I've done quite a lot of internet research on these cruises and I know that there are obviously good and bad tours operating. I've seen a couple I like the look of (Vega Tours or Columbus Cruises) but am not sure how far ahead we have to book.
My husband and I are travelling from Laos to Hanoi overland and hope to set off on Boxing Day (26/12) from Luang Prabang. We've allowed three days for travel and hope to arrive in Hanoi around 29th December. However we aren't really sure when we are going to arrive. BUT, we hoped to do a Halong Bay cruise on New Years Eve (31/12).
Do you think that we would have to book in advance for a good cruise company so that we won't be stuck doing a crummy one at the last minute? I don't mind booking in advance and paying for it, but if we don't make it, then it's going to be money down the drain - especially if it's not necessary.
Any help anyone can give me would be really appreciated - we just don't want to miss out because of the time of year - may never get to Halong Bay again.
#1 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
As an Aussi who has been through Vietnam a few times and done Halong a couple of times over the years and been astounded this last year by the nunber of boats plying the waters I found that the middel of the range Columbus cruises were brilliant, we had booked for the Pinta cruise and ended up on the Pinta Gold which I would recomend to anyone, as a middel of the range 3 day 2 night cruise it is value for money, it is tops.
Give yourself 2? days in Hanoi before heading out, booking for this time would not be a prob as they pick up and deliver to your hotel. If you have $50 au a night to spend I would recommend the Rising Dragon htl on Hang Ga st it is new and very central, bl.... excellent.
#2 muzza has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 13
Great - thanks Muzza. I was swaying towards the Pinta Gold cruise anyhoo but you've just made my mind up! Really good advice :)
#3 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
Hi hanglt - I saw those posts too but then I saw on the Columbus Cruise website that they cleaned the Pinta Gold from 1-4 November on the recommendation of customers who had complained. Hopefully by the time we go at the end of December, it will still be clean cos I'm not a great rat and cockroach fan and neither is my husband!
#4 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
we hav just booked the pinta gold for 3 day trip leaving tomorrow. We only arrived in hanoi today, and were also worried we might miss out but didnt want to book in advance either as wanted to keep our trip fairly open. convinced my partner we should do it - he was pretty skeptical about the cost! So ill let u know in a few days how it goes if u like ;)
#5 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
Please please please post back... We will be doing the same trip early January
#6 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
xquisitecorpse - I'll be interested to hear how it goes too as we paid our deposit for the Pinta Gold via credit card yesterday! Have fun :)
#8 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
yeah me too! I'm off to cruise with Pinta, I am concerned about the issues I've read but I can't get my deposit back, can I? I've read their website 20 times already! I know what I want and told them about it, pretty much sensible to deal with, although would take forever to respond emails sometimes.
#9 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
LOL - 29lovelyme - loved your post. I too have read the Columbus Cruise website a zillion times over the past couple of days, perhaps in the hope that there will be a clause somewhere that says "definitely no cockroaches or rats" or something to that effect that will make me thing "phew that's okay".
However, I'm supposing that the good thing is that I've read about 100 great reviews about this company and only around three or four recently posted negative ones, so it makes me wonder what's going on and how accurate these recent reviews are.
I suppose overall, we get what we pay for and while $99US is hardly breaking the bank, I guess I don't want want to be stuck on a boat with rats and cockroaches as I'm not a great swimmer! Having said that, I'm hoping that the majority of the reviews are accurate and that we'll have a great time and that perhaps the negative posts are a one-off.
Anyway, we are going to be onboard on New Years Eve, so I'm not sure how sober we will be to see any vermin (if there are any), but will defintely keep you posted.
have a great time.
#10 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
Choosing a company to go with in Halong is a nightmare. Until a few weeks ago I was going to go with Columbus, but the stories here and on trip advisor have now turned me off that.
I think my needs are simple.
I want a 2 night 3 day cruise ... same guests for the whole time, don't want to spend my time transfering to smaller boats, want to spend both nights on the boat, no more than 20 people on the boat (but more than 10 -- like to meet people), don't want to park overnight in a place where there are heaps of boats, want to get to some of the more remote areas of the bay, want to do some kayaking, tai chi in the mornings would be nice but not essential. Want to see Monkeys. Nice food, and at least knowing the prices of drinks and whether water is provided.
While I wouldn't say money is no option, this is probably a once in a lifetime deal so I want something good.
#11 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
oh man. I really wish i didnt have to post this but here goes... All went well, we arrived at the harbour today at 1.30 pm. It was freezing ! But of course there were ppl there selling beanies, jackets etc. after about 30 mins and watching rest of group get antsy, our guide explained to us the delay was due the police inspecting all the boats due to one sinking recenntly. We didnt mind as this sounded like a good thing, slowly time went by. The guide gave us free water and people starting getting more and more frustrated with the "only 5 more mins" routine. ut got to 3:30 and ppl started losing it (understandably). Wanting a decision to be made - as we were all cold and hungry. Our guide went and bought us some snack food. I felt for our guide as is hands were tied by head office and stuck with a group of VERY angry ppl finally after numerous calls to his head office . They took us to lunch/dinner at restaurant nearby. It then became apparent we were not getting on tthe pinta gold tonight or any other night. I still dont know why . They offered to put us up in hotel tonight and do a day tour 2moro or take ppl back to hanoi - we chose to stay and try again 2 moro. They have put us up in a really nice hotel and we have banded together to try make best of it. We are all pretty fricken disapppointed and much more i could say. But im beat. we will be trying to get some money back - those who went back tonight are supposed to get full refund. We will see Arggh !! What a day !
#12 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
xquisitecorpse - what a bummer - hope your cruise goes ahead. Just one question though. Was it only the Pinta that was stopped from sailing or all the other junks too?
#13 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
I stayed at The Ritz Hotel in Hanoi and organized a Halong Bay trip through them. It was very good. No problems. When I returned to Hanoi I was booked on an evening train to Danang and the lady at the Ritz lent me a room to have a shower and change. She made me gratis cups of coffee while I waited until it was time to go to the station.
Oh man xquisitecorpse this is just the sort of thing I am hoping to avoid. Hope things get back on track for you tomorrow
#15 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
well a night in a beautiful hotel over looking the bay and awesome buffet breakfast has helped ;) scottyheather - to be honest i dont think the whole "inspecting the boat" thing was even true as we were the only group waiting for all that time. it took a bit but the guide finally admitted later we cannot get on the pinta gold at all. (actually he didnt even say that, i said it and he just looked pained and kind of said yes. . Poor guy - columbus really dumped him in it - they did not pay for his hotel or food either which REALLY makes me angry) anyway I suspect there is something wrong with the pinta gold they thought they could fix and get us on there none the wiser but couldnt. I am still trying to get the answer. I would suggest go to another company (?!?!) or as the gold seems to be fraught with probs try another one of columbus's junks. . .we will be trying the regular pinta today - see below - maybe it will be ok. The main prob was they did not tell us what was going on and did not make the decision to go to a hotel soon enough. I dont think they have any back up plan at all. we have kept positive the whole time -we are lucky as we dont have any other plans or planes to catch but others do and are very pissed off to say the least ! This is the last week of our 4 wk trip and the first f*ck up so we aint doin too bad ! Anyway; we are giving them another go today - we hav foregone the day tour the rest of the group are doing this morn; they said we can join the regular pinta cruise at mid day and stay 2 nite and kayak etc 2moro. Again we are lucky we hav the time to try again. I would say fingers crossed but that didnt work so well last time so . . , . . wish us luck ;)
#16 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
Good luck... You have the right attitude anyway to make the best of a poor situation, can't wait to hear how your cruise goes, once you finally get on...
#17 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
lol @ scottyheather for "zillion times",well my reading glasses going to give up on me scotty yet I can't still find that phrase, except news item on major clean-up but with xquisitecorpse story maybe they've totally stopped the operations of Pinta Gold at all! Who knows, I'm into the cheaper one not with the Pinta Gold,it's a bit pricey compared to other quotations they gave me. Hope xquisite will come back and tell us more
#19 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
Thanks for sharing, xquisite.
We have booked to go on the Pinta Gold next week or so (1 Dec) for 3d/2n cruise, so I will be following this story with interest!
Fortunately, we havent paid anything. I have completed a booking form, and they have sent confirmation that we are booked, but I asked that we pay our deposit when we arrived in Hanoi on 29 Nov.
I had emailed them to ask them about the rat problem; here is their reply:
"Concerning with rats and cockroaches on the boat in the past, kindly let us take a chance to explain about this case. As your knowledge, our cruiser with all furnishing are made by wooden in water atmosphere so a natural consequence is rats and cockroaches sometimes. But we do have a cleaning schedule 4 times/year. Especially during this time- high tourism season, we need to improve our service everyday and we ensure for all our service running smoothly. Please be assured about your amazing trip in Ha Long Bay."
Not sure if that really answered my questionm but we decided to take the gamble and book it. But I am glad that the deposit hasn't been paid!
I am booked on the Pinta Gold early January, but paid the deposit shortly before this rash of negative stories started appearing on the internet. Can't say the email you have posted inspires me with confidence - the rats have now been followed with stories of the boat not going at all.
I would be grateful if you could let all of us here on Travelfish know how your experience is with them in December.
#21 Rohan has been a member since 16/6/2009. Posts: 63
Busylizzy, I received the same response but I pester them with demands to revise my voucher and include everything they agreed in the previous emails, so they sent me a new one. But at the end they have this remark: “We take note all your concerns and requests and we are confident we have addressed it all already. If we fail to fulfill it and you thought we are lying, we will refund your deposit and you don’t have to pay anything.”
Well, I don’t want to sound like a paranoid ***** but I sent my money already,so I might as well make it clear to them.
#22 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
Oh boy - it's not looking good for Columbus Cruises is it? I suppose the only redeeming factor (for my husband and I) is that because we emailed through our credit card authorisation for our deposit, it didn't go through because there was no signature on it. So that means we haven't paid a deposit but also means that we haven't got anything booked at all for New Year's Eve.... I do feel for xquisitecorpse and others who have had their trip ruined due to the various problems though. Hubby and I have decided to wait a couple of weeks to see if the posts re Pinta Gold improve before paying a deposit so I'll keeping a really close eye on this thread.
#23 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
well we did make it onto the Pinta Cruiser finally ;)
The next day they took us to that evil dock - i never want to see it again ! and we waited for the the group we were joining to arrive from Hanoi . When they arrived we watched in horror as they proceeded to inform the group they were not getting on the Pinta Gold !! I cannot believe they waited until they were at the dock and had no other choice to tell them when they knew well in advance !!! grrrr ! so those poor people just kind of went "umm ok ..." and then once they heard our story they were less than impressed..
Anyway - lets get to the actual boat. We were not particularly impressed with the Pinta - the top deck boards were all split and broken and quite dangerous really. Our 'double' cabin was two single beds pushed together, with a pretty basic bathroom. This did not surprise us much, but still was a bit disappointing.
They served us lunch - with seafood. It was very nice and very plentiful I have to say.
But all of this kind of faded into the background when we entered the bay - OMG - beautiful ! we went to some caves that were equally awe inspiring, before it was time for dinner and again - nice food and set up. We FINALLY spent a night on a boat ! we were so excited we weaved our way around the holey top deck and watched the stars - again beautiful !. ANd yes they did dock away from all the other boats bar one - the Emeraude was nearby. They took us kayaking the next day and I had never been before for a start, but as we passed through caves and out into big lagoons - the scenery and quiet was amazing.
We were owed another night but to be honest we had seen the bay and did not want to stay on that boat another second, so we left on the bus that afternoon back to Hanoi. They said they would take us via Columbus office for people to pay their balance and those wanting refunds could speak with someone.
Columbus gave us the whole - snap inspection by the government story again. It was unplanned and nothing we could do etc etc. Thing is - to me i can understand a snap inspection but three things really concern me -
1. Why did they not keep us informed of what was going on ??we all sat on that dock for 3 hours and had to keep approaching the poor guide who did tell us the inspection story eventually but then just kept saying it would only take "5 more minutes"
2.Why does Columbus not have a back up plan for these sorts of things ? If they had just taken everyone straight to that lovely hotel and gave them dinner as soon as they knew there was a problem it would have greatly alleviated our stress
3. If the boat has been seized by the government for this period of time does that not suggest that it is not sea worthy ? After seeing the Pinta I no longer trust the quality and safety of their boats.
Ourselves and another couple who had paid the full amount for 3 days 2 nights on the gold have been granted a refund of about $300 USD (we paid just over $400). They told us this last night, but as it was sunday they said they would bring the refund (in cash ???) to our hotel this morning. Uh ok, they haven't ! so we are about to go off down to the office now ;P. We are the only people still left remaining in Hanoi from the group I think, everyone else had to leave, so i hope Columbus don't think we will just disappear - we are here for another week and will go in every day to annoy them if we have to ;P
Would we book with them again ? no. Even paying $89 a night or whatever it was for the Pinta I don't think it is worth it. My suggestion is to try another company - we saw some very nice Junks (from the outside) Phoenix cruiser was one i think. Or stay at a hotel on the bay like we did ( Tuan Chau Holiday Villa I think it was called)and do a day cruise. Columbus admit they have never had to deal with a problem like this before, and I hope they realise just how damaging their handling of it is - whilst we were in the office people came into to book and once they heard our story they left with a thanks for the heads up !
For more reviews - check trip advisor as most of our group booked through there and will be posting !
In the end we saw the bay - breathtaking ! and got some kind of cruise so we are happy - met some fantastic people and had a good time, however the point remains we did not get what we paid for and I would not recommend this company.
#24 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
Wow - good to hear you eventually got on your cruise.
Just one thing - were there many rats and cockroaches? I know I probably sound a bit obsessed and I know some people will be thinking "it's SE Asia - what does she expect?" but it's one thing avoiding them in Bangkok, quite another if you're trapped on a boat in the middle of the sea......
#25 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
LOL scottyheather - we almost fell through the top deck but no did not see any rats or cockroaches, it seemed clean in that respect ;P
Just went down to Columbus and they came through on the $300 USD refund ! Which means we paid about $60 a night for the Hotel and then Pinta Cruiser - which I think really is all that thing is worth.
The Tour Operator who refunded us told us the Pinta Gold is now back out - as of today. I do believe the circumstances were beyond their control - but as I said above should have been handled better. However I have to commend them on the quick refund, they were also truly apologetic. I'm calling it even - but still would not book again - personally I just cannot trust them.
I will be interested to hear anyone who actually gets on the Gold on what it is like - as the Pinta was nothing like the pictures. Good Luck Those that have booked for Dec/Jan - I really hope it goes well, and in any case rest assured the scenery is spectacular ;)
#26 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
Hi again - thanks for that info - I might just go with them after sllin the end (and sorry if I sound like I've got OCD!). Cockroaches are my phobia and I guess I can put up with falling through a deck so long as there's none of those little buggers around. LOL
It sounds like Columbus did come through in the end though and I must admit, it's quite difficult to select a company via websites alone - I mean the Pinta Gold sounds great on the site so perhaps they all sound great but may not be in reality - at least we now know the problems with Columbus Cruises and know that company do try to solve them.
Your posts have really helped me xquisitecorpse - thanks for them.
And this is to test if the BBcode primer works now I've posted 17 posts!
#27 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
This just confirms that I am not going to book in advance. We have five or six days in Hanoi at the end of a month long trip around Vietnam and Cambodia. I think there will be plenty of people to talk to who have done a recent trip to Halong, so I will go on their recommendations. And given the few days swing we have in Hanoi, if a trip is full, we can go a few days later.
I will also make sure I post back, we will be in Hanoi the first week of January.
#28 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
Well, it’s comforting enough to hear they will stand on their words! Thanks xquisite for the effort. By the way, I am interested in the Tuan Chau Island experience you were talking about but man it’s too expensive to stay there! Is this the resort you were talking about or another resort? http://www.tuanchauholidayvilla-halong.com/ppc/?gclid=CO3s_bbeop4CFYctpAodWh3dlQ The cheapest is $65 plus plus, yours is originally included in the package you book for Columbus or what?
#29 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
lovelyme - i think that is the place, its this huge resort with disneyland style dolphin show and this thing they do with lights and water that was strange but cool.plus right on the beach. Columbus only put us up there because of how badly everything went. The place was deserted think its their low season, and was pretty cold. We looked at prices on aus website wotif.com and the room we had - ocean view was $90 a night. Which is about what u would pay a nite on the pinta anyway.
#30 xquisitecorpse has been a member since 17/10/2009. Posts: 14
got ya, thanks xquisite am off heading Nam on the 5th, quite excited, wanna compare notes! :-))will have my lens work on live worms, crickets, fried cockroaches, boiled rat, and pigeon head! will post photos after :-))
#31 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
What I have experienced with Pinta Gold from 19 to 21 november, you cannot really imagine.
I had booked a 3 days/2 nights trip. The first day everything started in a good way, nice bus from Hanoi to Halong, comfortable Checkin, good first lunch on the boat and nice cabin, where everything worked well (air condition, hot water for the shower). And very nice guides who really took care of the passengers. It was not their fault, that I fell ill on the boat, I had caught a cold before. So the next day I decided to stay in the room. And again the guides took much care of me, organized tea and food to my room. The other guests in the morning went from boat for a dinner at a small beach and a bike tour on Cat Ba Island. Meanwhile the Pinte Gold returned to Halong Bay to take some new guests. After noon suddendly one of the guide banged on my door. He told me, that I had to leave the room for an hour. He said, some maintenance works had to be done, if I unterstood him right. He would offer me a room on another boat for sleeping, before we would return to Pinta Gold. Me sweating my illness away in the cabin went out to that other boat. And the guides took very good care of me there. But it took around two hours, before we could return to Pinta Gold. I was just going back to my cabin, when the guide came and told me, that they were all very sorry but we had to leave the boat in half an hour. So I proceeded to my Check Out... And I saw, how everything was closed, no new guest came on board. Now followed night, that I never will forget in my life. I was told, that all the guests from the excursion were brought to a hotel in Cat Ba to stay there the next night and that I should join them with their baggage. All that was put to the tender boat - where the guides had even prepared a mattress with linen and cushion for me... I felt already better. So I enjoyed it to cross all Halong Bay with this tender boat: we were quite alone there, not many other boats to see now, when the night was breaking. So just the driver of the tender boat, another man with a lamp, helping him to find the way and a guide. So we drove and drove, tender boats are not very fast, as you might know. And the night fell. And we were definitely alone - just us and the baggage... And the sea was a bit moved, so when it began to splash water onto the boat, I went to the bed and covered myself...
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere suddenly a small motorboat arrived. I was told, that I and the baggage would go to the motorboat. So we changed without falling into Halong Bay. Now i was even more alone: only the guy beside me, who drove the motorboat. I trusted him, when he drove in the dark night around this island and then around that island. And this many dozens of times. Sometimes we saw a light from a ship or fishermens huts. I had of course no idea, where we were now, but we had to leave Halong Bay and get to Lan Ha Bay to arrive at Cat Ba. It was quite cold now - not so good for my cold. And we drove and drove in the dark night with clouds and no stars. But I didn't get wet, so this was okay. And of course they had given me a life west... Suddenly the motor of the motorboat stopped... The driver had to repair something, we alone somewhere in the nowhere... But he could fix it and we went on. Finally, after hours, we arrived ad Cat Ba, where the Tour Operators had booked fine rooms in one of the beat hotels, Sunrise Resort. So everybody was glad having his baggage back and may be also me...
The guide, who had lead the other guests to the trip on Cat Ba did his best to manage the situation. The next day we went back to Hanoi by a ferry from Cat Ba to Haiphong and a very small bus. In Hanoi we were brought to the tour operator, Columbus Adventure Travel, where the argument began about how much of the price of the tour they should return to the guests, because theyx had lost time on the boat. Finally they offered 30 percent, what was considered as fair.
Also here I had the idea, that fine people were at work. The manager explained personally to every guest, what had happened: Since there have been accidents with ships on Halong Bay, there are sudden inspections on the ships. And if for example the kitchen isn't clean enough, they take the ship out of traffic. Pinta Gold had been inspected and stopped... The manager said, he didn't get information from the inspectors why.
So my impression about all this: May be Columbus Travel has ignored some problems with Pinta Gold described in several forums already. But out of the situation they treated their guests respectfully and with care. May be it was not the best idea of sending a still half ill passanger on the tender boat and a small motorboat for hours across the multiplication of nowhere, but all the people working for this tour were very helpful and caring. So after all for me Colombus Travel has gained reputation. And I will never forget this night alone on Halong and Lan Ha Bay.
OK, as mentioned in my earlier post, we are booked to go on the Pinta Gold cruise in 2 days time. I contacted them a week or so ago to make a booking, and asked that we pay a deposit upon our arrival. They agreed to this. (I wasn't happy with the method of payment offered, which was to provide a credit card number in an email attachment).
Today, upon our arrival in Hanoi, I went to the Columbus office to find out a bit more info before we committed financially.
Before I told him about my booking, I explained that I was interested in a cruise, but understood that they had problems recently. The guys I spoke to explained in detail the problems that they encountered:
- firstly, the infestations of rats and cockroaches. (Apparently this was a result of all boats having to take shelter during the particularly bad storms they had a few weeks ago, and the rats and cockroaches 'migrated' from another nearby, infested boat. I'm not sure how that works exactly..... :-/)
- secondly, the suddenly abandoned trip (referred to my posters above). This was apparently due to an unannounced and unplanned government inspection - triggered by the recent sinking of another boat during the bad storms. He explained that they tried to deal with the abandoned passengers by finding alternative boats if possible, refunds, or other arrangements, but it was difficult to have to deal with so many changes so unexpectedly, without warning. I could understand this.
So far, this is reasonably consistent with what I have read on this forum.
The guy promised me that the boats are back up and running as normal now, and in fact, one of the directors has been sailing on the cruises to ensure everything is going smoothly.
I can give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume all is OK now - but it wouldn't be the first time someone pulled a swifty over me.
We have decided to take our changes, and go ahead with the Pinto Gold, as planned. He actually suggested that rather than pay a deposit now, that we could pay the entire amount owing AFTER we get back from the cruise. That took me by surprise as it puts us in control of things from a payment perspective. If everything turns to custard, they don't get paid. If things go a bit haywire, we can withhold payment. And if everything goes well, I'm happy to pay in full.
I'll keep you posted. We return on 3 December, so I can provide an update a day or two after that. (And if you don't hear from me... send a search party!)
Thanks for that Lizzy, have a great trip.
#34 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
Excellent info. I think on the whole, although this company has had its share of problems recently, they are pretty good to their customers and we have decided to take our chance with them too. It does seem like they are trying hard to keep their customers happy and I don't really see what more they can do.
#35 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
Putting two and two together, I think the company admitted their failure and do its job to correct it. It's a good thing they did not downplay customer complaints...well, lucky you Lizzy you came in at the height of the crisis, so you are spared of the deposit and even given the option to pay the entire cruise after. It's cool! I could have saved few more bucks from Western Union had I booked today.
#36 29lovelyme has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 13
Columbus has been recommended to me by a friend. They are very nice in the email offering a free pick up at the train station from Lao Cai and free hotel room before departure to Halong Bay at 9am, so I booked with them. Few hours rest from 5am arrival is a big help.
#37 hasherjoe34 has been a member since 20/11/2009. Posts: 11
We have returned from an awesome 3-day cruise on the Pinta Gold – and can report that I would have no hesitation in recommending this boat (or the Columbus Cruise company) to anyone. In short, there were no signs of cockroaches or rats and the cabins were much better than I had expected. The service (from the bus pickup at our hotel, on the boat, right through to our hotel drop-off) was absolutely fantastic (if not a bit over the top at times!).
I will give a review of our experience below, and try to provide information that will answer all the questions that we had before we left (or that other people have raised as concerns). Hence this will be a long post!
We decided to only take only daypacks to take with us, and left our main backpacks locked up at the Columbus Office – as per their suggestion. Jandals/thongs/flipflops will be adequate footware for the trip, unless you are doing the trekking option, in which case more substantial shoes are probably wise. I was also glad that I brought a pair of socks along as my feet were a bit cold in the evenings.
There was an absolute abundance of food served at each meal. It was varied, extremely tasty and beautifully presented. Lunch and dinner served a wide range of seafood, pork, chicken, beef and vegetables. Breakfast was fairly average however, but it was OK. All meals had a platter of fresh fruit.
We were given small water bottles on the bus, and more each day in the cabin. We were also given fruit juices on arrival, and on our return each excursion throughout the day. (We brought 2 large bottles of water, and returned with one of them. There is no real need to bring a supply).
Drinks are available on the boat (priced in US$) – soft drinks, juices and beers were US$2-2.50. They also sold a wide range of other alcohol and bottles of wine. One couple brought their own wine.
The cabin was small as you would expect on a boat (but bigger than a Tune Hotel room in KL!) and very comfortable. Towels and toiletries are provided. Like many Asian rooms, there was only a bottom sheet on the bed; no top sheet. But there was a thick duvet/blanket provided. There is aircon but no ceiling fan. Neither were needed since the temperatures were quite mild. I used my silk sleeping bag liner as the blanket was too warm, but needed the warmth of the sheet.
Our room was on the second level, at the back of the boat; the generator was on the deck below, and behind us. It was not a problem at all for us. They did try to encourage us to change rooms on the second night to a quieter one, but we declined the offer as it just wasn’t an issue. Overnight, there was the constant low hum of the generator but honestly, after dealing with roosters, motorbikes and mosque prayer calls I didn’t even notice it, and slept very soundly.
The bathroom was clean and was much better than I had expected (although the shower head holder was broken). My only little gripe would be that the toilet is separated from the room by a curtain rather than a door – which doesn’t do much for ‘privacy’ but it wasn’t a big deal.
The top deck of the boat had loungers with cushions, all covered in nice cotton fabric. Excellent for lying around watching the amazing scenery go past.
The temperature was actually quite pleasant. Some went swimming, but it was just a bit colder than I like it (and to be honest, the water really didn’t look too inviting, as mentioned by others above). I wore a shorts and T-shirt and was totally comfortable temperature wise although I did put on a thin merino top over my T-shirt when the breeze picked up.
We had 11 of us arrive on the boat together (including children), and that night, another 5 returned to the boat after their day excursion. The next day, all but 4 of us returned to Hanoi, and 7 new people joined us at the end of Day 2. This was a nice number of people; it never felt too crowded. (I think they take a max of 24).
The Pinta Gold returns to Halong City to drop off and pick up people. While this is happening, the 3-dayers are transferred to a smaller (but still comfortable) boat for a kayaking excursion, BBQ on the beach and tour of the floating village. We returned to the Pinta Gold around 4.30 or 5.00pm, when it returned with the latest arrivals. One thing to note: when you book, you indicate whether you want the kayaking or trekking option. Don’t get too attached to your selection, because it seems that the everyone will need to do the same thing as the day boat can only take everyone to one place or another. Fortunately, the four of us were all keen to go kayaking and to the floating village rather than trekking.
Most people did the 2 day/1 night cruise – but I was glad that we went for the 3 day trip. I think it was just that much more relaxing and enjoyable than the shorter trip would have been. A minor issue is that the kayaking ‘activity’ on the third morning was a repeat of the kayaking trip we did on Day 2. We actually chose to skip the kayaking and just enjoy the peace and quiet reading on top of the boat.
The only thing that (very) slightly annoyed me was that the ‘itinerary’ seemed a bit too regimented. The guides are wonderful and are very keen to ensure that you are enjoying yourself – but your day is fairly planned out. (Breakfast at 7.00, Kayaking at 8.00, transfer to another boat at 10.30, lunch at 12.30, 20 minutes to relax after lunch, then more kayaking for another half hour……) Having said that, it never really felt too rushed – just a bit regimented. I think this was mostly due to the keenness of the guide to communicate the plans… continuously!
After doing this cruise, I felt like we had well and truly fallen off the backpacker trail. It really was a great couple of days of luxury, and definitely worth the money spent as a ‘special splurge’ during our travels.
To all of you looking at doing a cruise on Pinta Gold but have concerns following the recent reports, all I can say is that based on our experience, you don’t have any reasons to be concerned. The cockroach and rat problem appears to be resolved, and the problems experienced by those who had their trip aborted was unfortunate, but it appears to have been a one-off situation that threw the crew in terms of knowing how to deal with it.
I would definitely go on the Pinta Gold again, and would recommend it to others.
I hope the rest of you with upcoming cruises have a great time!
PS. The boat had many lovely bouquets of flowers and all the waiters wore white cotton gloves when serving meals. Our guide mentioned on the way back to Hanoi that our service was better than normal because the company director was visiting the boat. Not sure if that is the case, but the service WAS exceptional.
Thanks very much for your post Lizzy, sounds like you had a wonderful time. I can hardly wait... we head off to Vietnam next Saturday and will be in Halong Bay early January. I will put the Pinta back on the list of companies to go with.
#40 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
Great post Lizzy - thanks very much for the information. I'm glad we booked with them now and I can't wait either.....
#41 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89
I was getting progressively more worried as I made my way down the posts- We paid our deposit for the Pinta Gold in mid-January the other day!
But glad to hear everything seems to be resolved. Fingers crossed for no more issues! Looking forward to it.
#42 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10
Seems like we're also worried. But we will make sure we can choose the right cruise.
Anyway, I just want to ask if we can bring our laptop to the boat. You know we cannot live without the www and the fbs and the twitings.. Yahoooohhh.
#43 seahorse88 has been a member since 14/12/2009. Posts: 9
Thanks for your nice piece. It boosts our interest to go with Columbus when we visit in the first week of January. I just want to ask some questions.
First, I wanted to know about the bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay. There was no mention about this. How is the vehicle looks like? I also want to know how many hours for this travel.
I am travelling with my mom, who is 70 years old. I want to make sure she would be safe.
I greatly appreciate your further advice on my concerns.
#44 tigershark15 has been a member since 14/12/2009. Posts: 11
Seahorse - there is no reason why you can't bring a laptop. I had my netbook, but always kept it in my daypack, locked, and in the room. There is no WiFi, of course!
Tigershark15 - glad I could help! The bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay was about 3 1/2 hours long - and was in a perfectly comfortable bus, and reasonably clean. The bus held approx 20-24 people. The driving was reasonably good (for Vietnam standards!). They gave us a bottle of water each when we boarded, and stopped about 1/2 way along for a 20min stop at a souvenir place with restaurant and reasonable toilets.
I'm sure your mom will be fine on this bus. :-)
So we will be be completely disconnected from the world for 2 days? OMG!!
#46 silversnapper has been a member since 5/12/2009. Posts: 24
Thanks again busylizzy! It’s great to know that the bus ride is a comfy one. My mom was extremely happy when I told her what you have said. Now I can figure out that you’re such a nice person and wish that I can find one like you during our trip.
#47 tigershark15 has been a member since 14/12/2009. Posts: 11
I know for a fact that Bhaya Cruises hires at least one staff member who told me they have "about 20 identities" to visit forums like Travelfish and put bogus questions and information up.
This person no longer works for Bhaya.
#48 Indochine has been a member since 21/10/2010. Posts: 1