Vietnam — Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, with Glory Cruises — an overview

A breakdown of my time in Ha Long Bay

September 2015

I spent three days and two nights in the company of Glory Cruises in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. So, what did we do? Where did we go?

The bay does have some great stats:

  • total area of Ha Long Bay, 434 square kilometres
  • 775 islands
  • typical tidal range of 4.4 to 4.6 m
  • depth on average 20 m, deepest 30 m
  • abundant fauna and flora
  • Ha Long Bay has a continuous and ancient culture
  • fishing villages of Ha Long Bay include:
    – Ba Hang– Hoa Cuong– Cua Van– Ba Ham– Cong Tau– Vong Vieng – which I visited– Cong Dam

The Itinerary

The ‘published’ itinerary for the trip was:

Cruise Program: 3 Days / 2 Nights

Day 1

12:00: Check-in Glory Legend Café

12:45: Welcome on Boat

13:15: Vietnamese Set Lunch Menu

15:30: Visiting the "Vong Vieng" village

16:30: Optional swimming, kayaking at the back of the boat

17:30: Happy Hour — Sunset party on Sundeck

18:15: Cooking demonstration on Sundeck

19:15: Dinner with Vietnamese set menu

21:00: Movies show "Indochina" in the Restaurant

21:00: Second Happy Hour

21:00: Squid fishing catching at the back of the boat

22:00: Good night

Day 2

06:15: Tai Chi class on the Sun Deck

07:00: Traditional Vietnamese breakfast

08:30: Transfer to the daytime boat

10:00: Swimming and kayaking at the "Three Peach" beach in the Lan Ha Bay area

11.00: Visiting "Dong Tien" cave — the Fairy cave

12:30: Lunch on the boat

15:30: Return to the big boat and join the rest of the program (i.e. 16:30 on from day 1)

Day 3

06:15: Tai Chi class on the Sun Deck

07:00: Traditional Vietnamese breakfast

07:45. Exploring the "Surprise" cave

09:00: Pay any onboard costs and check out

10:00: Brunch

11:00: Disembark from the boat

End of the cruise

So, what happened?

Day 1

I had an early pick-up from the hotel, and it took around 4 hours to get to the Bay and the boat terminal. The transfer was a bit messy and confused, but it worked. We were on the boat at 1 pm and had a quick briefing and lunch at 1:30 pm. The meal was good with a range of dishes. For me, the spring rolls were the best.

The boat had 17 cabins split across two decks. I was on the lower deck, which meant I had a door to an external walkway on the boat and no balcony. The room was very nice and comfortable — all wood, with a good air-con unit.

At 3:30 pm, we took a trip out from the main boat to look around some local caves. The scenery in the bay was Impressive. The cave had bats, and apart from two monkeys (Crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) also called a Long-tailed macaque) on an island, we saw no other wildlife. Where were the seabirds? I was told I would see Pelicans. At the caves, we could be rowed or take a canoe. I opted to be rowed. (Some of our canoeists were late getting back.)

Back on the boat, there was a 6:30 pm spring roll-making class. I missed it.

On day one, dinner was served at 7:30 pm, another excellent meal. Lots to eat. Sweet and sour soup, spring rolls, and a choice of main dishes.

After dinner, I went squid fishing off the side of the boat — I saw, I think, a lot of squid but didn't catch a thing. I was using a bright light and a green lure. Nothing. No interest. Later I was told we wouldn't have caught anything as there was no moon.

One annoying thing was that there were no tea and coffee facilities in the rooms, and I was charged extra for tea, coffee, and water at marked-up prices. Not impressed.

There were a surprising number of other boats out there in the bay. I counted 11 other boats when we moored up mid-channel for the first night.

Mooring on the first night — 20 50 10 N 107 4 11 E / N20.83611 E107.06972
Mooring on the first night — 20 50 10 N 107 4 11 E / N20.83611 E107.06972

Day 2

I was up at 5 am for sunrise, and it was pouring rain. Even with a compass, so I knew in which direction to look, there was no evidence of the sun.

I spent most of day two on the ‘day boat’ as the main boat had to go back to the dock to drop off the two-day trip passengers and pick up new passengers (there is a choice of two days (one night) or three days (two night) cruises). I was not too happy about that, as I hoped to spend some time relaxing on the boat.

The day boat was nice, but it felt like it had seen better days, as it was getting a little tatty in places. We visited a local fishing village (about an hour’s cruise from our main boat). After the village, we moved to a small bay area for swimming and canoeing. On the journey, we had lunch (pumpkin soup, a chicken burger in a bun, fries and beef stew, followed by melon and rambutans). For once, there were no other cruise boats around when we arrived at the swimming point.

We didn't follow the published itinerary for the day due to the weather and replaced the cave visit with a visit to the fishing village.

Drinks on the day boat (including water with the meal) cost extra. I had one Fanta, one coffee, and one bottle of water for 110,000 Dong (£3.50 UK; $5 U.S., and they were happy to take U.S. dollars). The charging for tea and water was annoying. I had paid a lot for the cruise, and they charged for water. However, the boat’s crew were excellent and looked after us.

Mooring for lunch and swimming — N20.81167 E107.10222 / 20 48 42 N 107 6 8 E
Mooring for lunch and swimming — N20.81167 E107.10222 / 20 48 42 N 107 6 8 E

One odd thing was that despite having visited quite a large part of the bay over the first two days, I didn't see much wildlife. Where is it all? All I saw was:

  • two monkeys (day 1)
  • some bats (day 1)
  • some small fish and squid whilst squid fishing (day 1)
  • two separate sea eagles in the distance (day 2)

I don't understand why the area is not teeming with seabirds as the cliffs and islands would make excellent nesting sites, and there must be plenty of fish in the sea; otherwise, there would be no fishing villages. I guess it could be that pollution, mainly floating plastic, was causing the problem. Despite all the plastic, Ha Long Bay didn’t have the air pollution of Hanoi (it was also not as hot and less humid).

On a visit to a local floating museum, I read that studies of Ha Long Bay have shown that the bay contains:

  • 435 species of plant life
  • 22 sea animal species
  • 76 species of bird
  • 28 varieties of mangrove flora
  • 5 species of sea-grass
  • 315 species of fish
  • 545 species of invertebrates
  • 234 species of coral
  • 411 species of plankton
  • 139 species of sea-weed
Photo by Author — wildlife information at the floating museum
Photo by Author — wildlife information at the floating museum

So, how come I saw so little?

Mooring for night two — N20 50 9 E107 4 12 / N20.83583 E107.07
Mooring for night two — N20 50 9 E107 4 12 / N20.83583 E107.07

Day 3: The Final Day

Again, I was up for sunrise and couldn't see anything due to clouds and a large island in the way.

Interestingly, I saw more birds in 10 minutes while waiting for the sun than during the previous two days. I saw two eagles flying high. Two groups of three birds flying low across the water, and a large flock of white birds flying between islands. In all cases, they were too far away to identify or photograph.

On the cruise, we were never far from the mainland, and Ha Long city, and its bridge, often popped into view as we rounded an island. Plus, there were always other boats around (large boats similar to the type I was on).

One worrying thing was staff kept almost leaving people behind. On the swimming/canoeing trip on day 1, it was only after the insistence of the other passengers that a head count was performed; it was realised that we were missing six people. On another occasion, we had to return to the main boat to collect passengers that had missed the trip’s start. The problem could be addressed with a register and headcount.

On the last day, we visited the Surprise Cave.

We were back on the quayside by noon and then had a 30-minute wait for the bus back to Hanoi.

On the way back, around 2:30 pm, we stopped at another factory/shop selling souvenirs, sculptures, food, and drinks. The food/snacks seemed to be heavily marked up again. We were back on the road at 3 pm and in Hanoi before 6 pm.

Photo by Author — ‘rest stop’ on the return to Hanoi
Photo by Author — ‘rest stop’ on the return to Hanoi

The drive back was notable for the lack of speed.

The official itinerary:

Official itinerary
Official itinerary

When leaving the boat, I met Mr Le Bac, a general manager with Glory Cruises.

Business card — Mr Le Bac, a general manager with Glory Cruises
Business card — Mr Le Bac, a general manager with Glory Cruises


Overall, an interesting trip, and I was glad that I went.

The bay was spectacular. The scenery was beautiful. The boat was comfortable, and the food was good. The staff looked after us on the boat, but they did have a habit of almost leaving clients behind on the excursions.

Although the bay’s geology was impressive, I was disappointed by the lack of wildlife (I was expecting to see quite a bit) and very alarmed at the pollution level — floating plastic mainly.

Contact Details — Pelican — Halong Cruise

Hanoi Sales Office: 5/338 Pham Ngu Lao str., Hoan Klern Dist., Hanoi, Vietnam

Tel: (+84-4) 3927 5796/ 97/ 3759 3098

Fax : (+84-4) 3927 5798

Hotline: (+84-9)3663 8069

Email: and

Websites: | |

Halong Head Office: 32 Ann Dao str, Halong City Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam

Tel: (+84-33) 3846 810

Fax: (+84-33) 3846 599

Hotline: (+84-9) 1681 8466