but the thing is, there are so many cruise operators doing the same trip, so you may be prevaricating over which one to choose, for fear of making an expensive mistake. Which is why we would heartily recommend taking either of the Red Dragon junks from Indochina tours, as they follow a different route which only THEY are permitted to use, yet they still manage to take in all the major sites. So you get the best of all worlds... hurrah! We opted for the slightly bigger boat (RD2) for the 2day/1night cruise, but as there were only two other couples aboard, we were severely outnumbered by the crew and felt like we had the vessel to ourselves. Prices are better if you book through the hotel once you're in Hanoi (don't book through the travel operators on the street!) and rest assured that the travel experience, the attention to detail and the standard of catering and service will be second to none. Even the bus journey to and from Halong Bay was a treat
Fantastic! I was skeptical going into this Halong Bay cruise based on all the reviews of Halong bay tours in general but boy, was I blown away by how fantastic this cruise was, We booked thru our hotel with the Indochina Junk the Red Dragon II. It is a little more than some of the other cruises but trust me, it is SO worth every penny. First, the trip was mostly thru Bai Tu Long Bay, which is less crowded and cleaner. There are only 5 cabins (10 persons total) so you don't feel crowded out. There are sunning lounge chairs on the deck where you can relax and enjoy the view, as well as option for both indoor and outdoor dining on top of the boat. Think about that, meals with the bay cruising by you. Second, the crew and our guide were very friendly, helpful and just all around great people. Our guide Hoang Nguyen was always there to provide information (very informative which was a plus), guidance and help when you needed it but not around so much that it was annoying, most of the time you just felt comfortable and taken care of and not bothered at all. He had the perfect balance for a 2 day 1 night trip. Third, can we say delicious food! The food was so so so amazing! (that's three "so"'s folks). It was the ultimate never-ending delicious meal. Finally, we felt so pampered. The itinerary, crew, guide, the rooms (each room had panoramic windows and the bathroom had a window that opened) the food, the views...everything was so "Zen," peaceful and great. Look at this review, I clearly cannot say enough about the Red Dragon Cruise. I don't rate things often but this experience was just perfect.
I arranged two tours with First Choice. My father and I did a Trekking Sapa Tour, and a Tour of the Mekong Delta and Angkor Wat in South Vietnam/Cambodia.
The office staff I had contact with in Hanoi were very helpful, and the tour guides that they arranged for us were extremely helpful. I was very pleased with the assistance provide during the tours, as I had no experience traveling in these countries before hand. From the moment we arrived in Hanoi, we were given help with everything from transfering between different cities and places, to booking flights to continue our travels.
There is no need to worry about getting around the cities, as the guides will pick you up from the airports, drop you off at the hotels, and limit the confusion you face as a traveler in a foreign city which doesn't necessarily speak the same language as you. A good example is at the train stations. Everytime we had to take a train, a guide would go with us to the train station and get our tickets, lead us to the train car, and physically show us which seat/room we were in.
The tour guides we had were very knowledgeable, and were willing to answer all the questions we had about the area, people's day-to-day lives, and also the country's history. They also had some flexibility in the iternerary, so that we could ask to see specific things which weren't necessarily part of the tour. My dad and I enjoyed learning about the history of the countries, so we asked to go to some extra museums and historical sites, and the guides took us there.
I would highly recommend booking your tours with First Choice Travel. A good bit of advice is to start planning your trip well in advance of your departure date, as it is sometimes difficult to communicate through e-mails, especially across time zones. I started planning my tours a month and a half before arriving in Vietnam, and that was sufficient time to get all of the details sorted out.
We booked the Sapa Long Trek with First Choice with an additional 2 days visiting the markets at Can Cau and Bac Ha. The whole trip was excellent and I would definitely recommend it. We stayed at 4 different homestays which were like camping barns - comfortable mattresses, clean and warm bedding, and mosquito nets. All homestays had showers with hot water. The food was brilliant and abundant, with non-meat options provided for my partner, and quantities of homemade rice wine at 3 of them. Our guide, Mr Loi, was excellent and, being from the Tay ethnic minority group himself, very informative about local customs and traditional. The walking was through lovely scenery and interesting villages, covering a good cross-section of the local ethnic groups. The distances were definitely shorter than in the brochure - I would guesstimate 15km maximum as opposed to the 23km advertised. It was a long drive between Sapa and Can Cau so that we arrived towards the end of the market but still in plenty of time to people-watch. This and Bac Ha market the following day are principally for the local themselves with only a minority of stalls selling tourist trinklets. They are mainly used by the Flower Hmong ethnic group who are beautifully dressed and take being photographed with a good humour
My experience with First Choice was excellent - from the first response to my enquiry about trekking dates to the hotel booking in Hanoi to the trek itself - all was handled with professionalism and great service. The guide Anh was fantastic - so helpful and made sure that I had a good time. I found the weather on the trek to be much hotter than I expected but the landscape was beautiful and the visits to the minority villages very interesting. Some of the craftswomen in the villages were very aggressive about selling their crafts, to the point that I didn't want to show any interest because I knew that this would bring about a deluge of "buy from me! buy from me!" The homestays were fine and the facilities not as primitive as I expected. The Eco Lodge was beautiful and so quiet - lovely to just sit on the balcony and watch the birds and listen to the trees blowing in the breeze.