Ha long Bay in the northeast is one of the big hitters on the itinerary for most people visiting Vietnam and we’d been looking forward to it. We’d read many blogs and reviews advising that you get what you pay for when it comes to selecting a cruise so we decided to stretch the budget and go on a three day, two night cruise.

We found a great deal on a newly launched luxury cruiser called Era and once on board, we were lucky enough to be upgraded to their signature suite.

I guess they are trying to make a great impression because they are the new kids on the block and we were thankful to be their guinea pigs. The room was insanely plush.

At 74sqm, the cabin was bigger than any hotel room we’ve ever been in and featured a private sun terrace, a separate living space and a round bed. There were a total of 11 different places to sit in the cabin as we looked through the floor to ceiling windows.

The cherry on top was the beautiful bathroom with freestanding jacuzzi bathtub by the window.

We couldn’t believe our luck to be upgraded to a room that cost double what we paid. It was incredible to experience such luxury and we felt proper cheeky as we trundled in wearing shorts and flipflops with our massive backpacks on.

Hạ Long Bay, is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests.

We cruised through the famous landscape and South to Lan Ha Bay which is a quieter area with less tourist boats and day tours.

On our first afternoon we went kayaking and swimming.

Only 4 people on the boat wanted to swim so we basically had the place to ourselves.

I felt incredibly small, immersed in the sea and surrounded by huge mountainous islands soaring up out of the water. Nothing but sea and islands as far as the eye can see. The water was incredibly deep and we were dots in the vast ocean.

We had enough time to clean up before cocktail hour and a cookery demonstration on the top deck. We finished the evening with a tasty dinner and a nightcap on our private terrace.

We were up at 6am the next day for a lesson in Tai Chi before breakfast. It was so peaceful to be on the top deck, taking in the morning air as sea eagles circled above us and the mountains reflected in the still, calm water.

We then took the day boat over to nearby Cat Ba island and cycled 6km to visit a local fishing village called Viet Hai.

Completely rugged and set in the middle of the sea, Viet Hai has a population of just 250. The locals are real grafters, producing and growing all their own food and are seemingly self sufficient.

We wandered through the lush fields and met some very cute friends on the farm.

It was completely tranquil and isolated, surrounded by clean air and wonderful views.

We managed to get back on the day boat before the heavens opened and scuppered our plans for an afternoon kayaking excursion. I think that the weather makes all the difference here, and whilst gloomy grey clouds are atmospheric, we’d have preferred warm sun and blue skies as a backdrop.

We’ve not had the best of luck with weather when it comes to standout destinations but the jacuzzi bath was a great consolation and warmed us up.

We had another wonderful dinner onboard before giving squid fishing a go at the back of the boat.

Unsuccessful in our attempts, we hit up the bar and partied with new found friends until they chucked us out.

The following morning we went for a quick trip to the nearby caves along with the most adorable local kid before heading back to shore.

The scenery at Ha Long Bay is truly breathtaking but is marred by the amount of rubbish and plastic in the sea. It’s a real problem and ruins the area’s gorgeous aesthetics. We weren’t sure if this is due to rubbish being dumped off boats or being washed up into the calm waters of the bay.

Whilst the government is incentivising locals to clear up, it’s not enough and the cruise companies don’t seem to be actively tackling the issue or taking responsibility for the part they play when operating in the area. There is plenty of debate online as to whether alternative destinations such as El Nido and Coron in the Philippines that boast similarly spectacular limestone formations will rise in popularity and supersede Ha Long Bay. Personally I feel as though the two destinations have enough differences to warrant separate visits but with the current pollution issue in Ha Long, I can understand why tourists may be seeking alternative spots. I guess this is a common theme we’ve seen whilst travelling, where natural spots are at risk of becoming victims of their own beauty. It’s interesting to reflect on the part we play in this. Whilst increased tourism is creating more jobs and investing money into an area, it is no doubt putting strain on resources and infrastructure.

That said, we had a blast in Ha Long Bay and thoroughly enjoyed being spoilt. Returning to our box room, budget hotel in Hanoi brought us back down to earth with a bump.

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