One of the excursions we were most looking forward to on our Southeast Asia trip was our cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay, which funny enough, had actually been inspired by a post we saw on Instagram. While researching, we learned the beaches are popular tourist spots, and we wanted a more relaxing experience; that’s how we landed on the one night stay with Renea Cruises Halong, a highly rated boat tour company in Hanoi.
We woke up early and were picked up around 8 AM from our hotel in Hanoi by a prearranged shuttle coordinated by Renea Cruises. Our guide, Nam, was very friendly and tried to hype everyone up throughout the ride, while cracking jokes and sharing stories about Vietnamese culture and history. Our journey to Ha Long Bay was around four hours with one stop at a massive shop with jewelry, clothing, carvings, snacks and other souvenirs for sale, and most importantly, restrooms.
A Broad Recommendation: there aren’t toilets on the shuttle, so be careful not to over hydrate! I am one of those people that has to go a lot, so if you’re like me, you will need to keep this in mind.
We arrived at Hon Gai Pier around 12:30 PM and had another opportunity to buy snacks and to use the restroom. Here, we had to pay our remaining balance for the cruise.
Note: you will need cash to pay your balance in person. You are required to pay a deposit online at the time of booking, but when I tried to pay the remaining balance online, I wasn’t able to.
We took a small boat over to the beautiful, boutique wooden vessel that we would be cruising on for the next couple of days; we learned that the boat’s design was inspired by Ha Long Bay’s fishing boat style and was traditionally decorated with locally sourced materials.
When we boarded, there were welcome drinks waiting for us, and we were able to go up on the top deck to check out the amazing views as we set sail. Due to heavy tourism in Ha Long Bay, Renea Cruises journeys northeast from there to Bai Tu Long Bay, a stunning must-see destination for all travelers visiting Hanoi.
Vietnamese legend has it that when Vietnam was founded, enemies came from the north by sea to invade the country. A dragon and her children were sent to stop the attack. As the ships advanced, the dragons spat fire, and at the same time, they spat jewels, forming islands and islets that formed a wall of protection. Thus, the invaders were blocked and had to return home.
The Mother Dragon descended upon and made her home in Halong Bay, i.e. “Descending Dragon”, and her children descended upon Bai Tu Long Bay, i.e. “The Dragon Parts of the Offspring”. The dragon’s tail extended far in the sea, forming Bach Long Vi island, i.e. “The Tail of the White Dragon”.
After a little bit of exploring, it was time to check out our rooms. We chose the Deluxe Double/Twin Cabin with Sea View, which boasted natural hardwood floors and furniture, beautiful windows, air conditioning, a full bathroom (with hot water), and a fire extinguisher, life jackets, emergency lighting and a hammer just in case!
We dropped our stuff off in our room and headed to the restaurant for a five or six course seafood lunch; we can’t even remember how many dishes we had because there was just so much food!
Note: Candace is vegetarian, so the chef offered vegetarian options and would kindly cater to any other dietary restrictions upon request.
Funny thing about lunch was that we sat down next to two other women, Kristy and Patricia, and at some point in the conversation, Kristy mentioned that she was from a small town in New Mexico. We were across the world about as far from home as could be, so Candace took a long-shot and asked if Kristy knew of a store in town that her friend Chris’s family owns. Kristy’s jaw dropped because her wife actually worked at the store, and she regularly had lunch with Chris’s mom. How wild!
Now, Patricia is what we would call a total badass! Not only did she travel to Vietnam and go on this excursion at the age of 80 – we would never have guessed her age if she hadn’t told us! – but she has traveled the world for decades. She was so generous in sharing her travel wisdom and travel inspo with us from over the years.
Naturally, we became besties with them and hung out with them the rest of the trip.
Not only did we connect with these ladies, but we felt a strong sense of camaraderie with many of the people on this trip. This excursion was intended for a smaller group, so we got to know and talk to most people.
We hopped on some kayaks after lunch for the first time in who knows how long for both of us, and we found ourselves trying to keep pace with the rest of the group as they zipped on by. It was pretty hilarious and fun. The weather was amazing and the views were simply spectacular. We were completely surrounded by rock formations, islands and trees, and of course, the crystal clear, blue water; it was quite serene.
We stopped off at a cute little beach area, which I believe was called Cap La Island. Here, the group just floated around on life jackets, and we were given some water bottles to hydrate.
Note: not everyone wanted to swim and kayak, and that was totally fine! There was an option to stay on board the cruise, or to ride around on the smaller boat and meet up with the kayakers in the beach area.
Huge shout-out to Nam, who was pretty darn cool. On our way back, he took a bunch of pictures for us in our kayaks; what a great way to remember our trip and all of the fun we had for years to come!
After arriving back at the boat, we enjoyed some showers and a couple of much-needed, refreshing watermelon juices, while watching the breathtaking sunset on the top-level deck.
After some conversation with our girls and a delicious, authentic Vietnamese dinner, we decided to call it an early night. Although there was an opportunity to partake in Vietnamese puzzles, board games and squid fishing, we just brought a couple of beers back to our room to sit and play cards. With half-finished drinks, we ended up falling asleep shortly thereafter.
Note: there was no WiFi or cell service on the boat, so we were off the grid for a day and a half.
A Tai Chi class was offered the next morning – Candace and I slept through this (intentionally) because we were still a bit tired from all of the travel and the prior day’s activities. We heard it was nice and low impact.
We did, however, get ourselves up in time for breakfast before boating over to Cong Do Island, one of the many islets of Bai Tu Long Bay, for a short walk and visit to Thien Canh Son Cave.
One of the 59 discovered caves in the area, Thien Canh Son Cave, is scattered from floor to ceiling with glistening limestone stalagmites and stalactites, some of which are claimed to resemble a lotus flower or even a baby elephant.
Note: There were some steep stairs getting up to the cave, and we noticed a sweet guy from our boat holding Patricia’s arm (just in case!) as we hiked up.
Afterwards, we were able to walk around the beach for a few minutes to take pictures. Although, there was no swimming allowed here, some people chose to take a quick dip in anyway.
By 9 AM, we were back on the boat where we needed to pack up our stuff and get ready for the promised cooking demonstration. We watched as the chef created a flower arrangement out of fruits and vegetables, and then, we got to try our hands at things and made some veggie spring rolls with rice paper. YUM! Not only was this fun, but it was also pretty tasty!
We enjoyed another meal while taking in a few more breathtaking views before arriving back at Hon Gai Pier for our departure back to Hanoi.
We exchanged emails with our new friends and headed our separate ways back to our respective shuttles. We had another four hour drive ahead of us before washing up and exploring Hanoi a bit more.
Overall, our overnight cruise was a huge success! We highly recommend Renea Cruises Halong for your Bai Tu Long Bay visit.
Our booking included round-trip transportation to and from our hotel in Hanoi, an English speaking guide, all sightseeing fees, two lunches, one dinner, one breakfast, a cooking demonstration, a sunset party, kayaking, a Tai Chi class, and a welcome drink, as well as two bottles of mineral water in our cabin each day. Although beverages and tips were not included in our booking, we only spent around $200 USD per person for the entire excursion.
A Broad Recommendation: We booked directly through Renea Cruises Halong’s website and were given a nice discount. These discounts vary from time-to-time, but we’ve seen them on their site since our visit!
Stay posted to find out where we went next on our Southeast Asian adventure! And, if you’re interested in more information about what to do in Hanoi, check out our Hanoi post!
XOXO Travel A-Broads