Ha Long Bay is arguably one of the most – if not the most – popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. It’s legendary limestone clad mountainous islands, clear aquamarine waters, and labyrinths of secret caves provide the perfect setting for any traveler looking to capture the true beauty of Vietnam.
Primarily untouched and undeveloped, with the exception of a few designated caves and small fishing villages, the over 1,600 islets that make up this massive sight are almost perfectly preserved. Protected under law as a historical and cultural relict by the Vietnamese Government, Mother Nature (or more appropriately Mother Dragon) has supreme rule, and it’s clear from the lush green cliffs, clean unpolluted water, and multitude of exotic plants and animals, that the Bay is flourishing under this arrangement.
Translated literally, Halong means “descending dragon.” According to the legend, long long ago the ancient Vietnamese people were battling against Northern invaders who attacked from the sea. Unable to fully thwart the enemy’s advances, The Jade Emperor sent the “Mother Dragon” to defend the country. She descended down from the heavens with her children, and together they fought off the enemy with their fire and emeralds. The emeralds rained down from the sky, and over thousands of years turned into the islands of what we now know as Ha Long Bay. An adjacent area, where the dragons were first rumored to have appeared, is now named Bai Tu Long, meaning “thanks to the dragon’s children.”
It’s no wonder Ha Long Bay has been featured in big screen movies and serves as one of the iconic images representing Vietnam, it is without a doubt, one of the most intriguing and gorgeous locations.
Given the above, I could think of no better place to celebrate Vietnam’s National Independence Day Weekend, commemorating the Vietnam Declaration of Independence from France on September 2, 1945 … aka National Day. I can’t take credit for intentionally planning our trip to fall on this historic holiday, but when I was offered a chance to cruise on Ha Long Bay’s top premier ship, I couldn’t pass it up. It also just so happened we had a guest (and a new videographer!) coming into town that same weekend, so as all the moving pieces seamlessly came together last minute, it truly seemed meant to be.
I was impressed by Indochina Sails and their impeccable customer service from the start. I surprisingly, and quite randomly, learned of this voyage after a quick 18 hour trip with friends last month to Mai Chau’s Ecolodge. I fell in love with Ecolodge and the gorgeous Mai Chau Valley, and immediately upon leaving reached out to their marketing manager with the hopes of returning to collaborate.
This is one of those example where it pays to put yourself out there – it’s crazy to think I almost didn’t reach out, ignorantly and cynically thinking they wouldn’t be interested in working with social media bloggers. Never have I been so happy to be wrong! Long story short, they not only were very interested in collaborating, but owned a cruise line on Ha Long Bay, Indochina Sails. So alas, we come full circle.
From booking our accommodations, to going back and forth over the possible storm coming, to my many pestering questions and concerns, to finally confirming and arranging transportation, they were truly SUCH a pleasure to work with. Coming from someone who can be slightly anal and OCD at times, I was extremely impressed with how organized and smoothly the entire planning, cruising, and implementing of activities went. A private van came to pick us up outside of our neighborhood to drive us the 3 hours to the cruising docks, and we stopped half way to get drinks and snacks at a factory that employees the elderly and disabled. The driver was super friendly. We chatted a bit and he was happy to let me use his phone charger, as I had obviously drained my battery in under an hour via SnapChat overload.
Upon arriving we were ushered into an air conditioned waiting area while the crew prepared the ship, and given the best iced tea concoction I’ve ever had in my life. I’m still trying to figure out this recipe but I think it included an iced (green?) tea of some sort, honey, lemon, and cinnamon. Three iced teas and a short 30 minutes later we were shuttled out on a small boat to the Indochina Sails Premium.
As I boarded the ship, I was giddy with excitement and wide eyed with my camera glued to my side. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, and I was not going to risk missing a single moment. Another confession – this was not my first time to Ha Long Bay, nor my first cruise on the Bay. I’ve also sailed with a different company, who will remain nameless because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s livelihood or business (bad Karma!), but let’s just say Indochina Sails was far superior.
For starters, the interior of the ship was exquisite! I couldn’t believe all the intricate wood carvings and long elegant corridors, or how big and open it all appeared. I never once felt claustrophobic or stuck, as it’s easy to feel when on the average clunky over crowded cruise ship. The Indochina Sails Premium was far from over crowded, if anything it was under crowded, with only around 15-20 passengers total, excluding the staff. This was honestly one of Indochina’s best qualities, the ratio of staff to passengers, as well as the amount of space in the cabins, dining room, and deck left you feeling like you had your own private cruise!
The bathroom was one of the nicest I’ve seen in all of Asia. Let me say that again – the bathroom was one of the nicest I’ve seen in ALL of Asia, let alone the nicest on a cruise ship. It looked like it belonged in a palace! There was a beautiful full jacuzzi tub, a sprawling glass shower, and an elaborate marble vanity that I wanted to take home with me … but unfortunately it was in fact immovable and built into the structure. The cabin itself was spacious and the bed was incredibly comfortable. My favorite part was the private walk out balcony, and the large floor to ceiling windows. I purposely left the curtains wide open when I went to bed, so I was woken up the next morning by the sunrise and a breathtaking view of the bay.
24 hours on the ship was the perfect amount of time. I was able to relax and enjoy myself, while still finding time to participate in almost all of the activities. Between happy hours, cooking classes, and Thai Chi, not to mention kayaking, hiking, and cave exploring there was plenty to do. Kayaking through Ha Long Bay is something I will never ever forget.
It was so peaceful and humbling to be able to look all around at the towering islands while quietly listening to the birds, and occasionally seeing a fish or two jump out of the water. We kayaked through a small fishing village where the inhabitants live on floating docks 365 days of the year in brightly colored cottages. Kids and small dogs were running and jumping on small wooden boats, and I eagerly waved to a woman selling snacks from a boat she had turned into a mobile 7-11.
Our guide led us to this small cave under one of the islands to explore on our way to the fishing village!
We made our way back to the ship just as the sun was setting, and by the time we climbed back up to the boat & returned our kayaks, I witnessed one of the most jaw-dropping and colorful sunsets!
The next morning we had the option of visiting a beach on one of the islands, and hiking up to the top for a picturesque view of Ha Long Bay. I planned on going, until a friend I made the night before told me her and her Mother were headed out on a separate trip. They had requested to see the Hang Sung Sot Caves. Apparently their travel agent back in the UK had promised the caves were part of the itinerary, even though it clearly said on our specific cruise’s that we were to go to the beach. The cruise director, upon hearing of their complaint, immediately leapt into action to rectify the problem, and invited me to join.
I have to say I was blown away by how above and beyond this cruise director and the entire crew went to ensure all of our needs were met. For example, after hearing I had a food allergy, they created a completely new lunch menu specifically for me, and double checked every single plate that came to the table. I’m pretty sure if I had asked for a flying pony, a horse with wings glued to it’s back would have shown up outside my cabin door within 15 minutes.
Any other company would have told us our options were to go to the beach or stay on the ship, but the Indochina Sails cruise director made all the necessary arrangements and took the three of us herself into the caves for a full on private tour. It was incredible!
The view from Hang Sung Sot after hiking through the caves!
Below, the island where you have the option to swim and relax on the beach, or hike up to the top for a panoramic view!
My experience with Indochina Sails was nothing short of spectacular.
My only complaint was that when it came time to pack our bags, I didn’t want to leave! I could have stayed easily for a few more nights and been in my own little mermaid paradise. From the 5 star service, to the wide range of actives and excursions, to Ha Long Bay’s natural beauty, this is definitely a trip to put on your bucket list. I can’t wait to come back again!