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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Northern Vietnam: Indochina Sails Luxury Cruise at Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site at Quang Ninh Province.

Initially, one of my travel buddy wasn't up to the idea of staying overnight because of unfortunate recent events of tourists drowning due to a sinking junk and suggested to do a day trip instead. A day trip to Halong Bay is possible but might be too taxing since it takes more than 2 hours (per way) to get there from Hanoi.  As for me, a trip to Vietnam isn't complete without an overnight stay in a junk in Halong Bay so I had to convince my peer and spent hours to google for options, read reviews, and checked the age of the junk!

Tripadvisor's top picks are the Red Dragon Junk and Paloma Cruise while travel blogger Ironwulf suggests the Aloha Junk through Handspan Travel Adventure.  Handspan is a reputable travel agency in Hanoi and they offer bookings in several types of junk. It is recommended to take packaged or guided tours if you are going to visit Halong Bay. Doing it on your own would be more costly and you would run a risk of encountering some frauds.

For $167 per person, we arranged with Handspan to be booked with luxury cruise Indochina Sails for 2D/1N.

Included in the package:
• Accommodation on Indochina Sails Junk
• Welcome drinks
• Meals as specified in the program:  lunch buffet, plated dinner, morning tea, brunch; (beverage excluded)
• Travel in an appropriate air-conditioned vehicle with an experienced driver to/from Handspan Office in Hanoi  (they do not offer hotel pick-up)
• The services of an experienced English-speaking guide (or French upon request)
• Entrance fees
• VAT and other taxes


8:00 We were running late after breakfast in our hotel in Hanoi.  We hurriedly went to Handspan Adventure Travel via taxi with our overnight bags.  After passport check, we were taken to board a coaster along with other travelers. There were several young backpackers and an old couple.  The guide was entertaining.  We were asked to introduce ourselves.  We somehow received a knowing look from the guide after knowing we were from the Philippines, young and taking a luxury cruise!  I'm sure he can't believe it and asked if we worked in some international companies.  In all modesty, we didn't have to brag about anything, a smile is enough, we just want to experience luxury this time.

9:30 Stop at a factory for pee break.

11:30  Arrive at Bai Chay/Halong pier.  The young backpackers were dropped off in different junk terminals  while we, along with the old couple, were dropped off at Indochina Sails waiting lounge.

12:15 Shortly, we were transferred by tender to the Indochina Sails boat, got some welcome drink and receive cruise briefing and so the cruise began.  We were in awe how spacious the junk was and it was perfectly neat and comfortable.
two twin bed room

the sun deck of Indochina sails
13:00  Lunch - deluxe Vietnamese and International buffet.  The clams was superb!

Massage service is available beginning after lunch and throughout the cruise but we had to pass on this, we just had one at Hoi An.
a picturesque view of the karst on a hazy day
14.30  Arrived at Titop Island. "Enjoy swimming, relaxing on the beach and climbing the steps to the top of the mountain on the island for fantastic views and photo opportunities." was our itinerary.  The weather in Halong Bay in late March was cool, 18 degrees, the ice cold water wasn't inviting at all. The junks were perfectly anchored with their false sail up for a picture perfect view of Halong Bay's karst and junks.
view of Halong Bay on top of Titop Island 

looked like an orchestrated entertainment since they left on an Indochina sail tender when we did

15.15 Transferred back to the boat and sail for approximately 45 minutes to our second destination - the Bat Cave area.
afternoon coffee at the deck
16.15 Arrived at the Bat Cave area. There are two programs to choose from at this time. One option is a 40 minute kayaking program to the nearby Bat Cave and lagoon and surrounding waters. Kayaking is $10 per person unless already booked as part of your package. Water is supplied.
sampan ride at the fishing village was not a must
The second option is to visit the largest floating fishing village in Halong Bay. We will travel to the village on the tender and tour the village for approximately 20 minutes.

At this weather, option one wasn't an option. :)
18:30  Arrived at Luon Bo area and anchored overnight.
19:00  Dinner - deluxe Vietnamese & Western Buffet or Set Menu Dinner.
20:30  Evening activities include: film entertainment in the dining room at approximately 9:15, night fishing, board games and playing cards are available.
playing scrabble for the first time!  didn't realize that is was part of the itinerary haha

21:00 – 23:00  Happy Hour! Buy one drink - get one free (wine excluded).
dine and wine!  too bad my taste of wine wasn't on promo

23.00  End of program for Day One

6:45  Coffee, tea and breakfast pastries served in the dining room.
Taichi in the morning with such a pretty view
7:00  Arrive at the Surprise Cave area, there is a small fishing village here. Relax onboard. You may join Tai Chi instruction on the sundeck at 7:00, duraion about 30 minutes.
halong bay vendor

8:00  Transfer by tender to the Surprise Cave. Walk up the 100 steps to the entrance of the cave and tour on foot for approximately 45 minutes.

9:00  Upon return to the boat, we had a short time to freshen up.  We had to put our luggage outside the cabins already (staff will transfer to the pier). Depart for Bai Chay/Halong pier.
9:30 Breakfast buffet (or should I say brunch) was served in the dining room. Settled bills in the dining room after breakfast.
tasty Pho!  had two servings of this :)
10:00  "Relaxed on the sundeck or in the dining room and enjoy the bay scenery as we approach the pier."  We opted to... play scrabble again! This must be our new past time.
10:45  Arrive at Bai Chay/Halong pier.
11:00  Transfer by tender to the pier, relax inside the pier building while waiting for return transportation.
view of the rice fields from Halong to Hanoi

20:30 Arrived in Hanoi.

We had an excellent stay at the Indochina Sail and taking the luxury cruise Indochina sail was worth every penny.  These pictures tells the story.


  1. i am looking for "love is a decision"...where is it? ;-)

  2. ahahaha :) it's not about me, not really hehe

  3. thinking of going to vietnam in the quite near future. cruises are not my thing but if i have my family with me, probably compromise and someday when i get older hehe

  4. hi tutubi (backpacking philippines), i thought so too that cruises isn't my thing, surprisingly, I enjoyed the laid back itinerary.