“Cruise in style through Vietnam’s most famous bay, where floating villages huddle at the foot of mountains that rise sheer from the sea”
After a nightcap on the top deck, drop down to your cabin for a good night’s sleep and find comfy beds, shiny wood, huge views and fancy showers. Sleep with your curtains open and wake to magical views. In the morning there’s tai chi on the deck (your teacher’s performance is quite sublime) and a trip to mountain caves for the best views in the islands. Then you jump back on board for a leisurely brunch before heading onwards. Choose Violet or Jasmine for a traditional, great-value Halong Bay experience, or the snazzy new Ginger for an upmarket junk experience through less-touristy Lan Ha Bay.
Why we chose this partner
- Of the many Halong cruise operators, we found these guys the most comfortable and the most innovative: they have hosted ambassadors and travel journalists, and feedback has been superb
- The newest vessel, Ginger, is very upmarket, with a plunge pool, live cooking demos and a spa on board
- Ginger cruises through the less-touristy Lan Ha Bay, with a stop to cycle on Cat Ba island - perfect if you want to get off the beaten track; while Violet and Jasmine offer 2- or 3-day classic Halong Bay experiences
- With just 6 cabins, Violet offers a more intimate cruising experience than most other vessels
Please be aware
- Halong Bay is increasingly busy with cruise boats, but you can get away from the crowds if you opt for the Ginger boat, which ploughs a different route
- The 2-day itinerary on Violet/Jasmine is pretty packed - we'd strongly recommend the 3-day one if you can afford it
- The 3-hour drive here from Hanoi is somewhat hectic so you may want to book the 1-hour seaplane transfer instead
- The older boats (Jasmine, in particular) are starting to look a little tired in places
Best time to go
Our top tips
Violet is a small but luxurious wood-clad craft, built to resemble a traditional Asian junk. It has just 6 cabins: 2 unique Junior Suites (main deck with balcony) and 4 decadent upper-deck Imperial Suites, complete with large windows and private balconies for expansive views of the bay.
Ginger is slightly bigger and the most upmarket, with a swimming pool, steam bath and spa facilities. There are just 12 Suites, spread over its 3 floors: all beautifully elegant with shiny wood floors, bamboo panelling and dove-grey tiles - so all attention is drawn to the huge views of sea and rock through big windows and from private balconies. Excellent mattresses are covered in crisp white linen, sparkling shower rooms come with robes and potions. The 2 Regent Suites have Jacuzzi tubs, too, and are more flamboyant in decor with scarlet mural walls.
Jasmine is the biggest boat of all with 23 cabins and a sophisticated, luxurious interior - 1930's Indochine style. The shiny wood floors and pressed bamboo panelling is still present, but there are additional comforts - private balconies with curved chairs, in-room Jacuzzis. You can choose from 3 categories: Superior Staterooms (fairly standard), Deluxe Staterooms (with private balcony), or the decadent Junior Suites (with private balcony and Jacuzzi). The cabins closest to the bow have the best view and are furthest away from any lingering engine fumes.
You certainly don’t starve on Halong Cruises. You embark for lunch and the junk cruises through the islands while you eat. Course after course comes to your table: Vietnamese chicken soup, fresh spring rolls, Halong Bay squid, grilled prawns with lemongrass, chilli chicken, stir-fried beef, steamed rice topped with sesame, then tropical fruits and yoghurt. If you're sailing on Ginger, you can watch the chefs at work in the live kitchen.
Dinners are equally indulgent: pumpkin soup, mango salad, char-grilled beef skewers, prawn cocktail, lamb masala with coconut rice, then chocolate cake. In the mornings, you may rise early for a trip to some caves; coffee and patisseries are served before the trip, then, when you return, a buffet brunch is served as you sail onwards. You’ll find cereal and yoghurt, rolls and toast, freshly-sliced fruit and freshly-squeezed juices, then a hot buffet for Vietnamese noodles or bacon and eggs. Both junks have lovely indoor and outdoor dining areas.
- Make land at a small beach, where you can stop for a drink
- Set sail on a sea kayak and check out the caves
- Cruise past floating villages that shelter in the calm waters at the foot of mountains
- Go cycling on Cat Ba island or discover the caves of Sung Sot - they resemble a set from Raiders Of The Lost Ark
- Before anchoring for the night, you decant into a punt-like bamboo rowing boat for a stunning dusk journey that takes you across looking-glass waters, under limestone tunnels, into hidden lagoons and then back to the boat as the sun sets
- Wake for tai chi on the top deck. Your performance might be hopeless (ours certainly was), but the on-board master will show you how it’s done with seamless perfection; it is worth getting up simply to see this
- Book a wonderful treatment in one of the dedicated spa cabins. We loved the Vietnamese massage therapy, which uses warm herbal compresses and lemongrass oil
- Cooking classes
- Cooking demos
- Tai Chi
- Traditional cultures
- Well being