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 were 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!

Agnkor Wat: Wat to Do & Wat to See


Angkor Wat is one of those magical places you see used in an IKEA photo frame as a stand-in for your own. It’s intricately beautiful to say the least, but you really have no grasp on its grand scale and incredible detail. A far away land that seems non-existent to most. That is, until you get there.

Visiting Cambodia’s World Heritage Temples of the Angkor is understandably a top destination for many travellers. It's the definition of a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It really is incomparable to anything else I’ve had the chance to visit. I (almost) have no words for it. So, to sum it up properly Angkor Wat is the definition of that face screaming in fear emoji, you know the one where the blood is rushing from his head due to such shock. It's like woah there.

Putting aside its obvious beauty, the Angkor history is rich and pivotal to getting the full experience of the temples. So take the time and read a v brief history I summed up for you below.



A Brief Back Story….


Angkor Wat is an ancient city in Cambodia. That’s right, it’s its own city, which spans over 500 acres. So you can see why more than one day should be allotted to exploring every corner of its magnificence.

Cambodia’s Angkor period is typically defined by the six-century rule of the Khmer Empire with the reign of King Jayavarman II. He’s basically the one who got the ball rolling on this Empire. After his kingship ended the Great Indravarman assumed the Khmer throne and got down to work designing and constructing the complex Angkor architectural style, which is tied to strong devotion of Hindu and Buddhist religious concepts. Indravarman’s son, Yasovarman, then continued the work of his father, constructing some of the incredible temple complexes. From there the Khmer people thrived and soon became the most significant religious, military, and social civilization in Southeast Asia. A huge difference from Cambodia of today.

After Yasovarman’s reign ended, a new king, Suryavarman II, was introduced. He is ultimately responsible for the construction of the Angkor Wat temple complex.

Angkor Wat After the Khmer Empire…


The fall of the Khmer Empire came in the 15th Century, but the history of the Khmer Empire exists in the walls of Angkor Wat. Even after the Thai takeover in 1431, Buddhist monks continued to preserve and uphold the sacred status of Ankgor Wat. And in 1860, the French led an expedition into the heart of Cambodia where they became spellbound by the ancient city and initiated a restoration project that continues to this day. Unlike other Angkor monuments, Angkor Wat was never abandoned or uninhabited. It has been in continuous use since it was built, which is pretty cool, we’re talking roughly 900 years.


What Temples to See…


If you were as confused and overwhelmed with temple trauma as I was, don’t stress. Regardless of which temples I tell you to visit or not to visit you will most likely be lost within the city walls. Which is the whole point right? So, for a rough idea of temples you don’t want to miss out on here is a list to take along with you:

  1. 1. Angkor Wat (the obvious)
  2. 2. Ta Prohm (temple where Tomb Raider was filmed)
  3. 3. Bayon and Baphuon
  4. 4. Banteay Srei
  5. 5. East Mebon 
  6. 6. Preah Khan
  7. 7. Ta Som
Also check out this downloadable map to help guide you!



Getting Your Angkor Pass...


If you’re visiting the Angkor Wat without a guided tour make sure you head to the ticket office first! You have to, have to, have to, make this stop because your photo needs to be taken and printed on the entrance ticket itself. And don’t forget to bring your passport!

Located off of Apsara Road, northeast of Siem Reap all tours will stop here to grab your ticket first. But, if you’re taking a tuk-tuk, just ask to be taken here first before departing for the temples. Tuk-tuk drivers know the drill.

Angkor Ticket Center (Angkor Enterprise) is open daily from 5.00am until 5.30pm.

Cost:


Entry passes to the temples of Angkor cost US$37 for one day, US$62 for three days (which can be used over one week) and US$72 for one week (which can be used over one month).

I would opt for the 2-day pass, I think you will need it and it allows you to catch sunrise twice. Just incase the sun doesn’t cooperate the first time around.



Getting There:


Tuk tuk is the way to go and what I’d recommend. It’s easy enough to book one through almost every hotel in Siem Reap and allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy the bumpy ride.

For roughly USD$20 a day the tuk-tuk is yours. This may seem a bit pricey, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an alternative as Angkor Wat is the most popular tourist spot in all of Cambodia. Besides, having the mobility all day allows you to see what you want and when you want without waiting.

Hours:


Angkor Wat opens at 5:00am for visitors who want to see the sunrise. The upper level (Bakan Sanctuary) is only open from 7:30am. Angkor Wat closes at 5:30pm.


Dress Code:


The temples of Angkor are sacred religious sites to the Khmer people and so visitors are asked to dress modestly. If you plan to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat you must have your upper arms and knees covered. 



The Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

Grand is really an understatement. Bangkok’s Grand Palace is straight out of a Thai fairytale and is everything Magic Kingdom wishes it could be. Although, there are some things to keep in mind before venturing out to Bangkok's main attraction!
We touched down in Bangkok in the wee hours of the morning only to zip to our hotel to catch some zzz’s. Jet lag has this weird effect where it enables you to watch hours of Thai soap-operas while emptying out the mini fridge.  And even though we slept for 11 minutes, The Grand Palace was something we were more than happy to drag our dysfunctional jet-lagged bodies to.
So, before you go off and hitch that tuc-tuc ride to the grand palace here is some pivotal information that will help you glide right along through the entrance gates, no complications, no misunderstandings.  

Getting There: 

The Grand Palace is located in the old Rattanakosin area of Bangkok, but every taxi driver knows its location, don’t let them tell you otherwise. The exact address is: Thanon Na Phra Lan, Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok.
One thing to note: taxis aren’t allowed to drive down the main road to the walking entrance of The Grand Palace, so they will most likely drop you off right next to Wat Pho, the temple of the 46-meter reclining Buddha. From there, simply follow the crowd around the brick wall of The Grand Palace to the entrance.

Hours:

Opening hours are daily from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm. The Palace is very rarely closed, so if someone tells you it’s closed, it’s most likely not.
As the day goes on, crowds grow fast, lines get longer and the sun beats down harder (especially when you’re wearing dress code), so take my advice and get there as early as possible. This is especially important if you want to get some great photos and it also leaves you lots of time to visit Wat Pho, down the street, all before lunch! 

Cost: 

The entrance fee is 500 Thai Baht per person. Plain and simple.

Dress Code: 

A good rule of thumb to remember for temple hopping in Thailand is shoulders and knees need to be covered. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, they’ll simply turn you away. And that means finding proper clothes and heading to the back of the line. Apparently there is a booth near the entrance that can provide clothes to cover you up properly (a deposit of 200 Baht is required), but I don’t recall seeing this. There are however, endless shops selling overpriced elephant pants and long sleeve linen shirts across from The Grand Palace.
Men must wear: long pants, no ripped jeans, shirts with sleeves, no tank tops and if you're wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks (no bare feet) 
Women must be similarly modestly dressed: no see-through clothing, covered shoulders (shalls are not always accepted as appropriate clothing), long pants, knees covered. I wore sandals and had no issues. 

Inside The Grand Palace:

The Grand Palace is unquestionably Bangkok’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782 it was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for more than 150 years. Its stunning architecture and sophisticated detail remain the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. Unless you've booked a guided tour in advance, I recommend taking a look at this map and wistfully wandering at your own pace! 
The Outer Court, near the entrance was once home to the governmental departments and in this Outer Court you can find the small and very famous Emerald Buddha. Be prepared, it’s super small.
The Central Court, is where the residence of the King was to be found. Now, only two of the throne halls are open to the public, but you'll still be able to marvel at the exquisite detail and impressive structures! 
The Inner Court, is where the King's royal partners and daughters lived. Think, small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty and even though no royalty reside in the inner court any longer, it is still completely closed off to the public.