We arrived early in Hanoi after a red-eye flight from Bangkok. Customs was relatively simple with only a short wait till we got our visas. Then we met our driver from the hotel who drove us to our hotel the Silk Queen. Wow, since I was last in Hanoi there is now a new modern airport with a new motorway into the city. What a difference. Last time my driver had to avoid water buffalo on the road. This time no water buffalo and in the Old Quarter of Hanoi in 40 minutes. Our hotel is in the heart of the Old Quarter and only a few minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. We found an ATM close by and for the first time we became millionaires, albeit in Vietnamese Dong.
We decided to hit the ground running and book a trip to Halong Bay as soon as possible. Before we came to Hanoi we had done some research and decided to spend a bit more that we normally would. This was to avoid some of the horror stories we had read on trip advisor about Halong cruises. Ms Rose a travel organiser at our hotel did all the legwork. We chose Viola Cruises. Excellent choice. The boat was new with 16 cabins. They used a modern mini bus for the four-hour trip to Halong Bay which was still uncomfortable and thank goodness for the half hour break on the way there. I booked the honeymoon cabin it was our 9th wedding anniversary. We got Room 205 with a great balcony to sip some wine and watch the mountains as we glided past them. The food, aside from the first lunch was excellent and there was plenty of it. We loved everything, the caves, floating village, swimming, pearl farm and kayaking.
The scenery is truly magnificent. We got a great view climbing the 427 steps to the top of an Island on the first day for great photos. On the second day we visited fairy lake and a musical cave as well as learn about pearls at a pearl farm. Just wish they had sold oysters to eat. Little things like the welcome drinks of Vietnamese red wine on the first night and snacks, the green jelly cake gift, squid fishing and learning how to make Vietnamese spring rolls on the last day made this a memorable and enjoyable trip. We did pay US$600 for the 3 days and two nights and in my opinion it was well worth it.
If you decide to do a cruise with any of the companies just make sure you bring a cushion for the ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay is 4 hours. Overall I would highly recommend Viola. The staff were friendly, humorous and informative as well as being professional. I wish I had brought binoculars with me and not sure if the boat had any. My wife also enjoyed the Tai Chi in the mornings. If you do the tour take some time on your balcony and enjoy the sunsets.
Back in Hanoi
We returned to the Silk Queen for a further 8 nights as we had to wait for our Indian Visas. For the rest of the first week we ate at various restaurants and explored the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
What did it cost?
Halong Bay Cruise was US$600 for two nights and three days
Silk Queen Hotel was US$275 for five nights
Food, attractions was US$373 or 8,000,000 Vietnamese Dong.
Seven day total was US$1,248 or US$179 per day. We are $30 over budget per day but the cruise was worth it.