No joke mamas, planning my most recent getaway to Vietnam was as easy as counting “One, two, three, Pho!” To enjoy beautiful scenery and great food, you can’t beat a Halong Bay cruise on a vintage-style junk boat in northern Vietnam.
My toddler had a weeklong term break last month and, as a mama whose favourite spare time activity is browsing travel destinations, I had a 6-night holiday planned and executed as soon as the hubby gave the green signal. Just a 3½ hour flight away from Singapore, Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi is a charming blend of East and West combining traditional Asian elements with a French influence, particularly in the bustling Old Quarter.
We started our trip at the Somerset Grand Serviced Residence and I would totally recommend it for families travelling with young children. Centrally located, the lovely, spacious apartments feature a playground and are conveniently connected to a small shopping centre with a supermarket and other handy shops.
Sassy Mama’s got the buzz on Hanoi activities covered so I’ll zoom straight to Halong Bay. The only tedious part of the trip to Halong Bay is the 3-hour drive from Hanoi, but book yourself a comfortable, chauffeured vehicle (return rates are about US$160) and amidst great music, car games, snacks and some shut eye the time will fly!
After my extensive research on the various junk boats (the cruise ships in Halong Bay go by this name), we picked the Paradise Luxury Junk from Paradise Cruises. Other close contenders were the Indochina Junk and the Au Co Junk. We received exemplary service from the Paradise Group from the word “go” and decided to engage their services for the entire trip.
They organised our car transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back, our first night at their spanking new Paradise Suites Hotel in Halong, and our 2-night stay on the junk boat. The lady responsible for the bookings was very prompt in replying to my emails and also offered to assist with visas to Vietnam if required.
Halong Bay appears to be going through a development spurt; on our drive to the hotel we passed several construction sites with plans ranging from amusement parks to outlet shopping. So one can expect a completely new look to the place a few years from now.
As a new hotel, the surrounding area was relatively quiet, but that’s just what was required for some much-needed R&R. The spa treatments were well priced and very therapeutic. Whilst we chose to just relax at the hotel, a good evening outing is just a 15-minute cab ride away at the city’s night market, where you can find typical Vietnamese souvenirs as well as a few waterside restaurants.
The food at the hotel was great – we opted for an ala carte Western lunch on the beautiful patio and a set dinner at the restaurant. A band performed in the lobby lounge that evening and the lead singer even obliged by singing some of my son’s favourite songs by ABBA. Yes, we have a 3-year-old who loves oldies and he was undoubtedly thrilled to be called up on stage to dance with the band!
Our junk boat was charming. We chose balcony cabins, which offered a wonderful view of the picture-perfect surroundings. There was a spa onboard (a massage is always welcome!), daily cooking demonstrations (we learnt the art of Vietnamese spring rolls and even got certificates to prove it!), movie screenings each night and other activities such as squid catching and fishing.
On the second day we had an excursion on Paradise Explorer and visited some nearby caves and a floating village. We spent an hour kayaking, too. Every meal onboard the cruise was an elaborate one with a set menu varying from 4-to-7 courses, along with a salad and dessert buffet.
Each dinner was a ‘royal’ one where guests were given silk Vietnamese outfits with matching headgear. The staff onboard our cruise were extremely accommodating and pleasant, and fussed over my toddler at every opportunity. The lovely deck was one of my favourite places to relax onboard whilst cruising through the iconic surroundings.
So there you have it mamas: the next time you have about a week on hand, don’t hesitate to book a trip to Hanoi and the absolutely gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay. Whilst there are several 1-night cruises on offer, I’d suggest at least a 2-night cruise to really be able to soak in the area. Eat, drink, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the magical sunsets… and then maybe start planning your return trip!