When the WSB and I set out on planning Vietnam we knew 2 things. One we wanted to do an overnight cruise on Halong Bay and two – we were on a budget.
By the time it came to actually booking the overnight cruise I quickly realised just how expensive it actually gets!
While there are many luxurious options available – they started at roughly 400AUD a night which was way above our budget of $100 a night for accommodation. Plus I had made up my mind to do a 2 night cruise as a 1 night option seemed rushed.
After pouring through reviews for days I settled on Alova Gold Cruise, mainly based on what I read out of Tripadvisor and other travel blogs. Essentially what I read was that you get what you pay for. I paid $250 a night which was still way above my budget but I wanted to book something before I got to Vietnam because I wanted to know exactly what the cruise would be like. Please note that you can definitely get cheaper deals than what I paid but I settled on Alova Gold Cruise for the reasons provided below.
Book beforehand even though EVERYONE will tell you it’s cheaper to book in Vietnam
Everyone I met who had booked locally were given either a budget or luxury option. They were not told beforehand what their cruise involved or the itinerary. Where as GoAsia (the operating tour company) had emailed me and asked for dietary requirements, where we would like to be picked up from as well as sending us a detailed 2 day itinerary. After speaking to others on the tour with us, we realised that they had paid exactly the same amount despite booking locally and not being given an itinerary as they had booked with other local vendors.
So if you like to know what’s happening and want a little bit of structure and no nasty surprises – book beforehand.
Expect some chaos
As with local run tours you can expect things to not always go smoothly. I set out with this mind frame however was pleasantly surprised. The guide who collected us from the hotel was on time and the bus we traveled the 4 hour journey to the halong Bay Marina was in a clean condition and the driver drove safely. Remember that the journey to and from the Marina from Hanoi is 4 hours. If you do a day-trip you will spend 8 hours driving and only 2-3 hours in the actual Bay.
Since the boat is mid-range and parking on the actual bay is expensive, you go to the junk by a smaller boat. And you have to climb on to the actual junk boat from this smaller boat. Sure the staff will give you a hand but don’t expect actual stairs or little bridge walkways on to the boat that the fancier boats had.
The boat itself – Alova Gold Cruise
It was old. But functional and clean. The room was something I was nervous about but was pleased that it had a huge window to ward of claustrophobic vibes. My room was right by the common area so things can get loud depending on how late the other people in your group want to stay up. The bathroom was basic at best and needs to be renovated quite badly.
The common area and bar area are quite small but there is plenty of space to chill on the top deck. In warmer days it would be perfect for a spot of sunbathing.
The food ….
One of the things that won me over from reviews on Alova Gold Cruise – was that everyone spoke highly of the food. And it was so good. Lots of seafood and quite a few stir-fry type dishes as well.
Breakfast is pretty basic on the second day (and third day if you do a 2d/3n stay) – simply eggs and bread but this is because they have a lavish lunch set up.
Drinks are not included. They do have a happy hour so if you have to drink I’d recommend that being the only time you do otherwise you will be paying twice as much the regular price elsewhere in Vietnam.
A lot of the activities are weather dependent. Especially on a mid-range boat like Alova. The activities we did were kayaking plus a bout of unsuccessful squid fishing. We visited Ti-top Island and walked about 400 steps to get to the top for some amazing views and the following day we headed to Sung Sot caves which had also had another dozen or so tour groups.
We had a quick cooking demo of spring rolls but we heard from others of the day boat that their boats offered things like Tai Chi classes in the morning.
1 nights or 2?
This is where it gets interesting.
If you pick 1 night you stay with the same group you started with. If you pick the 2 night option you will be placed with another group for the 2nd day activities on another boat . When you come back to the original boat there will be another group of people there. I had expected this, however it was a surprise to others as they thought everyone was doing a 2 day tour.
If I had to do it again – I wouldn’t do a 2 night cruise. The activities on the second day were kayaking again and visiting a pearl farm that was basically “buy this buy this” in your face. No thanks. Plus the food that the day boat served wasn’t as great as what we got on Alova. It all felt very temporary and as though we were just “passing time” I would have liked to have more time on Alova just to relax.
..but wait what about Halong Bay itself?
It’s beautiful yes – no doubt about it. However I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that it didn’t make me go “wow” the way I did when I visited the Thai islands. You can put this down to the misty, cold weather.
Let me know if you have any questions on visiting Halong Bay and I will try to assist you if I can.
If you have visited Halong Bay how was your experience?