The world-renowned Halong Bay is a must-visit on your trip to Vietnam! Coasting through the water and massive limestone rock formations is an experience in nature you’ll never forget. It may be overwhelming as you start your search for the best Halong Bay cruise, but don’t worry! We’ve got some great tips before you head to this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where is Halong Bay Vietnam?
So where is Halong Bay? This magical area of Vietnam is located in the Gulf of Tonkin about 165 km from the capital of Hanoi. With endless tour operators offering trips from Hanoi, it’s never been easier to get to this famous destination!
The easiest way to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi is by private transfer. If you book your boat tour in Hanoi, the majority will include this van ride in the package. The other option would be to book the transfer separately through your hotel or take the bus.
The private transfers takes about 2.5 hours, and you’ll leave on the morning of your boat tour. The bus would be the cheaper option, but know that it will take about an hour longer.
Check out all our Vietnam articles to help plan your trip! We cover everything from the best Vietnamese food to 50 travel tips & how to get around. You can also find our Northern Vietnam and Southern itineraries as well as an amazing 1 month route!
5 Tips For Booking Your Halong Bay Cruise
1. While searching for your Halong Bay cruise you may notice that many are titled “junk boats.” However, don’t be thrown off by the name! The term applies to almost every kind of cruise unless you’re going with a luxury Halong Bay Vietnam option.
2. Typically, you will be offered a one or two night tour. We highly recommend going for two nights if you’re looking for the best Halong Bay Vietnam cruise. The weather is often foggy and misty in Northern Vietnam. This means there’s a chance you could miss out on all the beautiful scenery if you decide on only one day.
3. You may have an option to take the second night at a hotel on Cat Ba Island. Look over your cruises itinerary to see what it specifies before booking.
4. Unfortunately, some of the photos they shown of the boats could be a few years old… Or even just generic pictures! We definitely recommend looking up recent reviews before booking your Halong Bay cruise.
5. Like anywhere else in the world, you get what you pay for here. Hopefully this blog can give you some ideas of how much you want to spend visiting Halong Bay. Some popular cruise companies to look into that offer a range of different options are Bhaya Cruises & Indochina Junk.
3 Day 2 Night Halong Bay Cruise
So what are the different types of boats to choose from? While there are an endless amount of options, we separated them into three easy categories for you.
The good part about visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam is that there are boat options for every budget! The prices we’ve listed are not exact, but will give you an idea of what you’re working with.
Super Budget Backpacker Boat
$80-125 – Honestly, we do not recommend this option if you can avoid it! We understand one of the draws of Vietnam is it being a budget travelers paradise. Still, we’ve heard firsthand accounts of rats, food poisoning, and people not getting any of the off-boat outings they were promised. Clearly, this is not the best Halong Bay Vietnam cruise!
Mid-Tier Halong Bay Cruise
$150-300 – We took this style boat back in 2015 on our first Halong Bay Vietnam trip. We enjoyed kayaking, hiking, exploring caves, and relaxing on the large upper deck to take in the incredible landscape.
On our second night we stayed at a hotel on Cat Ba Island where we explored the main town. Even though it’s not luxury by any means, it’s more than worth it to upgrade from the cheapest option!
Don’t expect anything fancy, but you’ll still have an enjoyable time at a reasonable cost.
Luxury in Halong Bay Vietnam
$400+ – If you have the funds available you can really get the experience of a lifetime on a luxury Halong Bay cruise. On our latest trip to Halong Bay we traveled on the Au Co Cruise with Bhaya. It had all the amenities you’d expect on a 5 star boat, and it was such a fun way to see this famous area.
We were treated to 6 course meals (yes you read that right!), a room with a large balcony, and it even had a spa and jacuzzi on board. This was truly cruising in style!
What to Expect Visiting Halong Bay
Now that you know more about how to book your Halong Bay trip it’s time to get to the good stuff! On your visit, you’ll cruise through over 1,600 islands inside this incredible National Park. The scene as you coast in between the giant limestone rocks feels like something out of a dream.
It doesn’t matter if you’re greeted with clear blue skies or misty fog, the magical scenery of Halong Bay in Vietnam is sure to captivate any traveler. There’s nothing better than grabbing a seat on the sundeck of your junk boat and watching the limestone rock formations pass you by!
Kayaking in Halong Bay
This was by far the highlight of our Halong Bay cruise! It’s one thing to see it from a large boat. Yet, you’ll get a totally different perspective in the little kayak paddling yourself through nature.
Kayaking is the best way to truly appreciate the enormous natural rock formations. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to glide through caves that pop out to Ba Ham Lake. Kayaking is also available on Cat Ba Island if your tour makes a stop there.
Buying Treats From the Boat Women
At first we thought this was just a myth told by travelers. Women who sneak up to your boat and tap on your window in the cover of darkness, only to sell you beers and snacks at a very low price?? Oh, how wrong we were!
These women are real, and happily cruising around Halong Bay in their row boats stocked full of treats. Just don’t get caught buying from them, or you may have to pay a fine to your boat captain!
Caves of Halong Bay Vietnam
These caves are a stop on just about every Halong Bay tour. Even though it may look like a tourist trap, you wont regret a thing after you spend some time exploring these amazing works of nature.
The colors, formations, and sheer size of the caves are so remarkable to see! Our tour guide made it a priority to point out different markings on the cave walls and have the group guess what animal they resembled.
Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay
Cat Ba Island is a must see when visiting Halong Bay. Some travelers decide to skip the boat tour all together and just spend their time on this stunning island. There is a ferry from the mainland with multiple crossings a day, as well as a range of accommodations on Cat Ba Island.
On one of our journeys to Halong Bay we did the Cat Ba National Park hike. It was a very steep 2 hour vertical climb, but the views from the top were 100% worth it! We also got to do an awesome 8km bicycle ride. It took us in the countryside to a local village, through tunnels, and much more.
Should you Visit Halong Bay in Vietnam?
Yes! Overall, our trips to Halong Bay have been extraordinary. We’ve met a bunch of amazing people on our overnight tours that we still keep in touch with. It also has given us an opportunity to see a beautiful part of Vietnam in a fun and unique way.
Spending a couple days on a Halong Bay cruise is an awesome experience in Northern Vietnam. Just pick your boat wisely, and remember you get what you pay for! Don’t be afraid to shell out some extra cash for this part of your Vietnam travels.
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own tips for Halong Bay Vietnam? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Where To Stay In Hanoi Vietnam
Ultra Luxury – Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel – Amazing luxury property with a rooftop swimming pool overlooking Hanoi.
Fun Vacation – Scent Premium Hotel – Located in the center of the Old Quarter and just a quick 2 minute walk to the lake.
Budget Travel – Nova Luxury Hotel – Right next to the Hanoi Old Quarter with a beautiful chic design.
Hostel Life –Little Charm Hanoi Hostel – Clean rooms, soft beds, and in the heart of Hanoi. Great budget option in one of our favorite places to visit in Vietnam.
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Vietnam Travel Planning
Transportation: 12Go is what we use to book ferries, trains, buses, and transfers while traveling through Vietnam!
Tours: Get Your Guide is an amazing place to find fun activities all over Vietnam! There is everything from a Hanoi Cooking Class and market tour to a Mekong Delta Pagoda & rowing boat trip, and even the Phu Quoc Cable Car Ride with three island snorkeling tour!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without insurance. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
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