Spending a night on Vietnam’s Halong Bay is on many a travel wish list, but after experiencing it for myself I’ve realized there’s a slight problem with that idea. One night on a Halong Bay cruise may be lovely, but when you finally make it to this natural wonder you should really stay for at least two.
It’s a thought that first came to me as I floated beside our daytime explorer boat at Vung Ha Island. That morning I had farewelled my fellow travellers on board one of Paradise Cruises’ Paradise Luxury ships and joined the other two nighters from the company’s sister ships for a day out.
Everyone else on my ship had opted for the single night option, and as I floated in jade coloured water with jagged limestone cliffs rising above me and a secluded sandy beach to my side I realised that the people I’d had breakfast with were now back on dry land and either on their way home or on to their next adventure.
Now you shouldn’t feel too sorry for them, as we had shared a pretty wonderful day and night together. We’d cruised through Halong Bay’s dramatic islands and islets, visited the beautiful Sung Sot Cave, or Cave of Surprises, watched a spectacular sunset and been treated to some delicious Vietnamese dishes including traditional Halong squid cakes, caramelized tiger prawn with coconut milk, chili and garlic, and deep fried soft shell crab with tamarind sauce.
But by leaving after one night they missed out on the chance to explore more of this extraordinary part of the world, not to mention more time relaxing in luxury onboard.
Of course with around 2,000 islands and islets spread around 1,553 square kilometres it would take a very long time to see all of the bay, and I’m already thinking that on my next visit I’d like to spend a full week on the water to explore some more.
When I do, I’ll really be in the minority. Chatting to some of the cruise directors I discover that around 70% of people opt for one night on Halong Bay, while roughly 25% go for two nights, and the remaining 5% or so enjoy a three night cruise.
That’s not including those who simply go out for a day trip and don’t get the chance to see how the limestone cliffs take on a golden glow when the sun sets, or to wake up in what Vietnamese scholar and poet Nguyen Trai described as a “rock wonder in the sky”.
The Luxury of Paradise Cruises on Halong Bay
It’s been just over twenty years since UNESCO declared Halong Bay a World Heritage Site on the 17th December 1994, and over those years tourist numbers have soared from tens of thousands of visitors a year to more than three million.
There are around five hundred boats on the bay and lots of companies to choose from, and I was lucky enough to spend my time with Paradise Cruises.
I loved the way the company was dedicated to mixing Vietnamese traditions with world class hospitality, and the way their beautiful boats offer modern comforts within a traditional Vietnamese junk design.
There are four types of Paradise Cruises vessels and I had the chance to experience three of them.
My first day and night was spent on board one of their Paradise Luxury boats, which have 17 cabins per boat, a comfortable restaurant and bar, a spa, and a top deck with day beds where you can take in 360 degree views of the incredible scenery around you.
The next day, as the one nighters were being taken back to the pier, I went out on the Paradise Explorer. This day boat has no cabins for passengers to sleep in, but instead has sun lounges to relax on, a dining room where we enjoyed a Vietnamese banquet, and kayaks for people to borrow if they want to paddle to a beach or through an archway on a nearby islands.
Then I spent my second night on Paradise Peak, which is the company’s latest boat and a chance to experience absolute luxury on Halong Bay.
From the outside Paradise Peak and Paradise Luxury look very similar, but while the Luxury boats have 17 comfortable cabins including four suites, Paradise Peak is made up entirely of eight suites.
Every suite has its own balcony, dining area, large bathroom with a tub with a view by the window, and each one has its own butler.
I’m told passengers on Paradise Peak can be hard to find in the common areas or on the sundeck, as it’s so easy to disappear into your own pocket of luxury. Considering I never wanted to leave my suite I can see how that could be true.
That said I did make it out for dinner rather than ordering in, and I also joined in the cooking lesson on the sundeck. But yes, I’ll admit I didn’t quite make it to Tai Chi at sunrise the next day, something I had done on Paradise Luxury the morning before, instead opting for a soak in the tub and Pho in my suite for breakfast.
Finally, on the water at least, they have Paradise Privilege, which is described as the most intimate cruise in Halong Bay. Privilege is almost as large as the other two Paradise boats but it only takes up to eight people at a time, so is perfect for a small group of friends or a family.
On land they also have the beautiful Paradise Suites hotel, which is the perfect place to spend the night before your journey begins.
That said, if you have a very large group there have been times when Paradise Cruises have booked out every cabin across all of their ships so you can have more than 100 people travelling together.
In the end it doesn’t matter if you’re travelling with everyone you know, your best friend, or just travelling solo as I was, the important thing is you really should see Halong Bay at least once in your life. And when you do, make sure you spend more than one night.
And come and say hi if you see me sitting at the next table. I have a feeling it won’t be too long before I’m back.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Paradise Cruises however all opinions remain her own.
If you love cruising you may also like to check out my Rhine River cruise review of Uniworld’s SS Antoinette