Within minutes of confirming our room reservation in Hanoi, the hotel manager came back with a helpful suggestion. How about a cruise at Halong Bay?
Transfers, activities and all meals aboard a luxury boat, why not! Having arranged it all with a few taps of the iPhone we felt pretty smug. But on arrival in Hanoi we felt less so, seeing as Halong Bay cruises were being sold on every street by anyone and everyone. Had we signed up for some hellish, overrated tourist scam and would Halong Bay be so crowded with boats that it would be more people than sea, like some kind of maritime rush hour?
Our fears were laid to rest as soon as we set sail, and we realised how important it was that our hotel had recommended such a high quality cruise, Cristina Diamond (just launched last year, according to the website). Not only was our boat as comfy and well turned out as a hotel with restaurant quality food, we were quick to peel away from the crowds and head to a more secluded part of the bay, with never ending, ever changing vistas of the karst peaks, of which there are nearly 2,000 in the bay. Some are famous, like the bear family and the whale, and like cloud dreaming, you can invent your own formations from your imagination. It’s a lazy activity you just don’t tire of.
Our boat was one of the few with private balconies, and to wake up in the morning greeted by such a special, once in a lifetime view was truly magical. Ripping open the curtain was a true rabbit out of a hat delightful moment. You’re not just stuck on the boat the whole time either, with visits to caves part of the agenda too. Swimming at the bay formed by one of the larger peaks felt like something out of the film The Beach and exploring the nearby cave was like nature revealing one of her hidden secrets. These places weren’t exactly people free and are a standard feature of the Halong Bay cruise itinerary, but with such inspiring natural beauty, you can see why it attracts the crowds and why everyone is flogging trips here.
So this is one instance where I say you should be a sheep. Join the crowds. Travel the beaten path. It’s with good reason. Just pick a quality operator to avoid becoming another Trip Advisor statistic: we’d recommend Cristina Diamond and we weren’t paid to say that!