An overnight boat cruise of Halong Bay was on the top of my list of what to do on a week trip to Hanoi, Vietnam with my teen son. Because every travel agent in Hanoi seems to have the same book with Halong Bay tour options, booking an overnight could not have been simpler. The travel agent that I randomly picked from the bounty of agents near our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi recommended Seasun Cruise because of the cabin and food quality. This cruise also took in a stop to a pearl farm which the other one-night trips did not.
Every thing about this Halong Bay jaunt met or exceeded my expectation. Happily, the Seasun looked like its pictures. Designed to reflect an Asian sensibility, the three deck wooden boat combines taste with comfort. Our two twin bed room on the ship’s main deck level was large enough that we didn’t feel cramped. I appreciated the cabinets where we could store belongings out of the way. The room’s large windows provided lovely views of the bay, however we didn’t hang out here during the day. To save energy, the air-conditioning is only on from the evening until the morning. There is a fan, however. Another room plus was the bathroom. Surprisingly roomy, the bathroom was appointed with a sleek shower stall and sink. Plus, the toilet wasn’t crammed into the space. At night with the air-conditioning running, the room’s temperature was perfect for sleeping.
When we weren’t in the room, or off the boat on a tour, there were plenty of hang out spots. The dining room which also serves as a lounge has couches and comfortable chairs at one end. There’s also seating outside, however,the Vietnamese government passed a law that people can’t be on the top deck when boats are moving. Since we were anchored at our overnight spot before dinner, we did have time to lounge in the evening, and also in the morning before the boat started to move again.
Because our arrival was before lunch, our first experience after we put our luggage in our room was to eat a meal with our new boat friends as the boat traveled past Halong Bay’s various inlets and craggy islands. There were about twenty other people who were part of the tour. Each meal (lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch) was served family style with a mix of Vietnamese and western style dishes. The wait staff brought out a feast each time we sat down to eat ,and whisked it all away when we were finished. All meals were included in our ticket price but we did have to pay for drinks. Options ranged from soda to wine, beer and mixed drinks. Bottled water also cost extra. Prices were reasonable.
Every Halong Bay overnight cruise seems to offer the same sightseeing stops: Sung Sot Cave, kayaking, and a brief stop to swim at a small beach. The variety was a mix of laid back to rigorous. Be prepared to walk up several steps to get to the cave. Our tour guide who traveled with us from Hanoi to the boat, and at all the stops, was knowledgeable about each place. In between doling out information, he cracked jokes to add a sense of camaraderie and fun.
In the evening after dinner, the guide strong armed people into karaoke which wasn’t the worst way to spend an hour. Considering we were a mixed group of folks from all over the world including Russia, Argentina, India, China, Britain and Vietnam, the good natured warbling of songs we all knew cemented a feeling of good cheer.
Our pearl farm visit was the next morning and worth the extra money we paid for our trip. Of course, it included a requisite stop to the farm’s gift shop, but there wasn’t a hard sell approach. Plus, the items for sale had a wide range of prices to fit any size budget.
The trip, that started with our hotel pickup at 8:30 a.m. and a drop off near our hotel at about 4 p.m. the next day cost about $130 per person. Prices vary with the season. Again, everything but drinks was included. I did tip the guide and the ship’s staff.
There are tours that last for two nights. Of the boat’s 11 guest rooms, each with a private bath, you can opt for two twins, a triple or a double. Although I booked our trip the day we arrived in Hanoi, you can book from the Seasun’s booking page.
Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein