If you are looking for the best Halong Bay cruises to get off the beaten track then look no further. After jumping on about 15 boats to have a poke around and taking four cruises, not to mention hours of online research, I finally have the answer!
I spoke recently about how to pick the best cruise in Halong Bay, but today I want to focus solely on getting off the beaten track. For those who are not familiar with Halong Bay prepare yourself, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Just imagine sailing around a huge bay full of thousands of islets piercing through green water the colour of emeralds – it is just magical.
Unfortunately word has definitely got out, and there are now about 300 boats that operate – in peak season, the large bay can feel quite busy with tourists, which is perhaps not the idyllic experience you are after. That is why, for me, it is more important than ever to get off the beaten track in Halong Bay, and here’s my top ways to do it.
1) Take a private charter cruise
Paradise Privilege (pictured here) is the ultimate luxury private-charter cruise for Halong Bay. Its three handsomely appointed rooms, are decked out in dark woods and soft, light flowing fabrics, making it the perfect option for a private charter. (To check out more pictures click here). It has a big, spacious sundeck perfect for a private party or two. Private chartering a junk is ideal for those who want to get off the beaten track in Halong Bay because you can choose your route and do your best to get away from the other boats, most of which take similar routes across the bay. It is much easier to avoid the crowds if you are designing your own route, with the help of an experience travel operator or agent. Paradise Peak costs about £835 to hire for a one-night cruise, which between four or six of you is the same price as a standard cruise of this class anyway. If you are looking for something cheaper, check out the terrific one-bed Princess Junk, which can be hired from just £400 a night.
2) Pick a cruise that prides itself on taking a different route to the rest
I absolutely love Treasure Junk (pictured here) for this very reason. I discovered this cruise after reading some excellent reviews online and was impressed by their website, which promised customers it would get them off the beaten track in Halong Bay. I was a little sceptical at first so boarded the cruise for a night to see if they could deliver. And they did. The cruise is not super luxurious, compared to others I have tried like this, but it was very comfortable, the staff were tremendous and the food was top notch. But better still, we barely saw another boat once we had motored away from the crowds. It still visits some of the highlights including a floating village where I saw a fair few boats but for the swimming and snorkelling etc it felt like we had the bay to ourselves – which is amazing. It costs from about £220 including the shuttle bus from Hanoi for two people for one night. For more details click here.
3. Stay on an island for a few days rather than just taking a cruise
Imagine waking up to this view for a few days, not bad, eh?! Cat Ba Island is the largest inhabited island and the only real option for spending a night or two on ‘dry land’ in Halong Bay. It is beautiful and remarkably under-developed for such a touristy area, because everybody else does it on a cruise. You can catch the public ferry here for a few pennies (which counts as a cruise, right?!) and then spend as long here as you want – there are rock climbing opportunities on the amazing karsts and the beaches have probably the best views in Halong Bay. What’s the catch? Yes, I’m afraid there is one – the hotels are not of a great standard. The best option on the island is Cat Ba Sunrise Resort, where rooms cost from about £90 but it’s a bit too big and dated for my liking. There are lots of other backpacker options on the island but nothing top-end.
So, happy cruising gang, do send any questions my way if you are considering which cruise to go for! There is no setting quite like that of the sundeck of a Halong Bay cruise, where you can sip your Gin and Tonic surrounded by dozens of islets. Mmmm, take me back there now!