A fog enveloping the boat began to rise as we did on day two of our luxury Halong Bay cruise with Paradise Cruises. It appeared to be a residual haze from an evening storm. We hadn’t heard a drop of rain, snuggled up in soft white sheets in our air-conditioned cabin, oblivious to the outside world. To me, the haze just made the setting more mysterious and beautiful.
Luxury Halong Bay Cruise
We got up and made our way to the dining room for breakfast. A table glowing with baked goods, pancakes and bread sat at the far end of the room, another held the silver bain-marie trays cradling bacon, sausages and other warm Western and Asian breakfast options.
There was a selection of cold cuts and salads too and of course, fresh, fluffy omelettes were being flipped by a chef in another corner. We worked our way through some sweet, tropical dragon fruit, banana, pineapple and watermelon, eggs and sweet Vietnamese coffee to set us up for a busy day on the water.
A Halong Bay Day Trip
After breakfast, we boarded the day boat, the Paradise Explorer, our base for sightseeing for the day. The main cabin was set up as a dining room and the upper deck had an in the indoor lounge area while outside sunbeds were spread around the sun deck to lounge while taking advantage of the view.
Coffee in hand we made our way to the sun deck and grab a spot in the corner.
With an hour and a half of sailing to reach our first destination, we sat and enjoyed the ride and the changing scenery. Floating across the bay, we spotted caves, local fishermen at work; dropping lines, nets or searching shallow rock pools.
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Cua Van Floating Village, Halong Bay
We soon started to spot small clusters of colourful wooden houses, floating on the surface of the water. Our guide, Hoi, a local from a fishing family in the area explained each family lives in one of the small houses – three generations could live in each. It was a vast difference to our luxury Halong Bay cruise amenities. It was also one of my favourite items on our Paradise Cruise Halong Bay itinerary.
The other few houses in the row, are inhabited by other families. They live side-by-side to support each other, work together and help pass down their knowledge of fishing through the generations via the family line.
When the children marry, they simply build a new home at the end. The houses, like the local people, are modest, some only measure about 25 metres squared. Hoi, told us many enjoy their simple life without the modern-day distractions valued by the city folk living in cities like Hanoi. However, villages like these are in the process of being resettled elsewhere.
The local government says the move will reduce the waste in the bay, provide the people with more living space, more hygienic living conditions and better access to education. Traditionally, children from these fishing villages don’t go to school after the age of 14 as they have to learn the family trade of fishing.
Related: A Quick Hanoi Guide
A Halong Bay Floating Village School
The school we visit is a sign of the changes coming for these thousands of fishing villagers. It has recently been closed, with children sent to school elsewhere. We climb into traditional woven bamboo boats to get to the floating school and see the villagers homes up close.
We all comment on the heat of the sun, but quickly remember we are, all six of us, being rowed by a local who is covered head-to-toe. I can’t begin to imagine how uncomfortable that could be.
Many Vietnamese, particularly women vigilantly protect their skin from the sun. Most wear long sleeves and pants. Others even cover their feet and faces so their skin won’t pick up any pigment at all.
Vietnam is a hot place, so I can’t imagine wearing winter clothes in the unforgiving sunshine all day. But that is the beauty of experiencing new cultures, right? We are all the same, but very different too.
Pulling into the school we walk into a small classroom fitted out with blackboard, tables and chairs. Children’s drawings decorate the walls.
The wharf also acts as a fish farm, walking the boards, groupers, trevally, cobia and butterflyfish, among others swim at either side of our feet.
Related: Exploring Angkor Wat by Bike
Visiting Tung Sau Pearl Farm Village, Halong Bay
Next, we made our way to Tung Sau Pearl Farm Village. A teenage boy who looked like he’d stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue sat at a table on the wharf with a tray of oysters.
He was demonstrating how the pearls are cultured. A nucleus is carefully implanted into the oyster. The oyster’s reaction is to coat the foreign object in mother of pearl. We’re told 10% of the oysters that they implant in this way, will successfully grow a beautiful pearl.
We took a quick turn through the showroom inside. Gorgeous pearls black to white were set in rings, earrings and necklaces. I wasn’t in the market for pearls, but I found the rest of the farm equally as fascinating. As well as the oysters, other fish were farmed around the dock.
The groupers were huge. I peeked into the modest living quarters on the farm. Like any good farm, there was equipment old and new piled side-by-side in every corner, which of course is a smorgasbord for any photographer.
Lunch on the Paradise Explorer
From the pearl farm, we climb back on to the Paradise Explorer for an incredible lunch. As you would expect with a luxury Halong Bay cruise, even the lunch was well thought out.
The menu included fresh scallops with lemongrass and peanuts, grilled fish with sweet potato, marinated chicken thigh with crispy noodles and fruit to finish. Luckily, we had an active afternoon to work off the delicious meal.
Kayaking in Halong Bay
As we ate, the boat pulled up for an afternoon of adventure and exploring at Ho Ba Ham. Guests split off depending on what they were in the mood for. Some stayed on deck and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Others jumped in kayaks and paddled off to check out the little local beaches and caves.
What did we do? Well, we started by jumping off the top of the boat of course! The Hubby, couldn’t get enough of it. He was like a little kid. I had a few jumps and then enjoyed swimming against the cool current off the boat, which was a great way to work off some of the food we had been indulging in.
We couldn’t resist jumping in a kayak too and going for a little adventure around the bay. It was the perfect afternoon of fun in the sun and such an amazing way to spend the afternoon.
We cruised back to Paradise Luxury I, enjoyed a coffee on the deck, Happy Hour and another beautiful six-course spread. While I crawled under the covers after our day of fun in the sun, The Hubby joined the evening activity of squidding off the back of the boat and absolutely loved it (he caught a few too, or so he says).
Luxury Halong Bay Cruise
Paradise Cruises Vietnam
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.