Bonsai River Cruise: Wine & Dine Down Ho Chi Minh City's Saigon River

 Give me a stunning 2-story boat, a glass of vino, an endless 5-star buffet, a sparkling nighttime view of Ho Chi Minh City's skyline, beautifully crafted traditional Vietnamese entertainment and tell me not fall in love with Bonsai Cruise.
Ho Chi Minh City, my tropical home-away-from-home, is such a charming little huge place. The culture is fascinating and the way the classic French architecture compliments the sleek skyscrapers while still merging together the many ornate temples throughout the city, make me love every second of life here. When the sun sets the city is crawling with rooftop bars that overlook Saigon and beyond. But, if you want a unique perspective of Saigon by night, the place to be is on the water! 
I've lived here for nearly a year and I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with the re-opening of Bonsai Cruise was truly a night for the books. I mean, I love a good cruise, but they really blew me out of the water with such a fantastic evening (see what I did there)!
Arriving in style, we were excited to have a classy little night out in Saigon, a change from our usual plastic-table-and-chair-meal where we wear shorts and flip flops and boy were we in for a treat! Greeting us at the pier was the two story, open air, beautifully crafted Bonsai cruise ship. We were excited! Obviously.
As we were escorted to our seats, the welcome drinks arrived within seconds. We ordered some Cabernet to accompany a little walk around the boat, admiring the view, before setting sail to soak in more of Ho Chi Minh City's riverside attractions. 







The Food

Our two hour river cruise combined authentic and very delicious Vietnamese food with genuine hospitality and sparkling Saigon River views. Do you need more? There was certainly no shortage of high-end, traditional Vietnamese dishes and slow-cooked, hand-selected, fresh from the grill drool worthy options to choose from. All of which were arranged and prepared live before our eyes on interactive buffet stations.
I do love a buffet, but a tasteful, classy buffet where ingredients are locally sourced and organic makes all the difference. From the build your own pho bar to the lamb curry beautifully concocted specifically for you, this was my paradise. I'm talking, sushi, fresh spring rolls, a gorgeous cheese platter, crab claw herb salad, steamed dumplings, stuffed tofu bites, char grilled chicken skewers, clams in cream sauce and this is just the start... 

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
One more thing, the desert bar included mini pancakes. I repeat, mini pancakes.

The Entertainment

While taking an evening cruise down the Saigon River might be the main draw, there’s nothing about the radiant Ho Chi Minh City or its shimmering river water that is exclusive to any one dining experience. However, the stunning onboard entertainment really made the night spectacular and set it apart from any other dining experience I've had in this city!
From the moment we stepped onboard our ears were lit with live music, watching traditional Vietnamese dances, laughing at the frantic magician pulling coins from people's ears, to applauding the incredible man playing Despacito on the Vietnamese Bamboo Flute (best day of my life? yes). There was no shortage of entertainment. We were having a ball watching the range of talent, we almost forgot to get desert.... almost.

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
Photo by: @bonsaicruise


The Verdict

After living in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly a year, I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with Bonsai Cruise has easily become one my favourite experiences in the city that I love. The views you get drifting down the river are unbeatable and definitely something a sky bar will never get you. The food? Heavenly. The entertainment? Exceptional. The experience? It undeniably sets Bonsai Cruise apart. I just can't wait for someone to come visit me here so I can have an excuse to do it all over again! 


Lastly, one thing I really appreciate about Bonsai Cruise is that since their re-launch they've upheld an environmentally friendly cruise operation where they use ethical and local sourcing to deliver their exceptional product. A+, this is so important for the future of Saigon and I'm so happy to see companies getting on board (see what I did there) with a greener future!


Essential Information


Company Bonsai Legacy Cruise at www.bonsaicruise.com.vn and @BonsaiCruise 
Pick-Up Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Drop-off Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cost: Dinner cruises start at $47 USD  and all-inclusive dinner cruises start at $67 USD
What to Bring: Come hungry and don't forget your camera!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your river cruise experience!

How to Choose A Halong Bay Cruise

The hardest part about planning trips in South East Asia? Choosing from the millions of potential possibilities. For example, oh you're going to Halong Bay? No problem, here are 500+ different cruise ships you can choose from! I mean, if I'm given more than 1 choice I need at least a year to weigh my options. This is also why I could never be The Bachelorette. 
Because we managed to research Halong Bay until our eyes bled, I thought I'd be the nice Canadian that I am and give you all the insider information before you endlessly scroll to the depths of the deep dark internet. The one thing I do love about South East Asia, is that you never have to plan in advance because there will always be availabilities. However, I think it's in your best interest to book a Halong Bay cruise in advance (1-2 weeks), just so you can secure one of the better options.

Halong Bay vs. Bai Tu Long Bay


First things first, which bay are you going to choose? Right!? Who even knew there was a second option? Well, there is, there are two main bays to choose from: Halong Bay (think party boats, booming music, more touristy, more boats) and Bai Tu Long Bay (quieter, less boats, less tourists).

We opted for Bai Tu Long Bay. Seeing as we were only going to be spending one night on board, we wanted to soak in as much of the area's zen as possible, without having a raging Tiesto glow stick party as background noise.

Only a select amount of boats are able to dock in Bai Tu Long Bay at night, which gives you the best views and a more authentic experience of the area. If you're really stressing about which bay to choose, just know they are both extremely similar and you most likely won't be able to tell the difference. The choice comes down to whether you want a quiet or lively experience of Halong.


Length of Your Cruise


Everyone will tell you that a one night cruise is enough. And even though you hum and haw over one night, just one night? They're right, one night is plenty. These cruise tours really cram everything you need to do into your 2-days-1-night experience.

So Which Cruise to Choose?


I can only speak from experience, however we couldn't have asked for a better experience on board. After some hardcore research, we ended up booking our cruise with Cristina Diamond Cruise through Saigon Cafe Travel and no question, I would do that exact cruise again in a heartbeat. We had a great guide, some great food, met great people and took in those jaw-dropping views we were hoping for.





What to Expect...

Day 1


Pick-up from our hotel in Hanoi was key and it saved us the hassle of attempting to figure out how to make the 3 hour journey from Hanoi to Halong City ourselves. With a pretty painless journey to Halong City, we were on our boat with a welcome drink in our hands by noon. And as we cruised into the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay we had a delicious buffet lunch. We were of course given some spare time to check into our rooms and freshen up before the days activities commenced.

That afternoon we kayaked through Vung Vieng floating village and hopped off to see the Pearl farm. One of the best ways to see the caves, lagoons and the World Heritage sights of Halong Bay itself is to kayak through it. I mean the photos speak for themselves, but really there is no better way to experience Vietnam's beauty than on the water.

Back to the boat we cleaned up and got ready for our rooftop sunset party while cruising to Cong Dong, Cong Do to anchor overnight. With a complimentary glass of wine and 360 degree views of the bay, it just couldn't get more picturesque #amirite

Now, dinner was just insane. The amount of food? An 8 course imperial feast that was at one point only available to royalty. Of course it was absolutely fantastic and not to mention delicious. After dinner, we grabbed some Halong beers from the on-board bar and relaxed on the sun deck watching the stars twinkle over the limestone islands. A couple beers deep we were ready to squid fish. Let's just say our sundresses were not helpful in the attempt to seduce a squid to our rod.

Day 2

If you're feeling up to it, sunrise Tai-Chi is offered. We, however, "slept in" until our 7:00am breakfast, before departing to the Thien Canh Son cave located in one of the towering limestone islands. A neat little cave to explore, with some fantastic views from the outside. Next to the cave is a little beach where we got to spend some time strolling about before our ship beckoned us back. Although, there is no swimming in Halong Bay because the amount jelly fish is so high, it's nice to exfoliate your feet in the sand.
Once we were back to the boat, we gathered our things from the room to check-out and headed up to the sundeck to join the onboard Chef in a mini Vietnamese spring roll DIY. Finally, to finish off our Vietnamese culinary experience we had a traditional Vietnamese family meal while docked close to the shore.
After lunch we were jetted back to the pier where it was time to say our goodbyes and get back on the bus to transfer back to Hanoi. However, we jumped off early as we were on our way to Cat Ba Island.

The Verdict

An absolutely breath taking experience that you can't miss if you're in Vietnam! This is the golden egg of the country, you'll be able to see why once you're there. If you like views on views on views on views, and enjoy cruising through extravagant scenery with a glass of wine in your hand then this is the place for you. I mean, it's the place for me, so can someone come visit me so I can go back?

Essential Information


Company:  Cristina Diamond Cruise through Saigon Cafe Travel

Pick-Up Point: Your hotel in Hanoi

Drop-off Point: Your hotel in Hanoi

Cost: From đ 3,858,000 (about $165 USD) enjoy 1 nights 2 days of Halong Bay's beauty. Explore the limestone islands while sailing on board a mid-luxury ship. Includes all meals, activities and pick up and drop off.


Eating At Sea: Four Days of Mediterranean Boat Food in Photos

Anyone who knows me, knows I have no problem devouring what's in front of me. Be that, chicken feet from Vietnam, tuna eyeballs from Japan, hákarl from Iceland or fried scorpions from Cambodia. 
That being said, I wasn't too worried about eating PB&J sandwiches for the next four days while on board. But bouy was I wrong. See what I did there. 
Unbeknownst to me, I would be eating like an absolute queen on board with IN Adventures. Avo-toast every morning, creamy guacamole with homemade chips every afternoon, indulgent paella at every turn. Watermelon infused gazpacho,  toasted almond topped smoothie bowls, The list goes on...
It's crazy now to think that someone would need a Master Chef size kitchen to deliver a gourmet meal, but the reality is, that it's even more impressive when you can pump out an endless supply of deliciousness with only a few square meters!  The true master chefs are:  @cakebyytheocean  and @umamimallorca who did not disappoint. They not only fed me, but fed my Instagram feed for days! 
I don't think I've ever eaten better. Maybe even, in my entire 27 years of constant consumption. So why I thought boat food would be blah is a mystery to me! Maybe I've been watching too much Pirates of the Caribbean.
One of my absolute favourite meals was our fist dinner together where we bonded over several glasses of wine from the onboard sommelier. As the native Mallorcan wine kept flowing, so were the dishes. To start, a quinoa and avocado tabbouleh. Next, monkfish with prawn cold cream accompanied by perfectly crisp vegetables and to close out our meal a delectable pistachio cheese quiche. 
Clearly there was no shortage of deliciousness, and well, we all know photos speak louder than words so instead of listening to me ramble on about how much drool my glands were in production of, here is a glimpse into eating on board! Not so bad eh!
Have you ever had breakfast in bed? Best feeling right? Wrong again. Have you ever had breakfast delivered to your private beach via inflatable dingy after a refreshing morning yoga sesh? Sorry mom, but this definitely trumps your sad pancakes and maple syrup that you forced dad to bring me last year.

I'm sure the photos don't even do it justice, but if you're interested in learning more about my adventure with IN Adventures you can read all about it here!

If this tickles your nautical fancy you can book your spot here for 72 hours with no commitments using this code: 'ALYSHIATURCHYN' for 5% off!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your adventure!