It had been a fair few years since I last visited Halong Bay and I was a bit nervous. I knew that it would be much busier that I remembered and what would all the white boats look like – a few years ago the local council decreed at all tourist boats operating in Halong Bay had to be completely painted white on the exterior (sails and all).
The arrival at the boat dock did not bode well. Instead of walking unsteadily down a long gangplank onto the boat we were arrived at one, of three, wharfs for what could only be described as a cruise embarkation. A waiting area, café, musicians & dancers to see us off and bags whisked away to the cabins. There were so many boats of all shapes and sizes that it seemed certain the whole area would be swamped.
The boat itself, The Au Co, is one of the most comfortable afloat in Halong Bay and there was masses of room on board. The cabins, almost all of which have balconies and big picture windows are spacious and the upper decks, promenade and bar area were excellent spots to relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
Having left the dock area and sailed out into the bay it became quickly clear that my concerns about the boat numbers were generally unfounded. Except at the night-time mooring, when boats have to congregate into a few specified zones, we hardly came across any other vessels. Halong Bay is a massive area with thousands of islets and it was amazing how easily the boats become dispersed.
What do you do in Halong Bay aside from relax onboard and watch the stunning landscape slip gently by? In the short time we were there we went sea kayaking to a deserted beach, swimming, night fishing, visited a floating fishing village, cycled on Cat Be island and explored caves. On top of that you are likely to be eating superb Vietnamese food and, in particular, some of the freshest seafood around.
There are many types of boat on offer of all shapes and sizes. The Au Co is at the top end of the scale – it’s sister company, Bhaya, has smaller less luxurious boats – and there should be something for everyone. Trips to Halong Bay are big business now however I would still definitely recommend a cruise for anyone visiting the north of Vietnam. There are lots of boats and if possible, try to make your cruise for 2 nights/3 days as the longer you stay the easier it is to get into the more remote areas. It’s a beautiful landscape and such a unique part of the country – you must try to make time for it.