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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Halong Bay – How to Choose your Junk


Halong Bay, Vietnam is AMAZING and completely worth the time and effort to plan. Before going, do put some time and effort into choosing what tour you do, as this will make a big difference to whether you come back raving about your trip or warning others not to make the mistakes you did.

Know what you want
There are literally hundreds of boats floating around Halong Bay every single day, catering to all interests and budgets. But to find the one that caters to you, you need to know what it is you are looking for.

1. How much do you want to spend? 
Everyone's budget is different. Remember you are going to be stuck with it/on it, spending a little bit extra for a bit of comfort, good food, is probably worth it.
A tip: If you like a bit of luxury, consider upgrading.

2. How long do you want to go? 
There are basically two options here: 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights. If you do go for 2D/1N, be aware that you will spend less than 24 hours actually on Halong Bay. The first day you will make the four hour trip from Hanoi and arrive at the boat after 12 noon, after spending overnight on board, you will then disembark at around 11 am before making the four hour trip back to Hanoi while asking yourself why you didn't go ahead and do the 3 day tour. Mostly, the 3 day tour does the same itinerary as the 2 day tour, with an extra full day added in the middle where you will get the whole day exploring some of the further out areas, away from the tourist hordes.

3. How many people on the boat?
In general, up to 30 people is good

4. What do you want to eat? 
It may sound silly, but you are going to be stuck eating what they give you for two or three days. The quality of the food will largely be determined by your budget; however there is quite a range of options depending on the boat. Some are predominantly buffets, however there are others that serve you individual courses, or even ones where you can choose your main course from a menu. This is especially important if you have special dietary requirements.

5. Where do you want to go? 
In broad terms there are two basic options: Halong Bay (to the west) and Bai Tu Long Bay (to the east). Both are spectacularly beautiful, however, Ha Long Bay has more boats giving you more options, whereas Bai Tu Long Bay has less boats making it less busy and less crowded. If you go to Bai Tu Long Bay, you will miss out on seeing some of the more famous caves but you might get to visit some more untouched caves. Most boats provide a description of where they go on their website so check it out.

A third option is a tour that spends one night on Cat Ba Island. These tours are generally less expensive than the other options, however, be careful to check out not just the boat but also the accommodation offered on Cat Ba to make sure it fits your requirements.

6. What's included? 
Do you want to go Kayaking? If so, many boats charge extra. Does the price include transport from Hanoi and pick up from your hotel? Also, depending on the boat there may be extra activities offered on board such as cooking demonstrations or squid fishing. It's worth finding out exactly what's offered and what extra charges there will be.

Do your research
Most boats have a website so check it out. Also, look for reviews from others about the boat you are looking for. For some reasons, a lot of people seem to post reviews for the wrong boats, so read carefully. Also beware of suspiciously well or suspiciously bad reviews, fake reviews are not unheard of.

A travel agent can be very helpful. Make sure you tell them what's important to you and then ask for recommendations. If you've found some boats yourself, contact them to find out if there's anything you should know. In particular, agents will know the age of most of the boats and the size of the cabins. They can also get extra information from the boat for you if needed.

Last, but not least, after doing your research, whatever you decide and whatever happens, enjoy the experience. No matter which boat you choose you will be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Booking
Booking early. Of course there are some good deals offered to last minute customers, but booking early will give you a better chance of getting the boat you want. The popular boats do sell out.

Make any special food requests. (Keep in mind that most boats offer a predominantly seafood menu so if you don't like fish and seafood speak up now.) Also be clear about what you can eat (e.g., no seafood but fish is fine, or no seafood and fish but meat is fine). Ask for a quiet cabin, that is one that is away from the generator and restaurant.

If you are thinking of what to do on your next holiday to Vietnam? Try Halong Bay cruising with Indochina Sails, one of the boats which is at the luxury end of the market. For more detail, please refer to http://www.indochinasails.com/

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