Updated: Apr 15, 2020
After breakfast at the O'Gallery Hotel and Spa we were picked up by a small coach which was our transport to Halong Bay, all passengers on the coach would be our neighbours on the SilverSea Cruise although all of them would only be staying onboard for the one night option, we had chosen two nights. We were able to leave most of our luggage at the O'Gallery where we would then return in three days time and grab a change of clothes before heading on the overnight train to Sapa located at the very North of Vietnam.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of consisting of around 2000 limetone karst's which rise from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, part of the South China Sea. Over hundreds of thousands of years, erosion of the limestone karsts has turned what was once a solid land mass into the individual islets we see today. Many of these are still in a very unstable condition and partly due to this most of the islets are uninhabited, although it is estimated that around two thousand people call the islets home.
The first thing you noticed on climbing off the coach was the shear number of cruise boats which were in the port. Boats of all shapes and sizes, luxury sailboats, Chinese style junks, and modern vessels such as our own, but hundreds of them. Everyone then sat down in a designated waiting area and all paperwork and passports were seemingly checked by port officials and after a short wait we were allowed to get onto the tender boat and head towards the Silversea. We were welcomed onboard and given a safety briefing, and then allocated our rooms before setting sail into the bay. As the bay widens out there is plenty of space for all of the boats, although you rarely felt that you were alone.
The cabins were larger than I had expected with very comfortable beds and excellent bathrooms, the rooms we were in did not have balconies although this is an option. I would possibly have used the balcony if I was on a longer cruise but as this was only for two nights I could not really justify upgrading, as it was the rooms were fine for what we needed. The sundeck upper deck was the main socialising area and featured several sun loungers and a bar, it also had an artificial grass floor and was a great place to just laze around at the end of the day.
While sailing out into the bay we were given our first meal from the galley, the presentation of the food was first class and the taste matched this, I was going to eat well. Another member of our group is a very fussy eater and the crew also catered for her with delights such as egg and chips, or chips and egg. Meals would vary between buffet style and silver service, breakfast being a large buffet along with a' la carte options.
During the cruise there were several opportunities to leave the boat and climb up to view points, go kayaking or visit peal farms. On the final day of the cruise we were taken by tender to an attraction named Surprising Cave, the day before we had crawled through a small cave system and so I was not expecting much and nearly didn't bother going. It was stunning, an enormous cave system beautifully lit to show off its best features, with natural light also playing its part by bursting through the darkness in places. I also flew my drone from the boat and this gave the footage at the top of this page which is from my personal YouTube Channel.
Other excursions I went on were mixed as to would I do them again. Staying on the boat when it was moored and watching the world go by was actually one of the good things about life onboard. In the evening boats would cluster together in sheltered bays with the hours of darkness maybe showing the biggest differences between the boats. Karaoke could be heard from some of the vessels, while others were clearly a floating disco, boats such as ours remained largely peaceful although this may have been due to the people on this certain cruise rather than the boats policy.
All food, excursions, and any entertainment is included in the booking price and so this only left the drinks bill to be paid at the end of the trip, as you are a captive audience this could have been an easy time to highly inflate the costs of these, this was not the case with drinks being very reasonable, certainly equivalent with a four star hotel.
There are a lot of blogs and vlogs featuring Halong Bay and some of these will be positive experiences, some negative. The positives tend to focus on the natural beauty of the area and the negatives on the pollution that this type of mass tourism causes to the environment. I have to agree that there are some negatives and that the pollution is one of them, as a scuba diver I would not like to dive in the waters as they seem very polluted with very little evidence of life. That said, personally I would have no hesitation in doing the same trip again.
On completion of the trip all drinks were paid for and staff tips given for a level of customer service that was unbelievable. Then it was off on a flying visit to the O' Gallery Hotel and onward to a date with an overnight sleeper train to Sapa, and conditions that we had been warned would be very cold. Coming soon.