A Travellerspoint blog

Halong Bay cruise

Indochina Day Nineteen

View Indochina 2020 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The same (I assumed) rooster that had woken us early yesterday did so again this morning, but what previously had seemed like interesting local colour was today mainly just irritating! But no matter - we needed to be up quite early for our departure to Halong Bay (albeit not at 5.30 am).

The drive to Halong Bay

Huan picked us up after breakfast. He had explained yesterday that there were two roads we could take - one newer and faster, the other slower but offering more opportunities to stop. We had decided to take the slow road today (hence the prompt departure) and the fast one on our return to Hanoi tomorrow when we would have a plane to catch.

The weather was dull and misty as we left Hanoi, crossing the Red River on one of five bridges. Once we cleared the city sprawl, where a lot of new construction was taking place, we were in a flat area with a mix of farming (predominately rice fields and vegetables) and industry - we passed a power station, cement factory, electronics factories and others.

Paddy fields on the road to Halong Bay

Vegetable farm

We stopped for refreshments in Sao Do, at a complex where disabled people are employed in a range of handicrafts. Huan said it was a convenient stop, around halfway, and a good project to support, but that we shouldn't feel pressured to buy anything – we didn't! But we did get a cold drink and made use of the loos.

Snacks for sale in the shop

Carvings at the rest stop in Sao Do
Embroiderers at the rest stop in Sao Do

A bit further down the road we entered a different province, Quang Ninh. We couldn’t miss this fact as the road here passes through the dramatic Quang Ninh Gate. Huan told us there was a lot of controversy about it, as it cost a lot of money and locals felt there were other priorities more pressing than this vanity project on the part of the provincial government.


The Quang Ninh Gate

We made a longer stop a short distance beyond the gate so that Huan could show us a vegetable farm. We had a stroll between the crops while he pointed out many that were already familiar to us (spring onion, lettuce, cabbage, mint, dill) and a few that were not (a type of kale, Vietnamese mint).

The vegetable farm where we stopped

Buddhists in Vietnam have a strong belief in honouring their ancestors and many like to bury them, or hold their ashes, in plots on their own land rather than in cemeteries or at temples. We had noticed the small shrines that mark their graves dotted around the countryside and this farm was no exception. Nearby, a lady was pulling up baby rice plants that had been started here for later transfer to the paddy fields to finish growing.

Pulling up the small rice plants

Pulling up the small rice plants, and the family shrine

Pulling up the small rice plants

Boarding our cruise ship

We arrived in Halong around midday. Huan and Cheung dropped us off at the cruise terminal, which was somewhat chaotic. We had to complete a special health declaration form because of the coronavirus scare, and soon after that we were called to board the Dragon Legend 2. Our group was led to a couple of tenders where we were required to put on life jackets for the short ride to the boat, which seemed to me to be one of the largest of those moored here (she has 24 cabins).

The harbour at Halong

Approaching the Dragon Legend II

Welcome on board!

We were welcomed on board with a glass of hot ginger tea and given a briefing about safety and another about the programme for our short cruise. Then it was time to go to our cabin, which was lovely - attractively furnished and decorated, with a large window from which to enjoy the views, and an equally well-appointed bathroom with both tub and shower.


Our cabin

The bathroom

In our cabin

We settled in and then went up to the deck to take some photos as we started to sail - the first of far too many we would take over the next 24 hours!

Boats leaving the harbour

Chris at the prow of the Dragon Legend II

Sailing through Halong Bay

I also shot a short video which I think gives a better idea of the sheer number of rock formations that surrounded us as we made our way through the bay.

Afternoon cruising

Lunch was served on this deck; it was a little chilly but nice to be sitting out in the open air. There was a set menu - we thought at first that we needed to choose one of the four main course dishes but no, all were served to each table. The food was pretty good - I especially liked the salad and the sea bass, but the ginger chicken was a little too salty.

Table set for lunch, and menu

Banana flower salad

After lunch we took some more photos as we sailed out of Halong Bay and round into neighbouring Bai Tu Long Bay. Selective Asia had recommended this cruise because it sails into Bai Tu Long Bay, the bay immediately to the east of Halong Bay. It looks very similar to, and just as picturesque as, Halong Bay itself but fewer boats go there and although we certainly didn't have it to ourselves, there were more local fishing boats than cruise boats.




Fishing in Bai Tu Long Bay

In Bai Tu Long Bay

Later we relaxed in the cabin for a short while. Around 3.00 p.m. we dropped anchor near some of the karst islands and there was a choice of activity - either kayaking or a ride on one of the tenders. We chose the latter, as we're not experienced kayakers and weren't sure we could keep up with the group, and also thought it would be much easier to take photos from the boat.


Kayakers in Bai Tu Long Bay

The Dragon Legend II from the tender


Rock formations, Bai Tu Long Bay

The ride lasted about an hour and despite the dull weather gave us some excellent views of the karst formations, as well as local fishermen at work. We saw some squid boats with banks of lights to attract the creatures at night, and smaller boats with fishing nets as well as one couple who seemed to be fishing for shellfish along the edge of the rock formations, with small nets such as we might use in a rock pool.


Fishing for shellfish

The light improved a little towards the end of our ride as the sun attempted, but failed, to break through the clouds.

Afternoon light and squid fishing boat, Bai Tu Long Bay

We were back on board by late afternoon and spent some time sorting through all those photos in our cosy cabin. Meanwhile the ship sailed to the spot where we were to anchor for the night. Despite being in quieter Bai Tu Long Bay, there were a small number of others at anchor in the immediate area around us, including our boat's sister ship, the original Dragon Legend. Nevertheless it still felt quite remote to be moored there as darkness started to fall.

Evening at anchor

We went up on the top-level sun deck at 6.00 PM for 'sunset cocktails' – I put sunset in quotation marks because on this gloomy day there was no sunset! But my mojito was excellent, and it was nice to watch the lights of the boats moored nearby as it got darker.

Boats at anchor, Bai Tu Long Bay

Dragon Legend I at anchor near us

Night falls on Bai Tu Long Bay

Dinner was served on the outside deck where we had eaten lunch. I had thought it might be cold, but with my fleece on and one of the ship's blankets around my shoulders I was snug enough. We enjoyed the food, which was as plentiful as it had been at lunchtime, washed down with a Halong beer (what else?!)

Squid cake and king prawn with sticky rice

Dinner menu

The chef had excelled himself with some wonderful vegetable carvings and he and all the other crew were presented to us by name so that we could show our appreciation. After the meal some of the crew put on a little show - two musical pieces and a magic trick that unfortunately went wrong.


Chef's vegetable carvings

We could have gone to watch squid fishing off the back of the boat but decided instead to make the most of the lovely cabin by spending a bit of time there, before an early night. The boat was to remain anchored all night, so we looked forward to a peaceful sleep with no engine noise - and no roosters!

Posted by ToonSarah 06:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boats food fishing cruise vietnam farm crafts halong_bay bai_tu_long_bay

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Escaped the roosters! LOL

The rock formations were beautiful but the vegetable carvings absolutely amazing. This sounds like a wonderful experience.

by Beausoleil

I wouldn't have expected to see such a roomy and comfortable cabin on a boat like that.
Thinking back, I can't recall ever hearing roosters in Vietnam, much less being woken up by them.

by Nemorino

Ha Long Bay is somewhere we've not visited yet. It looks lovely. I also like the all the greeneey of the farms you visited on your way there and your cabin certainly appears to be very comfortable.

by irenevt

Thank you all :) Don, it definitely was a rooster, and I seem to recall we heard them in Hoi An although not from our hotel, just when we were further out of the city.

And Irene, I definitely recommend the Halong Bay experience but I feel the one night we did was enough. Before we went I was wishing that we'd booked the two night cruise but wonderful as the scenery is, it is all pretty much the same!

by ToonSarah

Wow a lovely bit of luxury on your trip! What a beautiful room and the menu had my mouth watering. Photo's are great as always. It all looks so peaceful. I never went there when I lived in Vietnam the only place north was Hanoi.

by katieshevlin62

Hi Katie - yes this was a bit of luxury and a chance to do things at a slower pace for a couple of days. It was just a shame the weather wasn't better but we knew going at that time of year that northern Vietnam was likely to be cool and damp.

by ToonSarah

I must admit I felt some sympathy with the locals on the Quang Ninh Gate expenditure. Until reading your blog Sarah, I have never in my life fancied a cruise but yours seemed totally exceptional. My young dentist went to Vietnam a few years back and has printed a similar view of the rock formations onto a large canvas in the waiting room. It is stunning - and she Wass fortunate enough to have blue skies. Those vegetable carvings are absolutely incredible - far too nice to ever eat!!

by Yvonne Dumsday

Hi Yvonne - I think an overnight cruise like this is completely different from being cooped up on a ship for days or even weeks and would be a good way of testing how you felt about the experience.

And I don't think the carvings were intended for eating, or at least not by us - they just were just for decoration. But I suspect they might have made it into the crew's dinners the next day!

by ToonSarah

There were roosters in Belize also - I think if you live there you get used to it. I'm glad to hear that you had a safety briefing.

Incredible vegetable carvings. Much more intricate than the ones I see on the large cruise ships.

When we cruise on our boat, our cabin and to a certain extent our whole boat is smaller than any cruise ship cabin. The boat is about 40 feet long and 13 feet wide in the middle. In that space there is a forward cabin, a bathroom, a shower room, and the main saloon (which has the galley). Then there is a roomy cockpit and the our aft cabin. In our cabin there is a bed, a nav table and room for one person to stand at the foot of the bed. And there is another bathroom on one side (just a toilet and sink). But I don't feel cooped up there. I really don't need a lot of space.

by greatgrandmaR

Yes Rosalie, I've heard roosters in lots of places when we travel (including here in the UK) but I don't think we've ever done so in such a crowded urban environment as this Old Quarter of Hanoi!

I can deal with cramped cabins on a boat (on our Galapagos cruise for example) but we did enjoy this little bit of luxury :) We had more room on board the Dragon Legend II than we'd had in that Hanoi hotel room!

by ToonSarah

We have a rooster here somewhere near our home but he doesn't have the clock worked out, we hear him anytime of the day. Albeit he isn't near enough that he would bother us if we are inside. :)

Incredible vegetable carvings!

The boat trip must have been nice change in your busy schedual :)

by hennaonthetrek

Hi Henna - yes, this was a very relaxing break for us :)

by ToonSarah

Nice page Sarah, it would be hard not to like Hoi Ann,we had 4 days there June 2018.

by Mikebb

Thank you Mike :) Yes, we liked Hoi An, although I have to say I liked Luang Prabang rather more

by ToonSarah

that's quite an experience sleeping on a boat in Halong Bay ... the day sounded amazing.

by Ils1976

Thanks for continuing to follow our journey Ils. Yes, it was something a bit special to spend the night on this boat

by ToonSarah

Halong Bay is beautiful. It's probably 20 years since I visited and it was busy then ... I can only imagine how many more boats must be there today. I am glad your (amazing looking) boat found a quieter place to anchor. I hope the next review does not start with you being awakened by a rooster!!!

by Wabat

Thanks Albert - no, no roosters, but ...

by ToonSarah

Ah, the damned roosters / cockerels or whatever (I am no ornothological expert), they seem to be ubiqiotous in SE Asia. If it is not them it is the damned dogs.

I see you mentioned Luang Prabang in an earlier response here and I thoroughly enjoyed the three weeks or so I spent there a few years back but I do not think there was a single night when I had uninterrupted sleep due to the cacophony of the local fauna!

That cruise ship looks amazing and I reckon chef missed his calling, he should have been a sculptor rather than a cook.

Another great read.

by planxty

Thanks again Fergy :) We must have been lucky in Luang Prabang as I don't remember a major rooster problem! A wonderful town, I loved it there, though we only stayed a few days. Like Hanoi, a place I'd happily go back to :)

by ToonSarah

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.