I attempted to arrange a cruise with Saigon Cafe Tours after reading TF's "Ha Long Bay for flashpackers" article. After 8 days and many emails to Saigoncafé Travel (I’m not even totally sure if these are the same people, as mentioned in the TF article?) I have no tour, primarily due to the fact that they wanted me to make 20% deposit into a personal Vietnamese bank account, the deposit was only $18US and the (international) bank transaction fees were $30US! This seemed unrealistic, however this was the only option from Saigoncafé Travel. I was told by them today that without the deposit they would not keep my booking. So if anyone can recommend a mid range 3 day Halong Bay Cruise ( for around $70US), that I can arrange from Halong Bay, a day prior to departure; this would be greatly appreciated. ; )
By the way if anyone out there knows the actual contact details for Saigon Cafe Tours this would be also much appreciated!
#1 TomSawyer has been a member since 1/7/2009. Posts: 10
Given your post to Travelfish 2 weeks ago indicating you want to undertake the Halong cruise in 2 weeks, the short answer is forget them.
I'm assuming you'll be arriving in HaNoi with the day or so.
At the moment, its the LOW season. Not only that, tourism numbers into Vietnam are down some 30%.
Rest assured, there WILL be plenty of places on the cruise you seek. The only 'hassle' you have is that the shortage of passengers may mean the operator wants to cancel to save costs.
From your above post, you are looking for a good cruise for 3 days.
May I suggest you go to the office of Columbus Cruise and bargain down. Currently, they are selling a discount on the web (for forward bookings). It is possible they'll reduce further.
Columbus Cruiser Company
36 Hang Bac Street
Hoan Kiem District
Did you do the Pinta Gold or the Pinta Cruiser? Just trying to work out if the Gold is worth the premium. They have a special on at the moment so thinking I might as well get a date locked in. You've convinced me on Columbus even though it seems more pricey than lots of other options! I like the thought of two nights on the boat though as opposed to that island...
#6 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162
Hi Ash, we're heading out to Halong bay next week and hope to write something out here as soon as we're back. Won't it be late for you?
We're booked for the day after we arrive in Hanoi. So excited!
#7 rebeccafarrent has been a member since 2/5/2009. Posts: 37
Hi Rebecca - we're not traveling until next year... Just planning in advance!!! Would LOVE some feedback :o)
#8 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162
Just a quick post.
Did the 3 day Halong Bay trip in March and it was amazing. We booked ours the day before from Kangaroo Cafe in Hanoi. We managed to haggle it down quite a bit because it was late notice. Cost us about $70 for all transport, accommodation and food. This was one night on the boat and one night on either Cat Ba Island or Monkey Island. GO TO MONKEY ISLAND! It was beautiful (own private beach), the staff were amazing and we were the only people there. Whereas Cat Ba Island was a nasty Benidorm style 3* hotel.
Dont know if this helps at all
#9 mmunchkinn has been a member since 17/2/2009. Posts: 3
Thanks everyone for your input, I'll post some feedback on my inaugural travels to Vietnam and the cruise, in about a week's time.: )
#10 TomSawyer has been a member since 1/7/2009. Posts: 10
The Pinta Gold is a new boat, and was introduced after I enjoyed the Pinta.
My hunch is that being newer, the Pinta Gold will probably have a few more 'luxuries' - but what, I can't say.
My feeling is that the company are currently doing a good job, they take pax to quiet and enjoyable places, their food is really good, and there is a limit to the number of pax they take. They are probably not alone in achieving this result for pax.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part for me was that once I was in 'heaven' on the boat, the day 'excursion' became just a wonderful experience of pure hedonism.
As for booking, I wouldn't this far out.
The current great recession has a lot longer way to go. Who knows whether this firm is financially over-extended (hope not) and goes belly-up before you go.
Tourism numbers are down to VN, and likely to stay that way for some time. If you are planning for 2010, booking about 3 or 4 months prior would be my suggestion.
Cheers Bruce. Not going to firm anything up for a while. Either way, their deposit isn't huge and my insurance will cover this if they cancel on me for any reason.
#12 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162
Don't even bother to try and arrange a cruise from Halong Bay unless you know this city well and can speak fluent Vietnamese. I have now been in Halong Bay for 5 hours an have had no luck in arranging any cruises. In regards to arranging anything through the harbour office, no body knows of a harbour office (let alone can speak any English in this city), I even went on the back of a motor bike around the water front of both Hon Gai and Bai Chai to look for any thing that remotely resembles a habour office to no avail. I'm about to go back to my hotel and book a 2 night cruise which is more than double the price I would have paid in Hanoi (and have no idea of the quality of the boat), I'm tired hungry and pretty frustrated, coming to Halong Bay before securing a cruse (which I tried to do) was a BIG mistake. Looking forward to Thailand (at least they speak some English!)
#13 TomSawyer has been a member since 1/7/2009. Posts: 10
I'm saddened that my suggestion turned sour for you. Apologies.
When I went to the harbour office when I was with a Columbus Cruise trip, people were booking with that office (1st on left as you go in the gate).
Again sorry for any hassles my suggestion made.
Morning update:Out of a little desperation I emailed Saigoncafé Travel late in the evening and gave them my hotel details and to call me if there was still room on their boat (as originally arranged). They soon called back and I'm on their boat at midday (I hope). Given what I said in the previous post the language barrier is substantial here,and I'm sure that there is a harbour office somewhere in town, though as mentioned, with my lack of knowledge of this place and the language (and country), I was unable to locate it.
By the way all the negative press I heard about Vietnam on so many reviews, it so far seems a charming place and most of the people seem fairly helpful. (I just wish we could communicate a little better ; ) )
#15 TomSawyer has been a member since 1/7/2009. Posts: 10
Many thanks for your updated info. It must have been frustrating for you to book a boat on the spot! We've just finalized our booking for the Columbus cruise Pinta Gold. I can't imagine how my partner and I will be wandering the city without a grasp of local language!
#16 lexkssnbrg has been a member since 5/5/2009. Posts: 53
is it worth it doing the 3day-cruise during the rain season? has anyone first hand experience? (i´m going in september)
also i´m travelling on my own. are there any boats with single sleeper cabins?
We're booked the Pinta Gold for early of this Aug and wired the deposit a couple of days ago, even knowing that the weather may not be good then (rainy season as far as I know about the country). Just make the best of it.
Like hotels, rooms are, normally, not designed for single travelers, therefore, you will be subject to a certain amount of extra cost. However, I doubt that it will be applied as it's not the peak season now.
#18 lexkssnbrg has been a member since 5/5/2009. Posts: 53
The rainy season should start waining by September, I had some heavy rain but about 70% of the time it was fine with plenty of sunshine this was mid July. I shared a cabin with anoher guy, it was quite OK.
#19 TomSawyer has been a member since 1/7/2009. Posts: 10
Several (most, I think) boats have at least one (often more) 'dorm' style rooms with at the minimum 2 single beds.
Given the low season & reduction in tourists, I doubt you'll have a problem getting a bed.