Interested in Halong bay ? Continue reading our flashpacker halong bay cruise guide and make the most of your travels.
Halong bay Cruise Guide
For me, Halong bay was not a tourist stop, but rather an experience. Its not something that can be described in words or pictures,it has to be experienced first hand.
Halong bay is the most famous tourist site of Vietnam. Its a UNESCO heritage site with its limestone karst peaks set amongst green waters. Only after cruising through the bay, I was able to understand why it was so highly rated.
Because of its beauty, it can be overcrowded and spoilt.So it’s important to follow some tips in order to enjoy this stunning bay in its totality .
Combine a trip to Cambodia with Vietnam. Read our 3 day Angkor guide here to plan your trip ⤵
How to reach Halong bay :
We made our way to Hanoi. From there, it’s a 3-4 hour road trip to Halong city and the port from where all the vessels depart.Usually most cruises include the fare of this journey (both ways) in their packages.
Read about our smart flight booking tips here⤵
Alternative route for Adventure seekers: Make your way to Halong city and then to Cat ba island.From there, hop on a boat and explore Lan ha bay instead of joining one of the big cruises.
When to go :
We found May to be a good month to experience the bay in its perfect setting. Hot sunny days, clear blue skies and less crowds, because it’s the off season. Plus all cruises give big discounts during this time.
July-September is better avoided as it’s the rainy season with a lot of tropical storms which causes most cruises to cancel.
October-april is the “on” season ,with winter bringing misty and foggy skies , but also crowds and high prices.
How To Choose The Right Cruise:
Choosing the right cruise is of utmost importance as cruising through the bay is the only way to experience this UNESCO site in it’s entirety. The cruise you choose can make or break your trip.
When i went researching before our trip, i was inundated with tons of info. There were more than 100 cruise companies of varying budgets with mixed reviews. We had set certain criteria for our cruise and it took me one month to finalise one. The whole process was extremely time consuming as there was no single cruise with universally good reviews, except for the ultra luxury ones which were way out of our budget.
Having gathered a lot of info, i want to share my tips for all of you interested in cruising Halong Bay.
How To Tour Halong Bay:
First of all, you should know that there are 3 different bays :
- Halong bay– the most well known, but also the most over developed/over crowded with dirty water
- Bai Tu long bay– further inside with the same limestone karsts along with much cleaner water and lesser crowds
- Lan ha bay– close to Cat ba island with less crowds. Can be combined with a night stay on the island
Criteria For Choosing A Cruise:
So now with this info, you need to decide
A. Which bay you wanna visit
B. Duration of your cruise
Bay to Visit/Route of Cruise- My most important criteria for choosing a cruise was the route it would follow. Among the 3 bays, Halong bay is the most famous but also the most commercialised and overcrowded. In contrast, Bai Tu long bay and Lan ha bay enjoy the same stunning scenery with much less crowds. For me, it was very important to avoid day trippers and crowds and hence, we choose a boat which took us deep into Bai Tu long bay.
- Avoid Halong bay – visit the other two bays
- Know that only 30 cruises have permission for Bait u long/Lan ha bay, so obviously there will be less boats and less crowds in these 2 bays
- There are some cruises that combine both Halong + Bai tu long bay (Signature cruise) or Halong+Lan ha bay (Azalea cruise)
- Some even combine all 3 bays in their itinerary (Orchid cruise)
- Duration of your trip-This will be your biggest factor- How much time are you willing to give to your Halong experience. There are day trips,2 day 1 night cruises and 3 day 2 night cruises.
- PROS: only for travelers without time, who are on a rush
- CONS- It takes 8 hours for the to and fro journey from Hanoi so that leaves very less time onboard/ these trips only tour the crowded and dirty parts of Halong bay
- Best to Avoid
2 Day 1 Night Trips
- PROS: balances budget + the need to explore some of the further parts of the bay/ some activities like kayaking are usually included
- CONS: no time visit the truly isolated stunning areas
3 Day 2 Nights Trip
- We did this
- PROS: Experience the bay in it’s entirety in a relaxed manner. After all it’s a once in a lifetime experience! Plus less boats/crowds
- CONS: Expensive/ not convenient for travelers on a rush
- Budget- Another big factor. Cruises range from 2* to 5* and Uber luxurious ones.If you have the money ,you can even charter a cruise for yourself ! Paying extra money for a good cruise is paramount if you want your experience to be great.Also safety records are extremely important .
- Your budget will depend on your route and duration
- Obviously, a 3day 2night luxury cruise will cost more than a 2 day 1 night 3* cruise
- Ask yourself what is important to you within your budget- 2 nights on a 3* cruise or 1 night on a 4*/5* cruise
- Compare the prices and if the difference is not much, always go for the better option
- You can save some money by booking non balcony rooms
- Book during the off season- a 3 day 2 nights cruise in the off season may be cheaper than 2 day 1 night cruise during peak season
Visit more UNESCO sites in Vietnam.Read about our cultural experience in Ancient Town here⤵
Review of our Cruise: Signature Royal
After doing tons of research on the subject, i finally chose the 3 days 2 nights option in Signature cruise which is one of the 5* cruises operating there with great reviews.The cruise goes to Halong as well as Bai Tu long bay, following an off beat route. Since this was a once in a lifetime experience for us, we decided to splurge on it !
Signature has 2 vessels – Signature and Signature royal. We were upgraded to the royal vessel on arrival ,which was a big bonus for us!
The cruise was extremely luxurious with great staff. We had chosen a balcony room to enjoy the views privately. Our room even came with a jacuzzi ! For those opting to stay in non balcony rooms ,there is always the deck and the dining room to enjoy the passing scenery .
Experience on the cruise :
As is evident from these pictures ,we could not find a single fault. Being the off season, there were only 3 couples on board,which was a delight for us.
There were a number of different activities arranged for the passengers. On our first afternoon we were taken on a trip to Vung Vieng fishing village and a pearl farm.We were given the option to kayak or be taken around on small bamboo boats.We choose the bamboo Boat option and enjoyed a pleasurable afternoon.
On our 2nd day, we were transferred on to a day boat which took us deep into the bay and to tiny hidden beaches.Again there was the option to kayak ,swim or simply relax on the beach ! For us, this was the best experience of the whole cruise.There were no other boats where we went and just utter peace
The Food : Nothing short of Master-chef worthy dishes ! Buffet breakfasts to delectable 5 course lunches and dinners, with big portions,leaving us a lot heavier! We even made our own Bun cha (barbequed pork rolls-classic vietnamese dish)on the last night !
Apart from this, every evening there was a vietnamese cooking demonstration for making spring rolls,bun cha and the like.
Happy hour during Sunset made for a great party ! After dinner,you could take part in squid fishing ,watch a movie in your room or simply relax on the deck. Spa services were also available on board .
The service : Brilliant at all times.Staff actually remembered both of our names and were always ready to help us and take feedback from us to improve(which imo there was no improvement needed)
At the end of our trip, we returned to port completely refreshed and relaxed and thankful to have this once in a lifetime experience,which we will always cherish.
Points to Note :
- Most cruises follow the same itineraries and activities with trips to a fishing village and a cave thrown in, with cooking classes/Tai chi lessons/ kayaking/ squid fishing
- 3 day cruises include beach visits/ trip to Cat ba island depending on your route
- Avoid the cave visits which are overcrowded and not that great. Instead spend those last few hours relaxing on the boat
- Everything was included in the price of the cruise, except alcoholic drinks,which were obviously pricier compared to land but much cheaper than India ! The cruise provides 2 bottles of complimentary water/day + free tea/coffee.
- Take advantage of Happy Hours on the boat !
- Some other cruises with great reviews :Azalea cruise – luxury, tours Lan ha bay with day trip to Cat ba islandOrchid cruise – luxury,tours all the 3 bays with a separate port only 2 hours from HanoiPaloma cruise – luxury
Pelican cruise – mid range
La fairy sails – mid range with dinner on deck
Indochina junk- amongst the best in the mid range category with an off beat route
- Visa on arrival Vietnam -25$/pp + additional letter of approval required prior to landing in vietnam (can be arranged from India from any online agency charges 15-20$/pp)
- Hanoi accomodation : number of budget and mid range hotels and hostels in Hanoi old quarters.plenty of eating places nearby with lots of tourist sites.We stayed at Hanoi emerald waters trendy hotel, a 3* mid range hotel with impeccable service.We arranged our cruise through the hotel 1 month prior to our arrival. Paid 30% deposit and the rest after the cruise ended.
Read our review of Hanoi Emerald waters trendy here ⤵
Hopefully this Flashpacker Halong bay cruise guide was helpful to you ! Happy planning!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Read our Hoi An travel guide here ⤵