This is the continuation of the previous post on What to see in Hanoi Old Quarter and it covers the Halong Bay cruise that we took – Glory Legend Cruise.
Glory Legend Cruise is one of the best halong bay cruises in the 4-star range, according to TripAdvisor. This cruise offers 2 different packages – either 2 days and 1 night, or 3 days and 2 nights. Both packages have an identical itinerary for the first day.
Read on to find out what our experience with Glory Legend Cruise was like. I’m pretty sure most of the Halong Bay cruises have similar itineraries anyways so if you want to get the gist of what activities there are, you might find this useful too.
Getting to Halong Bay from Hanoi Old Quarter
Early morning at 7am, we had our breakfast at our hostel (Luxury Backpackers) in Hanoi while waiting for the Blue Dragon (Blue Dragon manages Glory Legend Cruise and other cruises) representative to show up as agreed the day before. We were supposed to settle the balance payment for the Halong Bay tour. She did come around 7.30am and left after the payment was settled. We then proceeded to wait for the tour bus. She told us it would come between 7.30-8am.
The cruise agencies will usually include transportation from Hanoi old quarter to Halong Bay and vice-versa. The only restriction is the time of pick-up (between at 7-8am) and that your pick-up point must be in Hanoi Old Quarter. It is possible to make your arrangements online with the booking agent before you get to Hanoi.
The bus arrived at 8.30am though. We were the last passengers for them to pick up. The guide on the bus told us that there were actually passengers from two groups in the bus – Rosa Cruise and Glory Legend Cruise.
The guide was very helpful and easy to understand. He shared a brief schedule of the Rosa tour with us (Glory Legend would be briefed on the cruise upon rejoining the main group) and also some obligatory safety measures. There was a small quiz on Halong Bay with some jokes thrown in.
He told us that Halong Bay was “recently” listed as one of the seven new natural wonders in the world.
By the way, other places under that category are:
- Jeju Island – South Korea
- Amazon Rainforest – the longest river in south american
- Iguazu Falls – National Park in Brazil and Argentina
- Komodo Island – National Park in Indonesia
- Table Mountain – National Park in South Africa
- Puerto Princesa Underground River – National Park in Philippines
Rest stop enroute to Halong Bay
I fell asleep most of the way. Woke up some time before we reached the halfway point. Here, we would stop for 30 minutes at a workshop for embroidery.
They sell embroidery paintings, statues and other souvenirs here. There is also a small café and good bathroom facilities.
Didn’t really see anything that we couldn’t get over in Malaysia. In fact, they had some goods from Thailand and other countries too. Just picked up a small knitted tortoise for my mum that was actually a roll-up measure tape in disguise. Saw this same item for sale at Noi Bai airport on our last day too.
The guide collected everyone when the time was up and we herded back to our respective buses. You can see all the different tour buses gathered here.
We moved along for close to another 2 hours until we reached the port island. The whole bus journey from Hanoi Old Quarter to Halong Bay took us about 3 hours and half. Do bring some entertainment along with you. Maybe some cards, snacks and don’t forget your motion sickness pills in case you need them.
Tuan Chau Marina
The entire island was developed for the sole purpose of tourism. It hit us here just how popular Halong Bay was universally. Our guide informed us that the owner is currently the richest man in Vietnam. There were hotels and some cafes. And resting areas right before the harbor. Most of the people here were tourists of all nationalities. At this time (Christmas 2017), most were from America or Europe.
At the resting point, another guide told us to wait for our cruise to be called for boarding in roughly 30-40 minutes. We took this time to freshen up at the bathrooms and admire all the boats or should I say ships? You can purchase a coffee or snack at the small counter in this building.
We singled out our destined boat, Glory Legend. It was a mid-size boat that was frankly not very impressive next to its much larger neighbors. Ours is the one in the middle if you refer to the pictures below. The boats/ships were designed with a blend of modern and Vietnamese traditional features. The most splendid ship was the Alisa cruise which was probably more than RM1k a night per person – wayyyyyy out of our budget.
On board Glory Legend Cruise (Check in)
Pelican cruise passengers boarded first. We were next after two Pelican groups. By that time, it was our turn, it was 1pm. The crew directed us to the dining room where we were served welcome drinks. They briefed us on the itinerary and told us lunch would be served in another 15 minutes or so. This is a good time to confirm with the crew if you have any dietary restrictions.
Our room was on the upper floor (sea view) and we found it to be small but luxurious nonetheless. The interior of the room was a dark wood finishing as we had seen on the booking page for this tour package. Two bottles of water were provided. There was a basket of fruit and a bottle of wine but I’m pretty sure those were not complimentary. The only thing tacky in the room were two Vietnamese women figurines. There was ample space to hang all our winter paraphernalia. We left our things and returned to the dining room.
Lunch by Glory Legend Cruise
The lunch was served promptly as the boat left the harbor. A waiter went around with a drinks menu to collect separate orders. I think this is what fine dining is like. A round of 4 mini meals that were all prepared by a chef right on the spot. All of the dishes were delicious and I’m not saying that just cause we were hungry.
The lunch is included with the package but the beverages are not. We ordered this Vietnamese traditional drip coffee. The aroma was very pleasant and rich. Drinking this hot beverage in chilly weather was deeply satisfying.
Got our first view of Halong Bay during lunch. The limestone hills were honestly not that different compared to the ones in Ipoh. This is probably what Ipoh would look like if it was submerged under water. Halong Bay has a greater number of hills though. Endless. Our guide told us they number near to two thousand, in total.
It was a real treat to be enjoying good food and great scenery all at once. Am thankful to have had the chance to experience that in Halong Bay.
Per schedule, we were due to reach Ti Top island for a hike in less than an hour or so. Rested in the room a bit before coming out again. A smaller boat was waiting outside to ferry us to Ti Top island.
Ti Top Island
As we approached the island, we could see that a lot of the cruises have roughly the same itinerary. Quite a lot of people were already on the island, playing on the beach.
Our guide had tickets ready for us. We just showed them to the ticket operator at the entrance and followed the crowd to the start of the stairs that would take us to the top of the island where we would be able to get a panorama view of Halong bay.
There is a statue of a man on the island. We wondered at this but our guide explained that the statue was a gift to represent the good relationship between Russian and Vietnam during the cold war.
Hiking in Ti Top island
The hike was not too difficult. Older people could manage it with frequent breaks. We were supposed to go up and come down within 30 minutes and spend the remaining 30 minutes of the allocated hour either swimming or exploring the beach. Swimming did not cross our minds at all. The water was chilly from a Malaysian perspective although many foreigners were happily splashing in the cold waters below. If you do want to swim, stay within the marked boundary. The guide warned of jellyfish.
There are two rest stops or viewpoints before the top and final viewpoint. Since we weren’t planning to swim, we hung around to wait for the thick crowd to disperse before we got to take some photos.
The view is worth the hike. If you really cannot make it, the first viewpoint is pretty lovely already. You might still have to secure a spot for photos though.
We had enough time to make it down dip our feet in the water before making it back to the boat with the rest of the group. The small book took us back the cruise ship.
Pearl Farm in Halong Bay
The guide told us it would be another hour or so before we reached the pearl farm which is also the spot for kayaking. We took the time to explore some of the ship and enjoy the cool weather outside.
Note: Please the careful when exploring the boat. Especially if you cannot swim. Our junk didn’t have any fencing at the front deck as you can see from the picture below.
It wasn’t long before we were told to board the small boat again to reach the pearl farm.
This is where our group split. Those who were keen to kayak moved to the end of the farm while the rest stayed on to learn about how pearls were harvested from the farm.
Kayaking in Halong Bay
Kayaking – the activity that we were looking forward to.
We went on to pick our kayak and oars. You have to don a life jacket for your own safety.
No instructions were given but after a few strokes in, we got the gist of it. To be fair, I was mostly just taking photos and fretting about dropping my camera. We had 30 minutes to paddle around aimlessly. Got to one shore where you could see through the dark aqua water.
A couple of people from our group took single kayaks instead of double. They could go much faster.
Don’t worry about hitting any boats cause there are none in this area. There are some buoys that serve to mark the oyster beds (I think) though so try to avoid these.
It was getting dark fast. The sun sets at 5.30pm during December. We made our way back to the pearl farm, returned the life jackets, oars and kayak. The small boat brought us all back to the cruise ship again.
Cooking lesson on Glory Legend Cruise
There was to be a cooking lesson of sorts up on the deck at 6.30pm so after our shower, we just loitered around the deck, enjoying the view of all the surrounding ships lit against the backdrop of hills.
The lesson started around 6.30pm per schedule. The guide was present alongside the same chef who had prepared our lunch earlier in the day. The topic was spring rolls.
Apparently, south and north Vietnam prepare their spring rolls differently. The chef would show us how to prepare spring rolls in the northern style. Everyone got a chance to try their hand at rolling. The chef made it look effortless.
We got to taste our creations after the chef fried them. Dinner was served shortly after back down in the dining room.
Dinner on Glory Legend Cruise
Since it was Christmas eve, the dinner was in a buffet style rather than set meals.
There was so much food – cakes, salads, sushi, some seafood and other meats. Most of the food was well seasoned. I particularly enjoyed the salads. If you have certain dietary restrictions, you can tell the guide during the briefing or before the meals are prepared.
Take note again, all drinks (including bottles of water in the room) will be charged to you and paid upon check out at the end of the cruise.
There was a squid-fishing session later up on the deck around 9-10pm. The guide did mention the squids were not in season. We preferred to enjoy some warm drinks at our room balcony instead.
Sunrise from our room
If you wake up early enough, you can join the Tai chi session up on the deck at 6.30am but we just in until breakfast at 7.30am. We saw the sunrise from our room.
Breakfast on Glory Legend Cruise
Breakfast included western pastries and cereals and Vietnamese noodles. There was fruit as well.
This was Christmas day and some of the passengers actually brought presents from home to give to their family members right there in the dining room. And to think I actually thought that there wouldn’t be many Westerners in Halong bay during the Christmas weekend because they would want to spend it at home with their families.
On this last day, there was one more item on the itinerary to cross out – a trip to one of the largest limestone caves in Halong bay.
Sung Sôt or Surprise Grotto, Bo Hòn Island
Once again, we boarded the small boat and made our way to another island, passing by a small fishing village.
There were quite a lot of boats at the dock of this island. There was a lot of construction going on at the front of the island too. Not sure what they were building. We followed our guide and the rest of our group up the stairs.
A crowd of people were already climbing ahead of us. This climb was a lot easier than the previous day’s climb at Ti Top island. In about 15 minutes, we had reached the opening of the cave.
The guide explained some formations to us as well as the history of the cave. It wasn’t hard to imagine many people living in the cave at some point in history. It was huge. A small house could easily fit inside the third and largest chamber. The cave made Ipoh’s Gua Tempurung seem rather small in comparison.
We went through three chambers in total, admiring the unique formations around us. It’s quite well lit but please watch your step all the same. It can be slippery. Do not even think about bringing your flipflops here.
It took us an hour or so to complete the cave tour. The exit is not the same as the entrance.
There is a small souvenir stall and a viewpoint. The exit stairs leads out to a lovely little walkway with the water on your right and the hill on your left. You can see the hill up close this way. There is another souvenir stall on the walkway selling jewelry and bags made of shells.
Check out and brunch, Glory Legend Cruise
Took the small boat back to the ship. We had about an hour to pack before check out at 10am. I should probably mention here that if you take the 2D1N course like we did, they will only take you around the main islands. If you take the 3N2D package, you can see the other small islands too.
So at 10am, a lot of passengers were still packing their stuff so we settled our bills first – not that we had much, just a coffee and some water.
We just waited around the dining hall for the other passengers to come in. The crew served us one last time – noodles and curry. There were a lot of fruits again too. To be honest, we were still full from breakfast so we just ate a little.
Nothing much else to say. We spent our last moments just admiring the view as the ship headed back to the same port it had departed the day before.
It was 11.15pm or something when we docked.
Back at Tuan Chau Marina
A staff member came to tell us our bus would pick us up at around 12.45pm which was roughly the time we arrived the previous day. We could see the staff running around preparing for the next batch of tourists. There were already some people cleaning the rooms on all the ships which is quite a feat to achieve in less than two hours.
We passed the time playing games and planning the remainder of the day. We estimated that we would reach Hanoi around 4.30pm. Our next hotel was near the airport so we would not be going there until later at night. Note that the tour bus will not take you to anywhere outside the old quarter of Hanoi.
Bus ride back to Hanoi Old Quarter
The bus came on time and we boarded with a different group of people. Oh, I think I haven’t mentioned yet that the buses are clean and comfortable. They give bottles of water out (one per passenger, not sure if they allow you to take more than that. There is no bathroom however so make sure to empty your bowels before the journey. By the way, the bus fare is included in the tour package.
At half time, the bus will stop at the same rest stop and you get 30 minutes to refresh before continuing the journey. We got a coconut and some biscuits to share while waiting for the bus.
Back on the bus and continued the journey. The driver stopped at a repair shop, not sure why but it took 15 minutes or so before we were back on the road again. Made it to Hanoi without any other delays. Passed the lovely mural again. Will put a clip of it on our Facebook page or something.
We had a great time in both Hanoi and Halong bay. I think we will visit Hanoi again but not anytime soon. There’s a lot of other places in North Vietnam that are of interest to us like Sapa and Hoi An. Plus, the cool weather makes exploring easier.
Hanoi and Halong bay are rather touristy but there’s a reason why so many people come here for a holiday. We don’t usually take tour packages but it makes for a nice change, once in a while.
Our overall experience with Blue Dragon tour and Glory Legend Cruise was good with the exception of a few delays. Love the food that we had in Hanoi – their food is very simple but fragrant. They like to make use of mint and basil leaves. And fish sauce, don’t forget the fish sauce.
Are you planning to go to Halong Bay? What cruise will you choose? Leave a comment below.
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