Halong Bay is the top destination in Vietnam and everyone hopes to have the best experience at the UNESCO World Heritage site. "For around US$80-90, you should get a worthwhile overnight cruise." Using this as a guide, I eventually decided on this 2D1N Halong Bay cruise with Ethnic Travel. I was informed via email there will be four other passengers but when we settled the balance payment at their office, they told us we will be the only ones on the cruise. Luckily, we were only asked to pay US$98 pp even though their website states US$125 pp if there are less than 10 people.
Our guide Mu was an ethnic minority girl from Sapa. She is less than 20 years old and speaks with a fake American slang. She picked up her boyfriend (as shown) along the way to Halong City. Dating in front of your guests when you're supposed to be at work is unprofessional and inappropriate. As agreed earlier, they did not stop at any handicraft or handicap village on the way.
Mu told us this ship was newly constructed. It reeked of sewer though. My family stayed in the upper cabins while I had a cabin to myself in the lower deck. It's hot and dark inside the cabins (no electricity in the day) so remember to bring a torchlight when you visit the toilet inside your room. Mu left us on our own and went to take a nap on the top deck. So lazy!
It was good to be away from the busy Hanoi traffic and take in the beautiful surroundings. Come to think of it, it's my first time on a cruise. It got a little monotonous after a while so I had a go at the wheel. No matter how I turned or looked at the vertical wooden pole in front of me, I just couldn't tell if the ship was changing direction at all so I gave up lol. We must have sat on the ship for about three good hours and I was glad we could finally move our limbs when we were asked to get down the ship. We had a look around Lang Chai Cua Van floating fishing village on small boats and it was nice watching my father waving and smiling to the kids living there. We anchored for the night and since there was nothing to do again, I took a dip in the bay (with a buoy of course) much to the disapproval of my mom. Dinner was full of fried and oily food (french fries, fried chicken, fried crab) which were unhealthy and not ideal for my parents. It started to drizzle at night and we couldn't lie on the deck to see the stars.
Next morning, I was woken up by a crew member cleaning my cabin window. We paddled for an hour while my parents watched and took videos of us. My sis and I were deciding whether to let a ship pass or beat the ship. Everyone on the ship was frantically waving and shouting at us to steer clear. I don't think we could beat the ship so I tried to paddle backwards while she paddled forwards and we ended up in a static position. In the end we just watched the ship scraped past our kayak lol. That was classic. Lunch was another round of fried stuff (fried prawns, fried pork, fried can't remember what's in the balls). Disappointing service as I had requested for less oily food last night. I do not recommend going with Ethnic Travel if you are travelling with folks with special dietary requirements. It was also frustrating corresponding with them via email as they didn't bother to answer my questions properly (some not truthfully for instance I was told we would get to visit some caves but they didn't bring us to any) and only cared about securing my deposit. It started to drizzle (again) when we were heading back to mainland. Tested and proven May is not so good time to go Halong Bay. Visit in February-April if you can.
Final dinner at New Day. Cheap and good food! That's the end of my family trip to Hanoi!
So many operators which one to choose? For a start, read Travelfish's What to expect on a Halong bay cruise and related reviews on the different types of cruises. Trip reports and experiences with local operators posted on travel forums are useful resources too. You can't go too wrong with a mid-range cruise. Seek clarifications on the number and type of activities you will get to do. If you are particular about food, check with the company how the meals on board are prepared and constantly remind them of any special dietary requirements so that you won't end up in my situation. It would be worthwhile to spend a little more if the company is known to have supported special requests before. Good luck!