Ha Long Bay for budget-busters

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First published 28th October, 2006

One night/two day upper-range tour
Cost: US$130
Operator: Buffalo Tours

Many of the luxury tours offer two nights on the boat, and skip the whole Cat Ba Island experience, so we booked a two-day, one-night tour just to give us a taste of luxury.

Quick links
Ha Long Bay introduction
Ha Long Bay on a budget
Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
Ha Long Bay conclusions and a confession

The difference was apparent from the outset. Passengers were driven from Hanoi to Ha Long City in a large, comfortable tour bus, even though there was only a compliment of eight. As with all other tours we again swung through the crafts centre for the victims of Agent Orange.

Once at the pier, instead of hopping from junk to junk to get to our boat, we were picked up at the dock by a small ferry, and taken to where our boat was moored in the bay. It was larger, if not quite as new as the mid-range boat.

The key difference was the service and the food. The staff on the mid-range tour were good, but seemed like novices compared to the staff on the luxury cruise. And the food was five-star all the way -- some of the best food we've tasted in Vietnam, with a good selection of wines to go with it (at luxury prices, of course).

Oddly, the cabins weren't quite as good as the mid-range tour, but they made the best with what they had. There was no aft deck, and only the fore-deck was available for lounging, but with a small compliment of passengers, comfy sun-loungers and bean bag chairs, there was plenty of room. The air-con cabins were free of any generator noise, and we slept soundly.

One of the many beaches on Cat Ba Island

We saw Surprising Cave again (and were not surprised) but the kayaking component was quite fun -- coursing through more tunnel arches into a secluded lagoon, to be followed by swimming and plunging off the fore-deck into the water, which is always a crowd-pleaser.

The tour ended with another visit to a crappy beach (one passenger found a hypodermic needle floating in the water) and a slow cruise back to Ha Long City, where we were once again whisked comfortably ashore by ferry, for a return back to Hanoi on the big, roomy tour bus.

One of the many floating villages in Ha Long Bay

Next: Ha Long Bay conclusions and a confession

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Read 5 comment(s)

  • US$130 is too expensive!!

    we got ours for only US$35.

    Posted by haan on 26th January, 2009

  • haan, where did you get yours?

    Posted by Jaime on 25th February, 2009

  • We found something for $30 just wondering up and down the main streets in the Old Quarter. But I bet the quality is really really crap. Some travellers we met went on a 3D2N for $40 and said she will never go on a cheap tour to Halong again. Apparently Kayaks cost which were not supposed to and the food were absolutely dodgy. So don't trust the cheap operators if you really want to enjoy the experience.

    Posted by Paul on 20th May, 2009

  • Mine was $99 with Pinta Gold of Columbus Cruise, they have $85 but Pinta Cruiser which was not highly rated in the forums like Pinta Gold, so I grabbed for the Gold. It's a 3 star room with two free bottled water, food was superb, friendly crew, free welcome cocktail drinks, guide was helpful and the trip was not touristry especially where they anchored the boat. I have seen only two junks within the area, the Pinta Cruiser and Nina Cruiser which I was told belonging to Columbus Cruise. Swimming was not good because I saw bubbles on the water which I find disgusting but the kayak was perfect, extensive paddling to three small caves on my own pace, so it was quite fun. On our way back to Hanoi I was napping comfortably at the nice airconditioned mini bus. Not only that, I was given free taxi ride to the train station from their office. Isn't it sweet for my $99?

    Posted by mic2 on 23rd October, 2009

  • $ 99 for columbus? was it all included price based on twin sharing room?

    Posted by natan on 25th March, 2010

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