Alova, Ha Long Bay, a cautionary tale
Ha Long Bay is beautiful, whoever you go with it is still going to be beautiful! We were lucky to have the quite wonderful company of Northerners, Sharon and Chris, Irish Megan and Keith and Malaysian Cha and Sung who really made the trip fun. There were 8 other lovely guests but we were sat at the same tables each meal, anyway let’s start at the beginning…
We knew we wanted Ha Long Bay and its breathtaking limestone formations to be a part of our Vietnam experience and having extensively researched, Alova seemed the best mid range offering with fabulous breakfasts and lots of activities. Maybe they used to be amazing but any review over a month old does not reflect the current tour Alova offer as they have apparently changed their meals and schedule due to the new harbour (also have not updated their boat in forever) and boy did we feel scammed! ps we have no idea why a new harbour required any schedule or menu changes.
We were the last to be picked up by the minibus and had to sit separately for the 4 hour drive to Ha Long from Hanoi which was a bit of a shame as we do love holding hands ahahaha not even kidding, we’re such a pair of love birds. Anyhow…midway we stopped at the seemingly obligatory sales stop we’d all have been happy to do without, before continuing to Ha Long bay and after a brief wait we were shuttled on a small boat to our home for the next 3 days…or so we thought. Once we’d boarded, had a welcome juice and been shown our cabins, which were as expected, nice not huge we headed out amongst the thousands of limestone islands Ha Long Bay is made up of and wow! It really is glorious.
A mixed buffet style lunch was served followed by a trip to a little island about 2 minutes away that you could hike up or swim at followed by kayaking in open topped kayaks which they didn’t bother to wipe down so sitting in them immediately resulted in a cold soaking wet arse. Their logic was we would get wet anyway and to that I say only amateurs get wet kayaking, or those sat behind JHubz but that’s a story for another day. A spring roll making class was followed by another buffet style dinner, half price cocktails and squid fishing and over the course of the day we all started to get to know each other and having a lovely ole time.
It was about now that we were told everyone else on the boat was doing a 2 day tour and that in the morning after a 7am breakfast we would leave our belongings on our big boat while it returned with all the people we’d started the tour with to pick up yet another group, who we would spend the evening with in a ground hog style repetition of our previous evening..anyone know how to makes these spring rolls… well yes actually. While our cabin and boat was gone we would join yet another group for further exploration of the bay erm no thanks very much, we didn’t pay to be a part of 3 different tour groups! so at this point we decided to curtail the experience and go back to Hanoi with the rest of our group the next day, decision made we carried on enjoying the company and scenery.
We woke bright and early excited about the fabulous breakfast in store only to find no pancakes or bacon or freshly made scrambled egg or lovely sausages for breakfast as in the brochure but a pile of overcooked greasy fried eggs and plain white bread served at 7am before a trip to the nearby cave which thankfully was truly quite spectacular.
As soon as we returned from the cave at around 9am we were told to empty our cabins and sit on the freezing deck before lunch was served at 10.30am! Yes you read that correctly! Why not let everyone have a lay in, do the cave and return for a fabulous brunch? but it wasn’t the end of the bizarre scheduling, after our ridiculously early lunch the boat raced back to the harbour where we proceeded to sit on the boat for almost two hours waiting for the bus (which wasn’t late, this waiting is just part of the new tour schedule) when we could have been touring around the beautiful bay or eating lunch at a more normal time or even better heading back to Hanoi and away from this second day fiasco!
Oh and no vegetable carving as they don’t do that any longer, despite advertising that they do, we were told to look it up on Youtube!
We paid over $350 for a 3 day trip which turned out to be a two day trip with a whole heap of deja vu thrown in, seems we were had there too as the average price the rest of our group paid was $55 per person per night and that’s the very most I would say it’s worth. The food was plentiful, above JHubz’s expectations and a little below mine, it was really repetitive, rice, fish, tofu, squid, watermelon and pineapple for every dessert. Other than great value half price cocktails all drinks on board were charged at about twice the price of the mainland including tea and coffee and juice for breakfast at 60k dong a glass, which they then add 15% to when you pay at the end of the trip, and you get two tiny bottles of water free, over the entire trip.
When finally we boarded the bus and as a group agreed we wanted to skip the half hour sales pitch posing as a loo break stop on the way back, our guide told the lady asking to ask the driver herself, erm isn’t that your job? apparently not.
It was lovely meeting our table full of really nice people and the Ha Long Bay is truly beautiful but there must be more accurately described companies to travel with Xx