As our Hanoi transfer van pulled up to the port, I was already awestruck by the view of Halong Bay in the distance. It’s a place so beautiful that it truly leaves you speechless. You have to see it in person to fully appreciate its beauty. Shortly after boarding our boat, lunch was served, and though we could see the magical landscape from our table’s window, it took every ounce of my patience not to leave lunch to go take pictures. I convinced myself that it would only get prettier, and it did. Halong Bay was on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture of it a few years back, and after seeing the photos in this post, I know it will be on yours too.
Choosing a Halong Bay cruise company
The number of cruise companies that operate tours of Halong Bay is insane. Choosing the right one is extremely difficult. After many hours of research and talking with different companies, I chose Paloma Cruises. They had great reviews, weren’t too expensive, had a great itinerary that went to parts of the bay that other cruises didn't go, and had a room with an amazing balcony. After spending three days with Paloma, I can say that I chose the right company and my husband and I were both very happy with our experience!
All of the cruise lines operate on similar schedules. For the three day/two night cruise, you depart Hanoi early in the morning, arrive and embark your boat around lunchtime, and return to port around lunchtime on the third day before making the 3.5-hour drive back to Hanoi. Due to the limited amount of time, the cruise activity schedule is pretty packed.
The first day, we had a nice, multiple course lunch followed by a visit to a cave and kayaking. Kayaking was by far our favorite part of the trip! There is nothing like cruising through the calm waters – especially when you turn the corner, your cruise ship disappears, and you can only see fellow kayakers and the towering islands.
After kayaking, there was a rooftop happy hour to watch the sunset followed by another multi-course dinner. We really enjoyed all of our meals on the cruise. Most courses are Vietnamese, and some are interactive! After dinner, you had the option to go squid fishing, which we did the next night.
The second day started with tai-chi, but we slept in… We did make it down for breakfast, which included yogurt, cheeses, breads, cereals, and a custom-omelette station. Soon after we were boarding a smaller boat that was ours for the day. That boat took us to a different part of the bay where we were able to kayak, swim, and have a grilled multi-course lunch on the beach: french fries and cucumber salad, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, grilled fish, grilled octopus, and maybe beef, too? It was a lot of food!
If you wade into the water, beware of the jellyfish! I was hesitant to swim because when we were both cruising and kayaking we saw hundreds – yes, hundreds – of jellyfish. That should have been ominous enough to keep me out of the water, but I couldn’t resist cooling off in the bay. They said there were nets! Alas, both myself and a fellow cruise mate were stung. Perhaps some baby jellyfish sneak through the nets. Not fun, but we survived!
When we returned from our beach day, we had time to relax on the boat before the sunset deck party. We spent any downtime we had on our balcony so that we could ingrain the beauty of Halong Bay into our memories. Talk about a nice place to read a book!
Later, we had another wonderful dinner and went squid fishing after. We tried to catch a squid but were not successful. Next time! We did see a few others catch them.
On our final day, we took a tender boat to the fishing village and got on even smaller boats with locals to travel through the village and visit the pearl farm. The pearl farm was interesting, especially to see them open up clam shells to show us the pearls inside. They also had a store where they sold the pearls that they made, but I found it to be very expensive, and by U.S. standards, so even more expensive for Vietnam.
After the visit to the fishing village, we had one final meal and time to soak in our last hour in Halong Bay.
Would I recommend Paloma Cruises?
Yes! The cruise and activities were great, the rooms were fairly comfortable (there’s only a level of comfort you can get to on a boat!), the meals were great, and the staff was extremely nice and accommodating. Our only minor complaints about the cruise were weak air conditioning units in the room and a very limited wine selection by the glass. Overall, we loved every minute of sailing through Halong Bay with Paloma!
Tips for visiting Halong Bay
- Pay the extra money for a longer cruise! In all of the posts I read about peoples’ experiences with Halong Bay cruises, almost everyone mentioned that they either wish they did the three day/two-night cruise or were so glad that they chose to do it. The two day/one night cruise is simply not enough time to enjoy Halong Bay. I felt so bad for the people on our boat that had to leave the morning following our embarkation. The second day of the cruise is the day that you get to relax more and fully soak in the gorgeous scenery.
- You won’t regret getting a room with a balcony.
- Especially if you're visiting during the summer, invest in a portable fan. I used this one that plugged right into my iPhone. I used mine all the time in Halong Bay and throughout the rest of my Asia trip too.
- Bring a waterproof camera or waterproof bag so that you can take photos while kayaking.
Halong Bay is definitely one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. If you haven’t made it there yet, I hope you do one day!
And if you have any more questions about choosing a cruise company or about why I chose Paloma, please feel free to shoot me an email.