Paloma Cruises, Halong Bay Vietnam
Before I took off to Vietnam - at least 6 months before - I spoke to a number of my friends who had recently visited Halong Bay on their opinions about which junk cruise to pick. I was under the impression that the junk cruise would be anchored not too far from the pier. I was wondering how those who easily suffered from motion sickness would be able to stay on the cruise boat overnight.
I was told to just go there and pick a junk cruise to join but I am quite the safe traveller (mostly because I have a very specific budget in mind) and I chose to browse AirBnb for my choice of cruise. I found Paloma Cruise on AirBnb with rave reviews and decided that it would have to be my choice (despite a slightly upmarket price range). T
he cruise itself actually takes you around the entire Halong Bay, which is made up of almost 2000 islands. It is anchored in a very still spot at night - so those with concerns about motion sickness need not worry. Despite an unexpected storm in the middle of the night - which the ship's captain and crew were quick to take us to a safer, calmer spot - it didn't feel like the junk was even moving.
Apart from the gorgeous view (which is a privilege that every junk ship can offer its passengers), Paloma stands out because of its 5 star service. The staff knew us each by name and catered to our every dietary need.
The dining hall is decked out in polished hardwood floors and affords us a communal experience as we get to know the other passengers onboard during meals. Lunch and dinner both follow the French dining style in which the meal is served out in courses.
Breakfast is a buffet style. But otherwise, all you have to do is sit down, enjoy the sea breeze and have every dish served right up to you. The staff members always treated us to smiles and warm greetings. They asked for our names and actually remembered each and every one of us (there were about 20 passengers onboard that day).
The rooms are very basic but are well-maintained and clean. Each room on the junk has windows so you can open them to enjoy the cool air and at the same time, take in the breathtaking view of Halong Bay.
Our first meal onboard was lunch because we boarded around 1pm. We checked into our rooms and were invited upstairs into the dining hall for lunch. There is no room service onboard but room service is entirely unnecessary because they ensure that we are all very well-fed during each meal.
Lunch started off with a gorgeous pumpkin soup that was really buttery and smooth.
Vietnamese salads are very refreshing because of their herbs and it is made even more enjoyable with grilled seafood.
We also tried a lovely Vietnamese fishcake, served with sweet chili sauce. If the portions are not enough, the staff are very willing to get more for you.
Our next dish was grilled enoki mushrooms wrapped in a thin slice of marinated beef and topped off with diced vegetables - this was a particularly good dish because of the beef marinade.
Then we had a tomato based pork rib dish and steamed rice.
As well as steamed vegetables...
That same afternoon, we were told that we could go kayaking and head to a cave by a small beach. Since there were quite a number of people on the junk who wanted to kayak, we took turns.
A group of us kayaked to the small beach and the other group kayaked back.The beach is small but clean and offers a great 180 degree view of the Bay.
At this beach, there is also a rather large cave, which one of the junk staff took us into and acted as our tour guide, explaining the science behind stalactites and stalagmites.
After that, we were taken back to the junk, anchored in the middle of the Bay somewhere - I would have checked the location with my phone but be warned that when you're out at sea, there isn't even a single bar of signal. So while you're on the cruise, prepare to go offline for the entire duration of the trip.
They threw a little "Sunset" party on the top deck of the junk and gave a cooking demonstration of the famous Vietnamese rice roll, which was later served to us for dinner.
We started dinner off with a Vietnamese hot egg soup followed by the fried rice rolls.
Then they served us another beautiful Vietnamese salad with fresh herbs and chicken.
We were also given a thick beef stew to have with steamed rice.
And finally, dessert was a very pleasant panna cotta with grape.
By this point, I was very contented and ready to call it a night. But before I descended to the lower decks to sleep, I managed to capture this shot.
The next morning, we were given the option to wake up at 6:45am for a tai chi session up on the top deck of the junk, but many of us chose to sleep in and only got up about an hour later for breakfast. After breakfast, it was time for us to get on smaller boats to head to the fishing village as well as the pearl cultivation farm.
The entire tour took about 2 hours and we were back in the junk by 10:30am so we could pack up and check out.
We were served another sumptuous sit down lunch before heading back to the Bay. Then the crew surprised us by gifting us each with a shawl. We were quite sad to be leaving the junk. For those who really enjoy relaxing on a junk, I would recommend going for the 3D2N stay rather than the 2D1N stay, which can be quite rushed.
I would recommend Paloma Cruise to anyone looking for a junk cruise to stay on during their visit to Halong Bay. The service was impeccable, the food was unparalleled. I can easily say that I was served some of the best food I had in my entire trip to Vietnam on that junk cruise. The only downside to visiting Halong Bay is the long 4-hour journey from Hanoi to and fro.