Perfect Itinerary for Halong Bay, Vietnam
There are many myths to the history of Ha Long Bay and how this unique region got the name, “descending dragon.” Legends say that during a time when the Vietnamese were fighting off foreign invaders they called to the mother dragon and her children. The space where the dragons landed to block the invaders is now known as Ha Long Bay. In Vietnamese the words “Ha Long” literally translate to descending dragons. Some of the logical locals also said these large rock formations are merely because of plate tectonics and sedimentary layering. Either way you look at it, this region in Northern Vietnam is one of the most uniquely formed geography in the whole world. There is really no other place like it!
When most people come to visit Halong Bay they get a transfer from the capital-Hanoi to the bay which is about a three hour shuttle drive directly to the cruise. When we booked our trip to Halong we felt as though it all seemed very rushed so we opted to stay on the mainland for one night before catching our cruise the next day. The mainland of Halong is very well maintained and has many different attractions for travelers to enjoy. We enjoyed the change of weather from the south of vietnam as it was January when we visited. Walking through the town with the crisp air, stopping at local cafes to enjoy a nice hot coffee and enjoying the view of the bay with all of the cruise ships docked out on shore. For dinner we found an amazing local spot for a giant bowl of pho, Phở Gà – Bò – Bún Sườn Chua (the countries local cuisine) for ridiculous cheap prices, served by the most genuinely happy owner. Also included a cup of hot tea as well!!!!!
Where to stay on the mainland in Halong Bay
We searched for a hotel with a reasonable price that included breakfast and also near the cruise ships so we could walk there instead of ordering a taxi. Halios Hotel was the perfect hotel for us during our stay on the mainland. The staff went above and beyond to make our stay very comfortable. The rooms were very nice and the beds were so comfortable! We highly recommend this hotel if you are on a budget and want to stay near the cruise ship docks.
The next morning we woke up with no rush, ate FREE breakfast at the hotel and packed up our things for our cruise. We chose to stay with Signature Cruise Halong and it was nothing less than great. Everything was planned out and it was very carefree for the guests on the ship. All meals are included in the price you pay for the stay on the cruise ship. On this cruise you get an option for one or two night stay, we chose to stay for two nights to enjoy the extra activities on the third day.
After checking in on the mainland of Halong, our group got on a small boat with all our luggage and cruised over to our ship which was docked off shore. After checking in to our amazing room with a balcony and jet tub we all sat for lunch and went over the itinerary for the next few days. As all the food is included in the price, the drinks however are not. They are actually really pricey on the cruise. We recommend to stock up before getting on the boat at a nearby convenient store. Of course, we got a six pack of coca cola for half the price of what they were selling them for on the ship.
After a delicious lunch, we boarded onto the smaller ship to take us to a floating village where the local people have lived for generations on sea. They have built their boats and homes that provide them shelter, transportation and culture. These people are fishermen and they set out to find fish, lobster, squid and shellfish. They own no land, only boats that provide their way of life. During this excursion you can pick to either kayak through the village yourself OR you can ride in a boat paddled by a local-IF you opt for this option PLEASE tip the local people. Most of them also provide information, take pictures for you and they are taking you around their own village. #supportthelocals
After floating through the village, our group found our way over to the pearl farm where the locals permanently live and work to harvest pearls. During this tour you will be able to see how long it takes for pearls to grow, harvest and extracted. The pearls grow all year long and the process is very excruciatingly slow. The farm is almost 75 acres long and consists of roughly 3000 cages. On the farm, there is also a jewelry store selling all the different pearls on ear rings, necklaces and bracelets if you want to take home a souvenir.
Once we got back to the main ship after visiting the village we enjoyed some free time where we of course got in a bubble bath and relaxed our muscles after kayaking. Each night before dinner the crew sets up a cooking class followed by happy hour on cocktails. This is a very nice time to socialize with people on your tour from all over the world. Also a nice time to learn some new cooking skills from a Vietnamese citizen. the first night we made friend spring rolls filled with yummy veggies and then fried. SOO DELCIOUS
For dinner, there is many different options for main course to pick from. It is always served as a four course meal starting with a soup, then salad, then the main course and finished with a dessert. The meals are mainly all seafood but there are some beef options as well if you have had enough seafood on this trip. If you have any food allergies or preferences you must let the crew know and they will accommodate you in any way possible to make your experience great.
When we made our reservation we let the crew know it was our anniversary. As we didn’t expect anything from them- while we were at dinner the crew was in our room decorating with rose petals, a bouquet of beautiful flowers and an oh soooo yummy cake!!! It was really such an amazing surprise to go back to the room to. We really appreciate the staff and they really made us feel special on this special day. It really is the little things in life that make the biggest difference.
Each morning at sunrise there is Tai Chi lessons on the top of the ship deck for anyone who desires to learn or get out of bed that early. At around 8 AM the group starts with a huge breakfast buffet with all of the local favorites and so many delicious fresh fruits. There are also some western breakfast items for those who are missing the food from back home which was really nice as well.
After breakfast we all packed up for a day excursion to explore a nearby cave and kayak some more in the bay. This was probably the best day for us as the SUN came out while we were on our excursion!! (doesn’t happen that often in the “winter time”) We got some down time as well to make new friends with the people in our group and to stick our toes in the sand and relax. After the excursion we enjoyed a nice lunch full of flavor and way too much food!
Once we returned back to the main ship it was time for free time- which for us that means bubble bath as always!!! Then again it follows with the same activities as the day before. Starting with another cooking class where we made a different type of spring rolls that were not fried this time. Inside was veggies, omelette, pineapple and shrimps if you want. I feel like i became quite the spring roller if i must say. Hopefully i can remember and make these back in the states when we return home. After cooking class began the HAPPY HOUR before dinner. For dinner the options were the same as the night before with different soups and salads to go with it.
After dinner each night the crew sets up squid fishing for the guests which is usually done at night with a really bright light to attract the squid. For us, there was no such luck catching a squid. If you do catch one, the crew will cook it up for you and enjoy it fresh out of the sea. It was still really enjoying to do- since there is a bright light you can see the little squids swimming around underwater.
Our last and final day on the ship 🙁 It really went by way tooo fast. This morning we woke up really early to enjoy a nice light breakfast before we head off to another cave. We arrive early as there are many tourists and other cruise lines that make there way here as well and its get VERY crowded with people. I am so glad that we were one of the first boats to arrive as we had this place all to ourselves at first. It was about 3 flights up stairs to reach up to the cave. On the opposite side of where we docked the boat was a small but very nice beach for pictures to be taken.
Returning back to the main ship for the last time and it was time for a little free time and packing. After our last and final bubble bath we enjoyed our last big brunch with our group, said our farewells and we were taken back to the mainland to catch shuttles back to Hanoi. Shuttles from/to Hanoi can range anywhere from 300-1000 VND depending on the type and whether or not shared or private. OR stay on the mainland for another night and enjoy the attractions there, as so many people miss out on them!
Thank you again Signature Cruise Halong for making our stay absolutely amazing!!!