My husband and I booked a 2 night 3 day cruise of Halong Bay through First Choice Travel. We choose this based on all the wonderful reviews on Tripadvisor. I initially tried to book the cruise on the Red Dragon Prince boat but it was full so they recommended the Dragon's Pearl boat which had a few more rooms aboard but the itinerary was the same. Dragon's Pearl Junk was amazing and easily one of the best things we did while in Vietnam. The junk was new, clean, and had superb accommodations. Above everything on the boat that was excellent, the itinerary was what really set this trip apart. We cruised the less populated Bai Tu Long Bay. We kayaked and swam on private beaches and off the boat, we visited a fishing village (which I believe is a new addition to their itinerary) and had a fabulous dinner in an island cave. Even with all of the activities there was a good balance of relaxing on the sundeck taking in the beautiful views all around you. The staff were also very professional and fun, especially Son, our tour guide. Each meal was at least 5 courses and very well prepared...in fact, they get the seafood from the fishing village we visited. The Dragon's Pearl Junk is highly recommended.
I wish there were listings for all the boats on Halong
bay as hotels, since in essence for many Vietnam
travelers they are hotels for a night or two. However,
since there aren't maybe this will help a few of you out
as you try to pick you overnight boat to spectacular
We didbook this in advance before arriving in Vietnam with Dragon Pearl Junks. We had arranged the second half of our trip through the Thien Thanh Hotel in Hoi An, and the Hanoi hotel looked into what was available and given us options in different price ranges.
We'd bumped into a few tourists heading south along the coast that had had some iffy experiences with the cheaper boats -- to the point that they were recommending simply going to a hotel on Cat Ba and just taking a day tour.
So based on the hotels' recommendations and taking into account the feedback we'd gotten from other travelers, we chose to spend more in Halong Bay to get as good a product as we could.
On the whole it was a fantastic choice. We sailed on First Choice larger boat, the Dragon's Pearl. It is clean, oozes charm with it's wood paneling everywhere and has plenty of room to sit and enjoy the spectacular setting. They have an impeccable attention to service, especially when it comes to food. Meals were delicious, offering a wide variety of options. They clearly ask you beforehand if you have any special dietary needs so they can arrange the menu for you (we didn't).
The rooms are small cabins with a tiny en-suite bathroom. The bathroom was spotless... which is a good thing considering it's a toilet and a sink, with a showerhead you use on the same floor. That may put off some, but it worked really well. And more importantly, it really was spotless. We found the wood panelling in the room completely charming and the beds super comfortable. They also provided bottles of water which was a nice touch.
The boat itself had a dining area which was nice, if a bit hot at times even with the air conditioning on. But we tried to spend as little time in there as possible. You're not in Halong Bay to be inside! The main attraction was on the rooftop sundeck where we could lay out watching the spectacular scenery unfold. We had glorious weather for the most part and the peace and serenity of Halong is breathtaking. There was a lower forward deck with chairs which was also nice, especially in the evening where all the passengers with us hung out after dinner. Compared to other boats that floated by us, the amenities on ours seemed just slightly more polished. But I wasn't in the other boats so can't comment to the quality of others.
We only had a few minor glitches on this trip you should be aware about. Embarcation and disembarcation are really poorly organized. We arrived on their van from Hanoi early and were just sitting around with no real direction as to what was happening. There was a lot of confusion with our reservation. They really should have a desk for people to check in, or a single person at least who is waiting there for you -- especially considering the price point which is expensive for Vietnam. Disembarcation was chaotic too, with no information as to when vans back to Hanoi would arrive.
We also wished our "tour guide" on the boat would have left us alone. He was friendly enough at first. But there was an odd issue with our booking in that he kept insisting we were going kayaking when we hadn't booked kayaking. On a one night trip there is plenty to do without having to pack in a kayak trip. This was solved quickly we thought. Instead our tour guide kept reminding us throughout the whole trip about it. How he had to call our hotel that reserved it, and his manager, about it. Blah blah blah. First Choice had already sorted it out and didn't charge us for the kayaks, despite his endless whining. He would also show up inexplicably to just chat and be friendly with us at inoportune times when we were just soaking in the scenery and not get the hint when we wouldn't really make conversation. He was condescending in the cave tour when anyone would stray away from his endless explanations that didn't tell you much. The thing about Halong Bay is that it doesn't need much explanation or guiding. You just soak in the beauty. Needless to say we didn't feel a need to tip our "tour guide." We did tip the boat staff who were wonderful in every way possible.
All in all, I HIGHLY recommend First Choice. The Dragon's Pearl was immaculate and comfortable. The sun deck was thoroughly relaxing and the boat service was top notch. One night was plenty for us, but the people who were on multi-day trip were gushing about their experience too. You don't feel the multi-day people coming on or off the boat as they have separate small boats that ferry them off the main boat for the extra excursions, so you don't go back and forth to the dock at all other than when you check in and out. The boat is gorgeous, and floating on a top-quality junk definitely helps round out the Halong Bay experience!
Halong Bay was as breathtaking as I'd hoped, and the Dragon's Pearl was a classy way to take in this natural wonder. First Choice did a great job helping make Halong Bay unforgettable.
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