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Hạ Long Bay 2-Day 1-Night Cruise, Ha Long, Vietnam

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Article author: michael
michael
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Back in 2019, I was planning a trip to Vietnam with my then girlfriend (now wife). I had the typical cities in mind … Ha Noi, Sai Gon, Da Nang, Hoi An, etc. I had also heard a bit about Ha Long bay, including from a friend who raved about it, but the reviews online were so mixed!

Half the reviews were super positive saying how amazing it was, but the other half were the complete opposite, mentioning how disgusting and polluted the water is, and how it’s not worth the money or time. I decided to not chance it, and followed the advice of some others saying to visit Ninh Binh instead, and I ended up having an absolutely amazing time there. You can catch that post here if you’re interested.

Fast forward to 2022, and we’re back in Vietnam again. This time my wife really wanted to give Ha Long bay a try, and I figured ok, why not?

Athena Royal Cruise Info

  • Departure location: Halong International Harbour
  • Operator’s official website: athenagrouphalong.com
  • Cruise duration: 2 days, 1 night

Some Brief Hạ Long History

Hạ Long, which means “descending dragon”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is located in the Quang Ninh province of Vietnam. The bay is made up of thousands of limestone islands and islets, and is a popular tourist destination in Vietnam.

There are a number of places in Vietnam where you’ll find limestone karst mountains, but in Hạ Long bay and city, they’re one of the main draws and are everywhere … and really quite beautiful!

The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem and a seashore biosystem. Hạ Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.

Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistoric human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago. The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhụ culture around 18,000–7,000 BC, the Cái Bèo culture 7,000–5,000 BC and the Hạ Long culture 5,000–3,500 years ago. Hạ Long Bay also marked some important events in Vietnamese history, with many artifacts found in Bài Thơ mountain, Đầu Gỗ cave, and Bãi Cháy.
Wikiepedia

Cruise Itinerary

Day 1

  • 12:00: Check-in at Halong International Harbour
  • 12:30: Transfer by boat to the cruise ship
  • 12:45: Buffet lunch on board
  • 14:45: Visit Sung Sot cave
  • 15:45: Leave Sung Sot cave and head to Titov (Titop) Island
  • 17:00: Return to the cruise ship
  • 18:30: Cooking class
  • 19:00: Dinner

Day 2

  • 06:30: Tai Chi on the sundeck
  • 07:00: Breakfast
  • 08:00: Visit Luon cave
  • 09:00: Check-out
  • 09:30: Brunch
  • 10:45: Head back to the harbour

The Cruise

With Athena Cruises, you have the option to transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay, but at a separate cost. Some operators include this in the price I believe, but we didn’t need the transfer, so it wasn’t a big deal for us. We actually came into Hạ Long city the day before with a friend who was driving in for work, so we didn’t need to worry about that and were able to save a bit of money that way.

The ship was actually really nice. There are certainly way nicer cruise ships than the one we were on, as the prices you see online for various operators go into the $1000+ USD per person range for the real “luxury” cruises. But for the price we paid, which was somewhere around the $100 USD per person range, we were very happy with the ship.

I didn’t actually take a pic of the outside of the ship, but here’s a pic of the ship from the Athena Cruises website:

Athena Royal Cruise

No doubt the picture above is edited, but it at least gives an idea of what the ship looks like.

Day 1

After checking in at the harbour, and then transferring to the ship, we quickly got settled into our room and then headed to the dining area for lunch.

Ship Hallway

Our Room

Our bedroom was nice … but cramped. I think due to booking last minute, we couldn’t get a family room like we wanted, and instead ended up with a standard room with an extra bed shoved in.

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

The Bathroom

The Bathroom

Despite being a bit cramped though, it was a really nice and comfortable room. There was also a small balcony, which could only fit maybe 1 or 2 people sitting, but it did offer some really nice views while we were at sea.

The Bathroom

The Dining Area

After quickly dropping off our stuff, we headed to the dining room for lunch.

Dining Area

Dining Area

Dining Area

Dining Area

The lunch buffet was ok. Nothing spectacular, but it was decent enough. There was a good assortment of hot and cold dishes, with some nice zesty Asian salads as well.

While we were eating, the ship was making it’s way to our first stop.

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

First up on the actual cruise was Sung Sot cave, or “Surprise” cave. Sung Sot cave is apparently the biggest of the Hạ Long bay caves, and based on how massive the inside is I can believe it.

Before entering the cave though, we had to climb up a bunch of steps to get to the entrance.

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

I believe the guide(s) told us it was around 118 steps to get up there. I had only brought some flip-flops with me on the cruise, so I was a bit worried about slipping on the steps. Thankfully it was dry though, and I didn’t have any issues. 🤪

After making your way in the cave, you actually need to walk down a bit to get to the main area.

Sung Sot Cave

In some areas, there was much height to get through the path, so you had to crouch down a bit to get through. Nothing too bad though.

Sung Sot Cave

The cave is really beautiful, with lots of different sections in it that you need to walk through. It’s actually much larger than I was expecting and has a lot of different sections.

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

Back in 2019 I travelled alone to Ireland at the beginning or the year, and visited a cave there when I was in Kilkenny. The cave in Kilkenny was much smaller, but had a bit of a similar feel to it. It also had a bit more of a “cave-y” feeling if that makes sense? Whereas Sung Sot cave had a lot of lighting, both natural and artificial, and easier walkways built into it.

Sung Sot Cave

I will say that the paths and extra lighting in Sung Sot cave make it much easier to make your way around, and see everything.

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

The entire tour probably took us 30 to 45 minutes. At the end of the cave, there was some further climbing to get back up and out. Maybe another 100 steps or so? I’m not sure, but it was a decent climb back up.

Sung Sot Cave

The weather was great when we visited, albeit quite hot, so walking through the cave and on the rock floors/steps was fine. However, I could see how on a humid or wet day it could get very slippery and possibly dangerous if improper footwear (like the flip-flops I was wearing!) is worn. So if you’re planning on visiting, probably wise to have some good footwear on.

Oh, did I mention we had to make our way back down again after climbing back up the steps and out of the cave? 😂
Yeah, the steps weren’t done with us just yet! But it was a nice walk down, and the views were pretty awesome, so no complaints from me! 😎

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave

We headed back onto our respective boats at this point (we weren’t the only tour group there), and then headed to our next and final stop for the day.

Titov Island

When you read reviews online about Ha Long bay cruises, when people mention dirty polluted water, I believe it’s the beaches, or this point of the cruise, that they’re referring to.

When we arrived at the beach here, I don’t think I was specifically looking at the water or how dirty it might have been, as we actually stayed mostly on the beach itself. You can kind of see in the next two pics, the sand was quite nice, but full of broken sea shells and other debris …

Titov Island

I did take a bit of a dip in the water, but don’t recall exactly how good or bad the water was. I do recall it being murky, but I have yet to experience clear water in Vietnam, so I wasn’t expecting much and therefore don’t recall if it was worse than any of the other beaches I’ve been to in Vietnam.

It certainly didn’t seem as bad as some reviews mention, but perhaps they were on a different beach? Or perhaps those travellers were expecting crystal clear waters like you’d find in the Caribbean or something? I’m not sure. In any case, I didn’t find it horrible, just very typical of Vietnam beaches.

Titov Island

Cooking & Relaxing

We only had about an hour or so at the beach, and then it was time to head back to the ship. If you’re on one of the party cruises, I believe some of them stay overnight at the beaches and party it up. So if that’s your thing, sweet! Not for us though, thankfully. 😂

So we boarded the ship again, and had a bit of time to relax before dinner, so we headed to the top deck to enjoy the views and take some photos.

Relaxing on the Top Deck

Relaxing on the Top Deck

While we were up on the top deck, they were also doing the “cooking class” at this point. It’s more of an assembling class if anything, as they just show you how to prepare fresh (as in non-fried) spring rolls.

Cooking Class

Cooking Class

I’ve made this type of spring roll before, so it was something I’m already familiar with, but it was a nice little snack anyway. So we made our spring rolls, and sat down on some of the lounge chairs to enjoy the views and relax a bit before heading back to our room while dinner was being prepared.

Relaxing on the Top Deck

Relaxing on the Top Deck

After relaxing for a bit, and then eating dinner, we headed back to enjoy the rest of the evening from our room before calling it a night.


Day 2

The itinerary for Day 2 starts with some tai chi on the top deck. I’m a morning person, but neither my wife nor I felt like doing the tai chi, so we skipped that and just waited for breakfast to head up. While breakfast was being prepared and served, the ship was heading off to the only stop of the day, Luon cave.

Luon Cave

Luon cave is a small cave that you can kayak or take a small boat through. The ship stops at a dock a bit away from the cave, and then you decide which option to take.

I love kayaking, and was really hoping to do some here, But with a little one in tow, it wasn’t really an option. So we opted for the small boat instead, which can carry maybe 10 to 15 people, and has someone paddling it for you.

Luon Cave

Luon Cave

Luon Cave

You pass through the mouth of the cave, which then opens up into a small lake. As you pass under the opening you can see some of the stalactites hanging from the roof of the opening. The walls of the inside of the cave also had a weird texture to them. I suppose that’s just from erosion? 🤔

Luon Cave

Luon Cave

Luon Cave

The boat ride was quite relaxed and at a slow pace, which was nice. After passing through the opening, you get more views of the surrounding karst mountains, and the water is calm. Perfect water for kayaking for sure.

Luon Cave

Luon Cave

The boat ride through the cave is quite quick, like maybe 10 to 20 minutes tops, and then you’re back to the dock again. The kayakers were out for longer, so in total the itinerary probably allows for about 30 minutes or so at the cave, and then it’s back to the ship so the ship can return to the harbour.


Conclusion

This was a 2 day & 1 night cruise, but actual time-wise it’s really only 1 day and 1 night total. The 1st day is a little over half a day, and the 2nd day is really just the morning. So if you’re looking for a full 2 days of activities, you’d probably want to book a 3 day & 2 night cruise.

There’s quite a bit of climbing on day 1 when you come to the cave, and it takes a decent bit of effort. It’s not extreme or anything like that, but if you have mobility issues or aren’t at least somewhat fit, you might find it a bit difficult.

Cruise Verdict

As far as my personal thoughts, I really enjoyed the cruise. Actually, my wife and I had wished we had an extra day, we enjoyed it that much!

That said though, there are a lot of different cruises in Ha Long Bay. Some go through Ha Long Bay, and some go to the less tourist-saturated bays like Bai Tu Long Bay. There are also the more relaxing ones like the Athena Royal Cruise we did, and the not so relaxing “party boat” cruises.

So if you’re looking for a Ha Long Bay cruise, I’d recommend doing some decent research and finding one that suits your needs.

I found a good post online that has some good info on the different bays you can do cruises in on the worldnomads site that’s worth checking out.

There’s also the option of doing Ninh Binh instead. I did Ninh Binh back in 2019, and it was absolutely amazing. Ninh Binh is also known as “Ha Long Bay on land”, so if you’re not a fan of cruises, or don’t have the time, Ninh Binh is a great alternative.

Until next time,
michael 😀

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