Ha Long Bay: One of 7 Natural Wonders of Nature
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
With its emerald clear water and limestone islands covered in lush green vegetation, Ha Long Bay is dreamlike even while overcast. We had 1 week to visit Vietnam and knew visiting one of the 7 Wonders of Nature was a must-see. It is situated 2 hours from Hanoi, which makes it easily accessible. We opted to stay in Hanoi as most cruise lines offer a hotel transfer from Hanoi for the day with a 7am hotel pickup.
#HaLongbay was strikingly beautiful. Everywhere you look are these limestone islands jutting up from the waters. The boat glides along the water as you go deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of islands. All of the boats have huge windows if you choose to stay indoors and a sundeck if you’d prefer to enjoy the fresh air.
We had debated between the Jadesails day cruise and Estella day cruise. If you check out the boats, Jadesails is a very nice boat, huge windows and serves a 5-course lunch. Whereas Estella cruise ship seemed to have more character, less "fancy", and a smaller capacity - ie fewer guests to bother with our noisy children! We chose the Estella day cruise and booked it via www.halongbaycruises.com. Well, it just so happened that the coronavirus was just starting to spread and many tourists were cancelling their trips. So we received notification that multiple cruise ships were cancelling their tours and we would all be consolidated onto the nicer #Jadesails cruise for no additional charge!
Our initial assumptions were correct – it was a very beautiful boat, with upholstered chairs in the dining area and china & wine glasses on the tables. It required some very quick maneuvering to clear the table and prevent anything from breaking! Since we are a family of 6 we had a table to ourselves in the dining area (and we made a mess!!!) and we brought our stroller along which we use as a backup highchair. A majority of places we've traveled to in Asia do not have true highchairs for young toddlers/babies. If anything, it will just be a taller chair with no strap to boost a kid up to the table.
The one thing we didn’t realize prior to this cruise, was the fact that being the only ones with young kids on a boat is difficult when there is nowhere to go alone. We quickly realized that perhaps doing an overnight cruise would have had many positive outcomes – namely a private room to escape to with the kids and just play games out of the way while still taking in the view. The daunting idea of sleeping on the boat (even with interconnecting rooms like a hotel) prevented me from ever really looking into that option, but suddenly it became apparent why it would have been nice. So instead we tell ourselves "next time"...
Lucky for us Jadesails cruise did however have an exercise room! Now, there were many people who took naps up on the lounge chairs on the sundeck, but no one that was determined to exercise. So we ended up camping out in that room and watched the islands pass by while the kids could be monkeys on the equipment without the fear of disturbing others.
But in all reality, the day was broken up very nicely with a new activity every 1.5 hours or so, which led to very little actual downtime. These activities included a 5 + course lunch (or more, I honestly lost count while wrangling children & enjoying their delicious uneaten food ), watching & learning about a fishermans village on the water, taking a rowboat through a cave into a quiet lagoon, going kayaking, a cooking demonstration (where the kids could practice rolling spring rolls) and then a late afternoon “party” aka food and music. All in all, it couldn’t have gone better. The tour guide on the ship was extremely helpful and kind, and although our kids had their moments – you know, accidently spilling smoothies on the sundeck - the other guests usually just smiled at us as we passed.
The rowboat excursion was so interesting. We do bring along life vests for our children when we know we will be on the water, but the cruise line had life vests available for all the adults. About 8 people pile into a wooden rowboat and our rower was a thin woman with her daughter who does this trip 3-4 times a day after having fished early in the morning just to provide for her family (remember some cash for a tip at the end!) While rowing through the cave to get to the lagoon, we were going up current and it was quite shallow, at times we scraped along the rocks at the bottom.
Because the lagoon was also shallow the water was beautifully clear. The water looked so inviting, yet we were warned this is not the place to swim because of deadly jellyfish (not that we'd be jumping in anyways! The temperature in February was only upper 60's F). But we were able to take turns trying to row the boat and wear the traditional Vietnamese hats. We could only stay for so long before the tide would start rising and there would be no way out from the lagoon.
When it comes to life with kids, every couple figures out their own non-verbal ways to communicate in regards to their children. A while later it was time to park the cruise ship and go kayaking. About this time Silas was ready for a nap, and he is generally a good sleeper on the go while in the #ergo. Thankfully they provided the easier to use #Funyak which Tim was able to take the older 3 kids with him while the baby took a nap with me. I wave good-bye as Tim proceeds to take them around a quite large limestone island…. Twice. As they came around the back side of the island I could hear them yelling “mommy!!” and waving to me. All I could do while Silas slept was shake my head no. Even from 100 yards away Tim knew what that meant and on he paddled to explore a new area until it was time to be done. The point is, you figure out what works as a couple and as a family. There is a different rhythm while traveling than there is at home and being flexible is the key to an enjoyable time. I'll say it 100 times I'm sure... flexibility and the ability to laugh will make #travelingwithkids so much more enjoyable for everyone.
If you have kids and are considering visiting Ha Long Bay, I would suggest looking into an overnight cruise. Some boats have connecting rooms just like you’d have in a hotel, and they typically have the same excursions (or more) than you’d find on the day cruise. However, we otherwise would highly recommend the Jadesails cruise. We did opt to pay additionally
for a private vehicle for our family, as typically the included transfer is for 8 people and we did not want to have to share the vehicle. It was a long day in the end, but so worth it to see something so spectacular. Check out my resource page as I'll be updating it as I go, however as you can see our kids use the #ridesafer harness when we travel in vehicles because they are lightweight and easy to use as they bring the shoulder harness down to the correct position. We do still travel with our infant carseat, and you soon realize while seeing 5 people (including children) on a motorbike, and 15 people piled in the back of trucks on the highway, you do what you are able for your family while traveling. We have also lugged our childrens #Dionoradianrxt seats with us to Indonesia and couldn't use them because the van our tour guide said was a van, was actually a 5 person vehicle. Or in Europe we just rented carseats along with our van rental, so the plan is different based on where you go, but these are a great option.
With love, @FamilySeesWorld
Check us out later for our tips about Hanoi, Vietnam