Recognized widely as an UNESCO World Heritage site, Halong Bay is undoubtedly the most famous attraction that Vietnam has to offer – in fact, some tourists venture to Vietnam with the sole purpose of only visiting this gorgeous wonder and also to cruise the gorgeous greenish-blue waters.
Although there are plenty of tour operators and travel companies offering a multitude of cruises online, we decided to wait till we got to Hanoi (in Vietnam itself) before deciding on which tour to opt for. Hanoi, in itself has a lot to offer. A quick stroll around Hanoi old town revealed the following info:
- Almost all the tour operators were essentially selling the same package
- There was not too much for variation in pricing between the operators
- There are tours starting from low prices which were of 1 star or 2 star quality (low budget), 3 star (moderate) and 4 star and 5 star (luxury).
A quick evaluation and several detailed discussions later, this is the conclusion we reached: the 1 and 2 star tours were not safe for a variety of reasons: it was likely that they would not deliver what they promise; the boats themselves were of questionable quality and therefore subject to accidents like fire or sinking (we witnessed one such incident firsthand ourselves!); the chances of personal belongings being stolen or going missing during the cruise was relatively high.
With this in mind and the concept of better to be safe rather than sorry, we decided to opt for a 3 star overnight cruise. We decided to skip the 4 star and 5 star options for two reasons: firstly, the only major changes would be in the food items and would actually be in the “prettiness” of the boat and the living quarters and traditionalists will actually miss out of an authentic Halong Bay exploration voyage; secondly, we reasoned that because all the boats followed pretty much the same route, same excursions and same itinerary, we would be spending a lot of our time engaging in activities and therefore the splurge on 4 stars and 5 stars would amount to being a waste.
In hindsight, it turns out that we had made the perfect choice after all! We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly (read about our Halong Bay adventure here – coming soon!), didn’t feel ripped off or regretful when we actually witnessed the so-called 4 star and 5 star boats next to ours on the water, and also felt blessed and thankful when we witnessed a 2 star boat near ours catch on fire early in the morning.
All it all, we are just happy we did the Halong Bay cruise the right way to go (with the additional savings that allowed us to head for a side trip to Indonesia!).