Heading to Vietnam? We share these Halong Bay Cruise travel tips, perfect for those looking to stay on a junk boat in Vietnam.
As one of the natural Wonders of the World, Halong Bay is a unique and amazing place to visit whilst staying in Hanoi. We spent 1 night, and 2 days on the Marguerite Junk – a luxury boat that sails along Halong Bay and offers various activities along the way.
Why visit Halong Bay?
Halong Bay is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here you can find stunning karsts protruding out of the water, domed by over 3000 years of chemical reactions between the water and limestone. Halong Bay is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known as a natural wonder of the world.
The best way to truly experience Halong Bay is via cruise, with plenty of overnight cruises available.
Best time to visit Halong Bay
November is the best time to visit Halong bay, offering clear blue skies whilst December can be cool but sometimes a bit chilly so bring layers. May to September can see tropical storms and June to mid-August is peak season with lots of tourists visiting. February to April is a good time to visit if you don’t mind a bit of fog; which can add to the charm of Halong Bay.
Choosing a cruise
With stricter regulations put into place over the last few years, cruises must follow one of the five prescribed routes through the bay, meaning most cruises follow a similar itinerary. This means, that when choosing a cruise, there are only a few factors you need to consider.
Luxury Cruises – if you want a bit of luxury, then there are plenty of cruises to choose from. These tend to cost around $300 USD and offer slightly more room.
With luxury cruises, you can expect higher quality meals and could also find a spa or gym on board as well but prices are higher than an average cruise.
Budget/Midrange Cruises – If you are looking to save some money, you can find cruises for all prices. Budget boats are more rustic and have a lot less amenities but midrange options ca be cosy and good fun. You do not need a luxury cruise if you are only intending on visiting for one night, as you will find you get very little time on the boat itself anyway.
Budget cruises cost around $80 for a day trip or $110 – $150 for an overnight budget or midrange boat. There are also lots of operators on offer, so compare prices and see if any include free minibus transfers from Hanoi.
Day cruise – It is possible to take a day trip through Halong By from Tuan Chau Marina in Halong City. This is a super budget option, with most day trips costing under $50 but it is also not too popular; besides cruises, there is not much else to do in Halong City. Plus, day cruises are often overcrowded and have a tendency to include karaoke.
Typical Halong Bay Cruise Itineraries
Most overnight cruises will follow a similar itinerary to the below:
Morning – Pick up from Hanoi for transfer to the cruise boat.
Lunch – Check-in and Welcome lunch
Afternoon – Visit one of the popular limestone caves; either Sung Sot Cave, Dau Go Cave or Thien Cung Cave.
Some cruises will then offer a cooking class, kayaking and/or swimming options for the late afternoon.
Dinner – Cruises provide dinner with quality depending on which option you have chosen. Some cruises will ofer late-night squid fishing, whilst others may have a bar area. Our first cruise showed the Top Gear episode of the team biking across the country.
Many cruises will offer a 6 am Tai Chi Session, whilst others may offer a yoga session.
Breakfast – Breakfast (often a buffet) is served before the final excursion of the cruise. Some cruises will transfer you to a smaller boat and take you through the quieter areas of Halong Bay, whilst many head to Ti Top Island, with a swimming area nearby and a hike that offers amazing views from the top.
Lunch – Most cruises offer a light lunch before check out and transfer back to Hanoi.
Should I book one or two nights in Halong Bay?
With caves, viewpoints and plenty of water activities available, there is a lot to see and do in the Halong Bay Area.
One-night cruise is a packed cruise, giving you very little time to sit back, relax and admire the beautiful scenery. If you are short on time and have a tight budget, then a one-night cruise is just fine but expect it to be busy and don’t plan too much for the evening you return to Hanoi.
Two-night cruises can be much more relaxing; you will see more sights (often with fewer people around) and will have more time to take in the scenery. If you are choosing a two-night cruise, we recommend sticking to mid-range or luxury cruises to really enjoy the experience.
Tips for booking a trip to Halong Bay
- Transfers – Some cruises include a minibus transfer from you hotel in Hanoi whilst others charge this as extra. This journey in a minibus can take around 3-4 hours duets a 30-minute comfort stop during the journey. If you have the budget and are travelling as a group of 4 or less, it maybe with arranging a private transfer; we took a private car for our second Halong Bay Cruise and this journey only took 2 and half hours because the driver could use the Expressway and we only stopped for as long as we wished for.
- Pricing – Check if your overnight cruise rate is per cabin or person; some cruise lines don’t always show this information straight away.
- Compare – Compare prices online but also check out prices at the many tour guides in Hanoi. You can find tour companies all over Hanoi and many will offer budget options for those on a tight budget. However, if you are looking for a more luxurious trip or you are tight on time, it is best to compare prices online and book in advance.
Best Halong Bay cruises
There are several great tour companies that you should check out when booking a cruise. There are some recommended companies and tours:
- Alisa Cruise – This luxury cruise line offers fantastic food in spacious, well-maintained boats, with every room offering ocean views and many including balconies. This is our favourite cruise company and we highly recommend it.
- Indochina Sails – For beautiful rooms in a traditional Chinese junk boat, the Indochina Sails company offer elegant cabins and fantastic services.
- Vega Travel – For mid-range, good-value tours, Vega Travel is the option for you. They offer comfortable cabins and cater to a younger audience.
- Handspan Adventure Travel – Looking for a proper sailing ship and fantastic local food, look no further.
- Orchid Cruises – For a truly beautiful boat, check out the cruises available with Orchid Cruises. All offer a Jacuzzi and open bar on the sundeck as well as fantastic food.
What to pack for Halong Bay?
Firstly, before you pack anything, know that large suitcases are best to avoid when visiting Halong Bay. Hotel rooms in Hanoi are cheap, so if possible, leave your larger suitcases in the hotel and bring a smaller bag of the essentials and a change of clothes.
Suncreen is also a must, even when it is cloudy; you will be out in sun a lot during your trip.
Comfortable trainers are also a must; you will be walking up and down plenty of stairs, especially in dark caves!