Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Well hello Ha Long

PLACES I'VE BEEN

8/9/20234 min read

WOW!. I found out about Ha Long Bay by 'Googling' 'Boat Cruises in Vietnam' - and I have to say - the reality is every bit as stunning as all the pictures I found online.

Situated in the north-east of Vietnam, it took about 2 hours to get here after being collected from my hotel in the Hanoi Old Quarter by a shuttle, followed by a short fast-boat to the cruise from the ferry terminal.

Upon arrival I was reminded of the opening scenes of the old tv show 'The Love Boat' - as all the staff stood and waved us onto the cruise. As we were lead to the main dining room, we were showered with rose petals from the stairwell above (cheesy but cute) - then we were seated and ready for our 6 course set-menu lunch! I knew in advance of course, that all meals were included on the boat, but had no idea it was all fine dining! With only 22 rooms on the boat - and given two rooms were vacant and two rooms had single occupants - there were only 36 'cruisers' on board, and it was immediately evident that this was nothing at all like the 'mega cruises' we often see, but instead - a very personal, boutique experience, with attention paid to every detail. 'Eric' approached my table and introduced himself as my personal butler for the duration of the cruise (didn't see that coming!!) - and assured me if there was anything I needed, all I had to do was ask. Just minutes after our first delicious course was delivered to our tables, a pianist sat down at the Steinway and as the anchor was drawn and we started drifting deeper into the bay, I had to pinch myself to make sure this was all really happening.

Without giving a blow-by-blow account of every minute onboard (which I shall be replaying in my own head for years to come, I think) - I will give you an overview, and let you check out the pictures below..

The rooms - AMAZING! Not the tiny staterooms with the little port-hole windows and barely room to swing a cat.. they were twice the size I expected - and every room onboard had a private balcony and every amenity I could have wanted. There was a fresh fruit platter and fresh fruit juice waiting for me next to the 3-day itinerary that had me 100% sold on this whole deal, and wondering if there would be any way to stow away here as 3 days was simply not going to be long enough.

Evening meals were enjoyed in the warm air on the 3rd deck, beside the pool and under the stars, with the twinkling lights of other cruise ships in the distance. The bar was stocked with ingredients for any drink imaginable - although - 8 months into the year, I'm still on the sparkling water with fresh lime πŸ˜• The perfect end to the already perfect first day, saw me arrive at my room door to discover and single red rose, and a hand-written goodnight letter from the staff.

Breakfasts, brunches and afternoon teas were served inside on the 2nd level, and for all meals, we could choose from either a buffet or set menu (all included in the price)

As well as all the organised off-boat activities (a jungle walk through to the tunnels that were occupied by Vietnamese soldiers for up to 5 years in the war, a boat trip to a local village, and guided kayaking through the 'Dark and Light' caves) - there was plenty to do on board in our free time. Kayaking, a golf green, a small gym area, a pool on the upper deck, a swimming arena off the back of the boat (inflatable sides with a net underneath, to enable swimming in the sea without being stung by jellyfish!), and two other large deck areas with sun loungers, and of course the bar - were all available to use, and meant that during 'free time', I only ever saw one or two other people in the same place. There was even on on-site spa! 😍

Fun fact; it is simply not possible to sleep through a ships anchor being hauled up at 6am, therefore, I was awake early enough to take part in the Tai Chi sessions taking place on the mini-golf course at that time, although I had initially thought that seemed a ridiculous hour to be doing anything. Perhaps on morning #2, the other 'cruisers' had their earplugs in, because I was the only one that turned up - so I had my own personal Tai Chi time!

After dinner on the first night, I couldn't resist filling the bathtub in my room and soaking in the bubbles, while looking out at the lights sparkling on the water. Bliss!

On the second and final night, I decided it would be amiss of me not to patronise the heavenly spa facilities on-board, and indulge in a 75 minute hot oil massage. That took me through until 10pm and you better believe I had one of the best sleeps I've had in months that night.

The whole bay is simply one of the most serene, stunningly beautiful places I've ever been. It's such a relaxing environment. The waters, the rocks, the skies and the jungle, throw off every shade of blue, green and grey you can imagine. The ship moves along so slowly I don't think I was ever aware of any engine noise, or any other man-made noises, but rather the sounds of cicadas, wild goats bleating from the jungle and the sound of water gently lapping the boat as we glided through it.

I almost cried when I had to leave on Day #3. I promised myself I would be back one day, and I promised the staff I'd give them a good plug online.

Seriously - 10/10.

Bookings can be made online through one of the many tour providers, who offer 2 day/1 night - or 3 day/2 night options. Rooms (stellaroftheseas.com) So glad I sprung for the latter, although I found out from staff on-board that it is even better to book directly through them. As well as being slightly cheaper, they can organise longer stays of 4 or even 6 nights. Yup - that's me next time!

I will also say - that based on what I could see of the other cruise lines around, I made possibly the best choice. Most of the other boats I saw looked older or smaller, and some were just dining boats for day/lunch cruises. The sister ship to the Stellar is the Elite, but as a larger and newer boat (with 36 rooms) - it means slightly more people, and according to the staff onboard, mostly Vietnamese nationals now prefer the Elite, as many of them have already tried the Stellar - leaving overseas visitors like myself, to enjoy 80-90% of the bookings now.

Not hungry in Ha Long...

Ha Long sights...