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Thought Wimdu just did apartments? Think again. You can also sleep on a junk boat in Vietnam too!
When I was booking accommodation in Hanoi through Wimdu, I also saw a few Halong Bay Cruises listed. Cruising Halong Bay is one of those things you have to do if you’re in Northern Vietnam, and lots of tours depart from Hanoi. Remember, whether you’re beginning your trip in Hanoi or one of the other international airports, you’ll need to have a valid visa, so you can either apply the traditional way at an embassy or obtain a Vietnam visa on arrival online.
I was keen to do an overnight cruise, so I went ahead and booked a 2 day/1 night cruise (2*) through Wimdu. I contacted the host to check for availability, and once I received a reply, I went ahead with the booking. After the booking was accepted by the host, she then contacted me by email to get the address of my previously booked hotel in Hanoi so the shuttle bus could make the pick-up. There are so many Halong Bay cruises advertised all over Hanoi that it can be difficult to know which one to choose- I think the boats are all fairly similar to be honest. While the name of the cruise company wasn’t disclosed in the Wimdu listing, it turned out to be with a company called Halong Dugong Sail.
The tour leaves at 8am when the shuttle bus picks you up from your hotel. The 4-hour drive to Halong City is broken up with a rest stop at a craft centre, where you can watch Vietnamese lacquer paintings being made. I didn’t buy anything, but it was interesting to watch the craftsmen at work.
On arrival in Halong Bay we boarded the junk boat, where we were given welcome drinks and checked into our rooms. We enjoyed a Vietnamese lunch, then dropped anchor to explore Sung Sot Cave, which is full of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is pretty impressive, and the view from the top near the exit is gorgeous.
Afterwards we spent 30-minutes kayaking around the bay to explore the floating villages, before taking a smaller boat to an islet for sunset. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks on deck (drinks are at your own expense), before enjoying a banquet of food in the dining room. There wasn’t much going on in the evening, so a few of us chatted over a few beers, before eventually going to bed.
The following day we had to get up at 07:30am for breakfast, but then had 2 hours of free time before our 09:30 check out. I have no idea why we needed to have such an early start, only to go back to our rooms. After check-out we were served an early lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon sailing back to the harbour. So while this is a 2-day cruise, really the second day doesn’t have any activities.
Our traditional wooden junk had 3-floors; there was an upper deck with sun loungers, then a restaurant and bar downstairs. Most of the cabins were on the bottom floor.
The room had Asian-inspired decor, with a double bed and clean white linen. There was a plug socket in the room so you could charge electronics, and the bathroom had a hot shower with towels and soap. Surprisingly, the water tank even had a water softener attached to it – quite the fancy shower water for a boat. If you want to have a hot shower though you should get up early, as the hot water runs out pretty quickly on a boat like this. I was really impressed with cleanliness and standard of the cabin.
With thousands of limestone islets, the scenery in Halong Bay is pretty incredible. If you’re lucky enough to go on a sunny day then it would be even more beautiful, but it was December and a bit foggy. At night it looks really pretty and peaceful with all the junk boats lit up on the water.
The weather was cold and rainy, so we didn’t feel much like sitting up on deck. I think if the sun had been shining, we would have had a different experience. Instead we spent the entire second day huddled up indoors sailing back to the shore.
The food was excellent and it was a novelty to sleep on a junk boat for a night, but I would have preferred something with a bit more entertainment. Most of the other tourists on the boat were much older, and there just wasn’t much going on. I think some people would really like this cruise, but next time I go back I would like to do the Halong Bay Party Boat so I could mix with younger backpackers and have a bit more fun.
As I said before though, I think the difference between the various junk boat cruises is fairly minimal, so I wouldn’t worry about which you choose.
Wimdu supplied me with a voucher for my accommodation. All opinions are my own.