We booked very little before our trip to SE Asia. We had a guesthouse for our first few nights in Hanoi, a Hanoi Kids walking tour and a 3 day/2night boat trip to Ha Long Bay.
This was our splurge! We stayed in guest houses and ate on the streets, mainly because we enjoyed it! However, for the Ha Long Bay trip I didn’t hold back. Can it be done for a reasonable price? Yes! Did we? Nope!
We splurged on our cruise in Ha Long Bay for two reasons:
1. I wanted to be picked up and dropped off in Hanoi. I enjoy local transportation but sometimes I just don’t want to have to work so hard to get somewhere! I do all of the planning and organizing, and sometimes I just need a break.
2. I wanted to go to Bai Tu Long Bay. A lot of my trip planning research suggested that Ha Long Bay could get packed with boats, making for a rather disappointing experience. Bai Tu Long Bay was the opposite, quiet and peaceful, and they look exactly the same.
After much research, I booked us on a cruise with Indochina Junk as it was the only tour operator at the time with a license for Bai Tu Long Bay. It was definitely worth it!
We went on a little tour of Hanoi to the office to confirm our booking and pick up our tickets the day prior to boarding. It was a bit of a hassle, it would have been nice to be able to print something off from home, but we enjoyed wandering the city.
The car came around to pick us up at our guesthouse without a hiccup, and brought us to a bus for the 3’ish hour drive to Ha Long Bay. The initial boat ride travels through Ha Long Bay, so we didn’t feel like we had to give up one for the other. Ha Long Bay, as advertised, had a fair number of different sized boats mulling around. It was nice to get past that and into less chartered waters. Our boat was docked with 3 others each night, and other than that we did not see a single other ship.
The 2 night/3 day cruise is really one full day and two half-days. The first afternoon I had the opportunity to go kayaking while Randy stayed on the boat with the girls. We had a lovely dinner with the 5 other passengers, enjoyed a cocktail, and relaxed on the deck while watching the sun set.
Our full day on the boat was great. We fit a lot in without ever feeling rushed. The morning began with a small boat ride to a secluded beach where the girls put their toes in the South China Sea. Randy got his chance to go kayaking while I played on the beach with the girls.
After lunch we went to the floating village Cong Dam. It is amazing to think that the 120 villagers live their whole lives on the water. They have a small fish farm and a school built with money from Indochina Junk. The kids only go to school when they have a teacher, which is not all the time. It’s crazy to think that a few small groups of people tour through this village every day! I am sure it plays a large role in their local economy, but I can’t help but think that they may feel a bit on display. All of us Westerners snapping pictures and gawking at them living their every day life. That being said, I still took pictures!
The chef prepared a wonderful dinner on our second night. Calais especially loved the sugared corn!!
The staff on the boat were so accommodating. They loved playing with the girls and spent time playing with them while we relaxed on the upper deck.
Our last morning on the boat we sailed to Thien Canh Son Cave. It is a short hike up the hill and then an easy walk through the cave. Some tours have dinner in the cave, but I was happy enough to just walk through it. There are many interesting stalactite and stalagmite features. I think if the girls were older they would have loved this!
Our Junk docked back in the harbour around lunch-time. Many of the boats seem to get back at about the same time. We separated from our cruise-group and hopped on a bus to head off to tour Yen Duc Village.
Tips for visiting Ha Long Bay with Kids:
1. Book in Advance. There are not a lot of things that you need to book in advance when traveling, but Ha Long Bay is one of them. It is a popular tourist destination, and especially in high season tours book up quickly.
2. Visit Bai Tu Long Bay. I highly recommend heading beyond Ha Long Bay and into Bai Tu Long Bay. At this time Indochina Junk is the only tour company with a permit to tour in Bai Tu Long Bay. They were well organized, the staff was fantastic, and the food great. Sure you pay a bit more for it, but everything in Vietnam is so cheap that this is actually just reasonably priced. It just seems pricey in comparison!!
3. Book more than 1 night. The way that tours seem to work means that one night is about 24 hours, 2 night sis 48 hours, and so on. If you only book one night you get an afternoon and a morning, that’s it. Especially with kids I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights. This way you get a full day in the bay and it is a bit more relaxing.
4. Be prepared to “take turns”. Most things are very easy for the whole family to enjoy, however many tours often include kayaking. This is not child friendly, so only one parent will be able to go at a time. Luckily for us we had two opportunities to kayak on our tour, so we took turns. If you go into it knowing that you just might not be able to do everything, you won’t be as disappointed.