Sleeping out on a boat in a mystical place reminiscent of an epic fantasy home belonging to dragons is one of the top things to do in Vietnam. With over a thousand islands clustered together within the enchanted Halong Bay, this natural eighth wonder of the world is quite unlike anywhere you’ll have been before.
A number of Halong Bay cruises are all waiting to show you the UNESCO Heritage site, so you’ll want to select one who offers an itinerary showcasing the best of Halong Bay in the time that you have.
Secret Halong Cruises – 2 Days / 1 Night
To maximise the limited time and see as much as possible, one of the best Halong Bay cruises is the Secret Halong Cruises.
Check in at Tuan Chau International Harbour is at 12 noon with the meeting point being a small shop (Unit 22), which is used by a number of the different Halong Bay Cruises. Make sure you’re there on time. It’ll cost you approx. 200.000 on meter from Ha Long city and takes about 15 minutes to get there. At 12:30pm, everyone joining the Secret Cruise should have been found and gathered and ready to go aboard.
The Secret Halong Cruise ship can hold 22 passengers, with double beds, twin beds and single bed available. The quaint wooden panelled cabins are comfortable and clean, each with their own private bathroom and a lounger to lie on as you watch the islands drift by your window.
We were lucky that we were virtually the only two on board that day. There was only one other couple with us, so we never had to worry about intruding on another guest’s experience as we took pictures around the ship. Our good fortune continued throughout our trip as we had blue skies the entire time.
Your cruise begins with an introduction to the team and a run-down of what to expect over the next 24 hours. And if you take a look at the seashell on your table you’ll find a pamphlet containing the lunch menu spread about to be served to you as the ship sets off towards the islands.
After lunch, you’re given some free time to lounge around upstairs on the sundeck to either sunbathe or just admire, but it’s not long before your first activity begins.
The first day expedition involves going to a cave containing a dragon, a lion and a rhino, or so the story goes. There are natural rock formations within Ho Dong Tien Cave that resemble these powerful animals and it is said they were the protectors of the treasures hidden within the cave chambers.
Following on from our cave exploration, we were taken kayaking around Trong Cave. The other couple we were with seemed to be able to paddle in unison, which was both admirable and frustrating to see while we kept going against one another. However, the experience is worthwhile because on the sapphire waters you’re really in the midst of nature as impressive looming limestone outcrops of the various islands are everywhere you look. For those who aren’t great at kayaking, like us, I’d have preferred the freedom of being able to just kayak close to the floating boat rental station rather than take a route and to be able to go at my own pace, even if that just meant bopping about for the hour.
Once you’ve finished kayaking, you’ll be taken to a traditional Vietnamese fishing boat. You’re welcomed by an adorable woman who proceeds to show you the ways of a fisherman’s life at Halong Bay. With a dazzling smile she’ll toss her fishing nets into the water before drawing them back up and producing what is to be your dinner later in the evening.
Halong Secret Cruise then anchors for the night in Nha Lat Area, which is also where all the other Halong Bay Cruises gather.
Between the gaps in the islands you’ll catch a glimpse of Ha Long City and be amazed by how close the mainland actually is as the environment has spent the day making you believe you’ve travelled to a different world.
A romantic dinner is served up on the sundeck where you can watch the sunset behind the craggy island mountains before the stars come out and the assembled boats light up the area.
The next morning was an early rise. Breakfast was served at 7am after a 6:30am session of Tai Chi before you venture out for your last expedition of the cruise as you’re taken to the nearby Titov Island. You have an hour on the island and you’re given the choice of relaxing on the beach, going for the hike, or doing both. Do the hike.
The view from the peak is simply breath-taking and the 500-step climb is relatively easy as all of the steps are manmade, there’s a railing for support and there’s several resting points. The beach is overcrowded, even at 8am, as several other Halong Bay cruises offer the excursion. You won’t regret missing the beach if you end up taking too long admiring the hike’s splendid view.
After your trip to the island, you’re taken back to the ship to freshen up and pack your bags. Don’t spend too long packing and showering because one of the highlights for me was the scenic return journey as the ship navigates its way through the islets. Spend the time admiring your panoramic surroundings from the sundeck before you have your last meal on board with a hearty brunch.
It’s then time for goodbye as the ship returns to mainland for approx. 11:30am at the initial meeting point, where we then spent an hour reminiscing over our magical night in Halong Bay thanks to Secret Halong Cruises while we waited for their shuttle bus to take us back to Hanoi.