One place where it’s worth it to spend the money is Ha Long Bay. You do NOT want to go cheap on a junk. Boats here are called “junks” and you really get what you pay for. I went with the best, Bhaya cruise line with their fleet of junks. Last year, they launched a new luxury boat called the Au Co. But for a family of 5, we needed a suite and an adjacent executive room and that was really expensive! However, after reading all the TripAdvisor reviews, I found out from other reviewers that if they had extra room on the Au Co, they will upgrade you free of charge. And that’s exactly what happened with our family. We got the Au Co for half the price! Who doesn’t love a good deal?
The boat was new, clean and gorgeous. You know you are on a great boat when passing passengers from other junks are taking pictures of your boat. It was the biggest boat and it had the permits to go out the furthest into the Gulf of Tonkin. Because of its size, the rocking and rolling of the waves were kept to a minimum. I did not have a good enough vantage point to take a picture of the real thing, but here’s a picture of the model of it. It really does look just like this.
The Au Co boat.
The nicest guy! Brian is with Bhaya Cruises and is based in HCMC. He assists in all the travel arrangements. His communications throughout the whole process was just top-notch. Brian represents the company really well and was tremendously helpful in getting us a refund when our trip was cancelled half-way due to a typhoon.
Brian, the friendliest guy.
Sailing out towards the Gulf of Tonkin, we spied a little lighthouse on this island.
Traditional Vietnamese shipping boat.
Headed to our first activity! The floating village in Ha Long Bay. Not sure if they installed those buoys as a guide for the tourists or not. Just kidding.
Hayley in the row boat. We are headed to the little cove(?) behind her in the distance.
Ha Long Bay floating village cove.
Our rower took this picture with the waves a little rough.
There were a lot of activities to do. There was night squid-fishing alongside the boat and that was too late for our kids who sleep quite early. However, they joined in all other activities such as swimming. I saw massive jelly fish from our 2nd floor balcony during our journey out, but at this spot, there was not any jellyfish that we could see.
Swimming in Ha Long Bay. Our kids were fearless! We were the first (and few) in the water.
The next day, we also went kayaking. There are no pictures from this upcoming part, but it was a doozy and you’ll know why I have no pictures to show. After endless fighting between Noah and Hayley over who got to paddle – so much for peace – Ed transferred Hayley over to my kayak with Ethan already in it. We had just transferred when an errant wave came and flipped the kayak. Now, these were not your standard issue kayaks: they were more like Styrofoam replicas of kayaks. They worked well enough but they were quite buoyant and easily tipped. The first flip was fine since it just dumped us into the ocean, but the second flip got Ethan and I bashed onto the jagged reefs resulting in many bloody scratches for him and deep gashes for me. Several foothold areas in the kayak filled up with my blood.
Little did we know that the atypical waves were caused by a typhoon that was on its way. The Vietnam Port Authority would shortly call in all boats and cancel all trips in the area. Ethan and I managed to save ourselves after the second flip. We righted the kayak over by standing on the reef (ouch!) and waited between waves to get on horizontally to prevent further tipping. We made to the nearest beach and all three kids were crying. It was not fun. Memorable, certainly.
After getting kayaking back to the big boat and getting showered and bandaged, the Ship Manager informed us that we had to head back to the port due to the typhoon. However, we managed to squeeze on more activity. We got to bike on Cat Ba Island and learned about the eco-village there.
Biking on Cat Ba Island. Seemed a bit like the island on Lost.
This was a good excursion but Ethan got bucked off his bike several times. He couldn’t get used to the brake on the bike being on the opposite side of what he was used to. After the beating from the reef this morning, he had no patience left for anything. He was really emotionally and physically wrecked this day.
Back to the Suite to relax. Hayley and her Daddy taking a break from the activities – in the Long An Suite.
The kids also enjoyed the beautiful vista seen from our suite deck.
They also had a Tea Ceremony where the Ship Manager taught us about the different tea varieties in Vietnam. We got samples of various teas and learned about how best to brew and serve tea. What a treat! After that, we all enjoyed Happy Hour! Noah, especially, loved the “Welcome Drink”.
All these activities took place over one and a half days. Au Co/Bhaya really packed it in and we did not spend much time in our rooms at all. It remains one of our favorite trips because there was so much to do.
Full stories and more photos can be found here: http://wentdiddone.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/do-not-cheap-out-in-ha-long-bay/