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HFP in Vietnam: My one night river cruise with Paradise Cruises on Halong Bay

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This is my review of a one night cruise on Halong Bay with Paradise Cruises.

This article is part of our series on Vietnam. You can read more about my trip in Vietnam, including reviews of business class on Vietnam Airlinesa review of premium economy on Vietnam Airlines, the Hilton Hanoi Opera, the MGallery by Sofitel Royal Hoi An and a review of the Sailing Club Resort Mui Ne.

As a reminder, all flights and hotels, and this cruise, were arranged by Vietnam Airlines, whilst HFP paid for all its incidental expenses.

Paradise Cruises operates several different levels of overnight cruises. I was on the Paradise Elegance, which appears to be their mid-tier offering and their most popular option, given they had two boats out. An average nightly rate (all inclusive, bar drinks) is around $300.

I was picked up from my hotel (the Hilton Hanoi Opera) by Paradise Cruises in a small luxury minibus with comfy chairs, water and wifi.

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Vietnam transfer

It is about a two hour drive to Tuan Chau island, which is the gateway to Halong Bay. The town itself is currently in the midst of a huge transformation, positioning itself as a resort. The pace of development is incredible to see – although, at the moment, it is more of a ghost town!

I was dropped off at a nice cafe/ boutique clothing / Paradise Cruises check in location. Check in is quick and they take your bags off you.

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Vietnam

You are then shuttled by golf buggy to the boat (ship?) which looks like this:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance

… and board, heading to the restaurant for the safety briefing and welcome dance (!). After that you have about 45 minutes to an hour to unpack and check out your room, before lunch.

The room

This was my room:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance bedroomand

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance bedroom

….which I think was one of the best of the vessel, given it had two windows and a wrap-around balcony:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance balcony

The bathroom comes with a shower AND free-standing bathtub, positioned for the best view out of the window:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance bathtuband

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance shower

The room has the usual amenities you would expect from a hotel including safe, open wardrobe, mini fridge, kettle, TV etc. The bathroom is fitted with pump-action amenities to be eco-friendly and filtered water is bottled in reusable glass bottles.

Lunch

Lunch is in the restaurant, which is where all meals are served. This is what it looks like:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dining roomand

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dining room

Everyone has an assigned seat, since there are no spare tables. Lunch consists of a buffet:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance buffet

and

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance buffet

It is not a huge buffet but you are unlikely to go hungry! Here is what I had:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance lunch

Drinks come at extra expense unless you have a beverage package. These prices are roughly what you’d expect in terms of hotel pricing, so they are not cheap. If you ask for water you are given bottled German water which is weird, given that you could literally grab some bottles from your room for free.

During lunch you enter Halong Bay itself – and can enjoy the magnificent views:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Eleganceand

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance

Cave excursion

Before long you have the choice to go on the first excursion – a large cave on one of the islands. There are many other boats doing the same tour so it is not a peaceful experience but it is not massively overcrowded either.

Here is the cave:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay cave

… whilst this is the view from the cave entrance:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance

Every time you return to the boat you are offered a cold towel which is much needed after the Vietnamese heat!

Oyster pearl farm

The second excursion is not long after the first, to a pearl farm. You can choose to go kayaking instead for $20 for two people but you are basically limited in where you can go so I thought I’d learn some more about pearls!

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay oyster farm

andParadise Cruises Halong Bay oyster farm

It is an interesting although very short tour. It would have been nice for it to go into a little more depth.

Once you return to the boat you have a few hours before dinner to enjoy the sunset from the sun deck. It really is an unbeatable view:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay sunset

There is also a cooking demonstration with audience participation and you can choose to buy cocktails during happy hour, which comes out at about $3 per drink.

Dinner

Dinner is in the restaurant from an a la carte Menu, split into Asian and western options (you can pick and choose between the two). It is, frankly, a very enticing menu and I spent an age torn between several dishes. In the end I went for the Marinated beef and green banana salad with tamarind dressing:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dinner

…. which was incredible. This was followed by sweetcorn and chicken soup:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dinner

The grilled king prawns with Vietnamese spices served on steamed rice with orange sauce:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dinner

And finally a fried banana with caramel syrup and ice cream:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance dinner

The starter was fantastic. The main was excellent but I thought two prawns was a little stingy, especially since they had all you can eat prawns at the lunch buffet!

From 9pm there is musical entertainment in the piano bar, or you can go squid fishing (!) I decided to do neither and instead had an early night.

Day 2

The following morning starts early with tai chi at 6:30 if you so want. At 7:30 there is an excursion to another island with a climb to a viewing pagoda as well as a small (artificial I think) beach. At 8:30 you are back on the boat for a breakfast buffet, which again has Asian and western options including (bizarrely!) chicken nuggets. You can also order some fresh items, such as eggs, from an a la carte menu:

Paradise Cruises Halong Bay Paradise Elegance breakfast

Following breakfast you must pack and settle your bill, before enjoying the short cruise to port.

Conclusion

The distances cruised are not particularly long – you are always about an hour from the mainland, and can see the coastline lights during the night.

Whilst the excursions are enjoyable they are not particularly special – more of an excuse to get off the boat. The main attraction of the cruise is obviously the view of Halong Bay and the best, by far, is the view from the boat’s sun deck.

The quality of the food was great and I was impressed by the amount of choice given, especially for dinner. It’s a little ridiculous to charge for water at meal times, however, given they give it out for free the rest of the time!

It would be amiss to visit Vietnam and not see Halong Bay, and these cruises are by far the best way to do it. Paradise Cruises appears to be one of the bigger companies operating in the area and from my experience you can be sure of good treatment!

You can read more about the cruise options on the Paradise Cruise page here.

HFP in Vietnam: Review of the Hilton Hanoi Opera
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Comments

  1. No links to a booking page or guidance on pricing?

  2. filipino_chino says:

    looks a bit more upper class than the one i went on (been on them twice now) – good fun, but the price people is all over the place… one person paid double what i paid… he was not one happy backpacker….

  3. memesweeper says:

    I few years ago we took a truly wonderful tour with a low—ish budget operator called Cat Ba Ventures. The experience was absolutely wonderful. If you can get to Cat Ba island under your own steam (we flew to HPH Cat Bi and got a ferry) it’s worth it.

  4. Yes, wonder what the cost is of that excursion. I did it as a day trip, looks great sleeping on the boat though. My trip was on a traditional boat that could cater for 25ish although there was only 7 of us and I paid $25 USD… including transfers from Hanoi. Ok that was in 2010 !

  5. Greenpen says:

    Two night cruise is better. You may not actually travel much further but there will be a visit to a much better and uncrowned cave together with swimming and kayaking, or simply more time to relax cruising through the formations. The cave in the review was rammed when I visited, slow moving queue all the way up to the entrance and full inside. You had to wait to get onto the outside viewing area as there were so many boat loads of people. Waiting in the cave for this was a bit like being in a sauna!

    There are lots of tours and it is difficult to know in advance where exactly they go. Both my nights were well away from shore lights. The boat was smaller so it might have been just that it could tuck itself away from such a view by getting further into a set of rock formations. There are tour companies that seem to sort out your trip and I ended up on Swan Cruises. I guess it was cheaper than the one in this review, no a la carte, but plenty of good food. It was an enjoyable cruise.

    • Yes plenty of options. Better to wait til you get there to book locally. Usually half the price of advertised o es. And def do the 2 night trip, very relaxing. We didn’t have a la carte either but the food was simply amazing. So tasty.
      Hope Cambodia is as good for taste and flavours next month. No river trips planned as yet. But looking forward to seeing Siem.

      • I found the food in Cambodia to be about 20% as good as the food in vietnam. Siem reap is unbelievable though.

        • Lady London says:

          I would love some feedback on Laos.

          • I haven’t been back for a few years, but Luang Prabang is just beautiful, Vientiane is often aptly described as the world’s biggest village, I really liked loafing in a hammock on my veranda, overlooking the Mekong at Si Phan Don, and there’s no end of stunning waterfalls and treks into the jungle to be done.
            Not really sure this would be your thing (but you do like your adventures with hille, so who knows!), but the Gibbon Experience was one of my favourite things I’ve done in all my years of travels. Google it!

        • ankomonkey says:

          +1

          Cambodia still holds the prize for me of worst meal ever. I can’t forget it, no matter how hard I try. I’m a glutton – a complete pig of a man – but this was a meal I left. Hopefully things have improved since 2006, when I visited.

        • Lady London says:

          Are these not some of the old war sites? would that not be depressing?

          • Everywhere in that bit of the world is an old war site. You wouldn’t know it now, in most places. It’s not depressing, unless you head to one of the war museums, the killing fields or S21. They aren’t happy places.

          • A primary school around the corner from us has a plaque on the outside commemorating the 70+ US servicemen who were killed when a bomb hit a building on the spot during the war ….

          • Shoestring says:

            which is why Boris & his ilk are so wrong – Europeans killing Europeans over nothing much: frequent cases in history & quite recent; we need mechanisms to stop warmongers starting stuff that kills/ maims our young people for no point when you look at it 20 years later

      • The food is incredible in Cambodia, I actually preferred it to the food in Vietnam, but not everyone does. Lok lak was my favourite!

        Are you going anywhere else in Cambodia, or just Siem Reap?

        • Polly, I hope you have an absolute blast in Cambodia! It’s been too long since my last visit to Siem Reap to give you any restaurant recommendations, but if you want my unsolicited temple advice…

          Head for the most popular temples (like Ta Promh and the Bayon) when everyone heads back into town at lunch, the tourist hordes thin out considerably then (but you’ll never get them to yourselves).  It might be a good time to see Angkor Wat, but that temple is always crowded!  Time it well, because the hordes will be back!

          If you’re going to get up for a dawn temple visit, I recommend going to one of the really far-flung ones, like Banteay Srei or Beng Mealea – you should arrive long before the tour buses and might actually have them to yourselves, or almost to yourselves, until the tour buses start to roll in at 08:30 ish. Dawn visits to Ta Promh, the Bay on and Angkor Wat are usually still pretty crowded! I particularly enjoyed Beng Mealea – I think one of the guide books described it as making Ta Promh look like they forgot to mow the lawn, which was pretty apt.  I ended up paying some local kids 50p to take me on a guided tour and we ended up clambering up and over the ruins, and then doing a rooftop tour, it was great fun!

          It’s also worth having a book with you, so that if you get temple fatigue, you can just tell your driver to take you to a really quiet, tall temple with a view from the top, and then find a spot to sit and read and soak in the view in peace.  I found Ta Keo was pretty good for this.

          • Thank you, Cat, knew some advice was coming from your direction.. have taken notes. Hotel did suggest early morning dawn visits, but lunch time sounds better for us oldies…they also suggest not going to the main big temples but a couple of temples near by, less numbers etc…But, looking forward to the war sites too, even if bad memories.
            We really did love the Vietnam war stuff, gory l know, but it did happen, and the locals we met and spoke to really appreciated tourists interest in their country and history. Off the beaten track is interesting for us too. Will report back.
            We are all really lucky on this site to be able to just go to these amazing places, so am forever grateful for help and advice…
            PS. Exactly how many countries have you visited Cat???? Have you counted? Apart from one other couple we know, you have to be about the most travelled person l have ever met!

          • Follow the hotel recommendations for quieter temples, definitely, but you don’t want to miss the main ones – Ta Promh is just incredible, with its massive buttress roots growing out of the masonry. Angkor Wat is incredibly beautiful (despite the crowds) and the massive faces of the Bayon have to be seen to be believed. They’re definitely better visited at lunch though.

            Costa Rica, where I went this summer after TdMB, was country number 52 (UN rules, not football teams, or that daft traveller’s century club list). I do my best! The joys of being a teacher with 13 weeks holiday to fill a year…

          • Tnx for further info. Our daughter says we must not miss that big ones either, so we will go off peak times, if such a thing exists…wow, 52 countries..that’s something…P

  6. We managed to get left behind on the Kayak trip on our Halong Bay cruise, My daughter was concerned that our happy hour cocktails were melting then noticed that we were following our cruise boat in a dingy! It seems that no one counted them off, then counted them on….
    Definitely make the effort to get out of bed for the Tai Chi it was great.

  7. I made the mistake of allowing my then boyfriend to book the Halong bay trip. I think he got conned by a clone of the reputable travel agency that was recommended to us (although he insisted that he wasn’t), a problem that’s easily avoided with Google maps now. Our cruise was an absolute omnishambles involving sitting in the dock waiting to depart for 3 hours, the vegetarian option being rice with soy sauce, and there being no drinking water at all, so we had to buy ridiculously overpriced soft drinks.
    It was about $20 pp though!
    We ended up going back and spending 3 nights on Cat Ba island to make up for it, we found someone to hire kayaks from for $2.50 each for the entire day and spent a blissful day paddling wherever we wanted, miles away from anyone else!
    This is making me want to go back.

  8. Lady London says:

    Is it actually worth seeing even though Halong Bay seems to be growing into something very touristy?

    • Yes, absolutely! I recommend staying on Cat BA island though, and basing yourself there, purely because you don’t end up on this set route, seeing the same crowded cave as everyone else, or kayaking with hundreds of other people at the same time. The more luxury tour operators may make more of an effort to avoid the crowds though.
      It is absolutely stunning LL!

      • Lady London says:

        Tx Cat

      • Yes, those in the know are deliberately avoiding Halong, just too many boats. Much quieter parts near by. Just be asking 3 or 4 tourists shops on old town, you will find an agent going off track. And if you pay some extra, you can just do a private boat too. Our hotel, small local place, was brilliant at recommending off the beaten track stuff.

  9. Talking about unnecessary wars. Saw Official Secrets tonight, brilliant portrayal of Katherine Nun, by KK. Brought it all back. Then watching the bumbling today in Parliament, disasters looming…

  10. Interesting that your coach transfer was only 2 hours, same journey on the Exodus trip is 4 hours, Hanoi traffic perhaps?

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