Vietnam: Halong Bay (The Disaster Cruise!)


Halong Bay in the North-East of Vietnam is a national treasure that's world famous for it's thousands of tiny limestone islands. It's a truly beautiful area and on almost everyone's travel itinerary. As it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unlike anywhere else in the world we were of course going to pay it a visit. 

We'd decided to book our cruise whilst in Hanoi and opted for a mid-range, three day / two night tour that included one night staying on a traditional junk boat and the other visiting Cat Ba Island. On the morning of our excursion we were picked up from our hotel for the four hour coach trip to the harbour.

Our first stop in the bay was at Thien Cung Cave, one of the most popular caves as part of a Halong Bay cruise. It was amazing inside and a great place to visit. Afterwards we sailed out further into the bay, passing the beautiful small islands whilst on our way to Cat Ba Island. The place truly is breathtaking!

And this is where this blog post takes a turn, and the relaxing cruise turns chaotic...

Nine of us were dropped off at Cat Ba Island where our tour guide then abandoned us! We ended up on the back of random motorbikes and then in a tiny bamboo boat to get through flooded streets, following instructions from the locals to get to our hotel for the night. It was complete madness. The hotel owner seemed surprised to see us, and no-one knew about our plans for the following day.

To cut a long story short, we ended up spending the next day waiting around for a tour guide to show up, or for someone to tell us what we should be doing. Numerous phone calls later to the travel agents, our complaints got us nowhere. Our trip was supposed to include cycling around the island and trekking in the national park, but none of this was provided.

Finally at 5pm a coach came which picked us all up to take us off the island and back to the junk boat. By this point we'd completely given up hope, but alas, there was someone there at Cat Ba Harbour who knew what we were supposed to be doing! Although there was no apology for being abandoned for 24 hours...

Now back on the boat our trip began to improve a little, but only a little. We were on a different junk boat than the previous day and it wasn't the quality we were hoping for. The rooms didn't have any plug sockets in them, and the air-conditioning wasn't allowed to be on continually. It certainly didn't feel like the mid-range cruise that we'd paid for.

After our night on the boat the following morning we were woken up at 6:45am to a very cold breakfast and then a session of the kayaking. I can't deny that kayaking wasn't a lot of fun though!

By this point it was about 11am and time to head back to the harbour before the coach journey to Hanoi. We sailed past the floating villages which were incredibly interesting. They're home to many generations which never leave, but simply live their lives on the water and grow old. Out of the entire three days this was one of the few highlights of the trip.

In summary, it's hard to know what to tell someone so they can avoid the same disaster that I had. The nine of us on the cruise booked the tour through different travel agents in different areas of Hanoi. The only thing I can suggest is to book a tour through your hotel or hostel as you'll get a little more help and protection if things go wrong.

It's such a shame our tour wasn't what we expected as Halong Bay truly is a beauty!

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