform and onto the tender boat in time for a quick shower and happy hour!
We got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset while we were learning how to make spring rolls and enjoying a vino, extremely civilised!
Then it was time for a delicious 5 course dinner before an early night to get ready for an action packed next day.
Sophie and I were up at 6am to watch the beautiful sunrise while taking part in a tai chi class. It’s harder than it looks! But a very tranquil way to start the day.
The boys got up a bit later with a very excited Jack as it was his 4th birthday! Sophie did a little treasure hunt for him on the top deck with his presents and drew him a map.
He was beside himself as he found the various Spiderman presents hidden in the sails 🙂
After breakfast we transferred to another smaller boat which took us even further into the bay and down to Cat Ba island. This was great as not many of the tourist boats go so far into the bay so we enjoyed beautiful views with hardly any other ‘traffic’ around.
Once we got to Cat Ba island we had the option to bike ride or go in an electric cart. Mike took the bike and I went with the kids on the cart as the path was a bit rough to take the kids on the back of the bike. The island was very beautiful, covered with forest and with lovely views.
We then visited Viet Hai village and got to see how some of the locals live.
We went to the local school which was pristine! Our kids loved having a quick play on the playground.
We thought it was strange that there were no kids around but shoes everywhere, but when we peeked through the door we could see all the little kids fast asleep inside having a nap, so cute.
We also visited a local house and learned how they make rice wine, which is pretty blimmin’ potent stuff. It involves fermenting rice for a couple of weeks and doesn’t taste that great to be honest. Then next thing the guide shows us some snake wine which we had seen in shops in Hanoi. The snakes ferment in rice wine for months and they keep topping it up I think for around 3 years.
Mike and a couple of the other people in our group had a go, erggh. He said it tasted just like the rice wine e.g. pretty gross!
After an interesting visit to the village it was time to go back to the boat for yet more food, another 5 course lunch while we cruised back to Bai Tu Long Bay and the main boat. On the way we stopped off at a pearl farm to see how pearls are cultivated, we thought it would be a bit naff but it was actually very interesting.
Sophie got to choose an oyster when the guide was showing us what they look like when cut open and lucky girl the one she chose had a pearl in it (only about 30% of them do after the cultivation process).
Sadly she wasn’t allowed to keep it though as it was worth about $60 USD!
That afternoon we also visited a traditional fishing village, where we all climbed into a sampan and a local rowed us around for 45 minutes.
It was ok, but we often find anything that involves ‘visiting a traditional village’ is generally a bit of a tourist trap and you feel a bit weird gawking at their houses while pretending that it’s all traditional, when the reality is they get hundreds of gawking tourists trapsing through their backyards every day….
Around 4pm the boat upped anchor again and a few of us headed off in the tender boat to find a gorgeous little sandy cove in the middle of nowhere so we could have a swim. While the weather was sunny it still wasn’t that warm, and the water was freezing! But it was so cool swimming in that beautiful place. The kids said they didn’t want to go in but once we got there Jack decided when in Rome, so we stripped him down to his undies and in he went for a birthday swim.
Back to the boat again for another happy hour and sunset, followed by another 5 course dinner. I don’t think we’ve eaten as much as this the whole time we have been away. We had a nice chat with some of the people on board over a drink, it was great for us adults to have some other adults to talk to for a while! They were all nice people and interesting to talk to as well so we enjoyed it. The kids were being exceptionally well behaved too, we had quite a few people complementing us on what good kids they were and what a pleasure it was to have them around so that’s really nice 🙂 Sophie did her usual dance routines in the middle of the restaurant much to the amusement of the other passengers, a flamenco style routine this time…
Then it was the big surprise moment as we’d organised a birthday cake for Jack. Next thing all the lights went out and our guide started blasting ‘happy birthday’ out over the speakers and all the crew came out with his cake and a beautiful carved watermelon. All the passengers joined in as well, he was so chuffed!
He has been talking for months about what sort of cake he was going to have on his birthday (we tend to make quite elaborate birthday cakes in our family!) and he was dead set on superheroes, so I had bought some figurines of Spiderman, Batman and Superman to put on the cake. I think it got a bit lost in translation as a lovely frilly flower designed cake came out and they gave him the superheroes separately. But he was so taken with the big moment that he didn’t even notice that he had a floral cake. We cut up the cake and Sophie had a great time being a waitress taking pieces around to all the passengers, more brownie points for her.
After all the excitement at dinner, we had a go at squid fishing off the back of the boat. Unfortunately we didn’t catch anything – one guy who seemed to be an expert said we were too deep as squid like to trawl along the bottom – but it was fun anyway.
The next morning was quite grey and cloudy so we didn’t get a beautiful sunrise, but it was quite neat to see the bay all misty and atmospheric. Mike and Soph had a go at the tai chi today.
After breakfast we all jumped back into the tender boat to head up 700 steps to walk through ‘Surprise Cave’. We thought it might be a bit lame but it was really beautiful and interesting and huge complex of different caverns filled with amazing stalactites, stalagmites and rocks that looked like objects eg a brocolli forest, Santa Claus and some other rude things that shouldn’t be mentioned here….!
Then it was back onto the boat for a final brunch aka full on lunch as we cruised back to the terminal and sadly said goodbye. We easily could have stayed on board for a few more days. We got into the mini bus and drove back to Hanoi.
The kids had a great time and so did we. It was really nice not to have to ‘think’ for a couple of days as well eg where are we staying, how do we get around, where are we eating. It was all taken care of.
We would highly recommend Bhaya Cruises if you’re ever looking to visit Halong Bay, they were extremely professional, the staff were so lovely and it was very comfortable. It’s definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done in our travels and we have some amazing memories. We nearly didn’t go as we thought the weather might be too rough and cold, but we’re now so glad that we did!
Halong Bay is so beautiful, it reminded us a lot of Milford Sound in NZ and the calanques’ in Southern France. It’s certainly not isolated – we estimated there were probably around 50 boats out there, all mooring up and cruising to the same places, but it’s still a very special place!