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Vietnam Cruise A ‘Must Do’

When Philippa Murrell looked at booking a trip to Vietnam in April last year, she knew it had to include a cruise around UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay.

“We had heard it was a ‘must do’ for Vietnam,” she says.

A popular travel destination, Halong Bay is located in Qu?ng Ninh province. The bay is famous for its scenic rock formations and features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.

Philippa and her husband Rob run a boutique guest house in Fjordland’s Manapouri during the summer months. Unable to take time off in the busy peak season, they always try to take a trip to the UK to visit family and friends in the less busy winter months

When the children were younger, long-distance travel to the UK was always a mission, but Zoe and Will, then 13 and 11, were finally at an age where they could appreciate more exotic cultures.

So instead of flying straight to the UK, Philippa and Rob decided to do things a bit differently.

“We wanted to make a trip to somewhere else in Asia along the way that was close and safe but pushed the boundaries a little for travelling with the kids.”

Flying via Hong Kong from New Zealand, they then flew to Vietnam with Hong Kong Airlines.

Although they independently booked all the hotels and travel online back home, they waited until they got to Hanoi before booking a cruise.

“There were loads of options – all the tiny travel agents in the back of cafes sold these trips. We visited a few and compared prices but in the end we went with the cruise recommended to us by the hotel we were staying in.”

They booked a three-day, two-night cruise with V’Spirit cruises (Vietnamese Spirit), sailing aboard traditional Vietnamese wooden boats with huge red junk boat-style sails.

The three-day cruise includes the chance to kayak around Halong Bay, cruising to Soi Sim island, where you can swim or climb to the top of the island, a day boat cruise to Lan Ha Bay, kayaking through the Light and Dark Cave, visiting a floating Pearl Farm, visiting Sung Sot cave and on the last day a visit to Ba Hang fishing village.

On board, there are cooking demonstrations, Tai Chi classes, massage therapy, and squid fishing.

“It was fabulous,” says Philippa.

“We saw monkeys when we were kayaking the first day. The sunset swim and climb to the top of the island was a great way to walk off some of the fabulous food. The beach at Soi Sim Island was beautiful and we had amazing weather.”

Philippa said the boat was great and they enjoyed their “lovely” interconnecting cabins, “very spacious, wooden decking and wooden interior, extremely comfortable beds and a flush toilet and shower ensuite”.

Their fellow passengers, “all of them very nice”, were Australians, New Zealanders, English and Irish.

“Zoe and Will were the only kids but they fitted in well and the crew made a big fuss of them.”

She says the cruise is ideal for kids of 10 and over, as they were able to join in everything the adults did and “they loved the food”.

“The food was amazing and so much of it. Almost over the top really with the quantity but it was all delicious. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided, fresh fish, seafood, curries, vegetables and desserts.”

There are four V’Spirit boats, ranging in size from the 14-passenger 23m V’Spirit Classic 1with just seven crew members, to the 36-passenger 38m V’Spirit Classic 4 with 16 crew. The cabins are roomy and well-furnished with internet facilities.

Philippa says it was great sailing on the V’Spirit Classic 4.

“There was a lovely dining area, spacious with a breeze through it, as it was quite hot. There was also a lovely space on the top deck with loungers for relaxing and having a sunset drink. There was a bar and we just ran a tab.

“The staff were amazing, very helpful, friendly and quirky.”

There were many highlights on the trip but for Philippa one thing stood out.

“Tai Chi on the top deck at sunrise was a highlight for me. We had our very own Tai Chi master.”

The food and the staff were also highlights and Philippa says it did not seem busy in the bay.

“There were loads of other boats around but it didn’t seem to matter and you didn’t really hear them much. A lot of the other boats seemed to do a different route and didn’t go to some of the places we went to.”

Philippa would definitely recommend the cruise.

“It was well-organised, professional, felt safe, great crew and the [transfer] bus driver was good which is comforting in Vietnam as the traffic and driving are crazy!

“It was a truly fantastic experience.”