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What to Expect When Visiting Ha Long Bay

January 6, 2023
13 Min Read
Vietnam
A small boat surounded by islands of limestone, Halong Bay
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What to Expect When Visiting Ha Long Bay
Written by 
Simon
Updated On 
October 20, 2023
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Halong is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. 

With its growing popularity, is Halong bay really worth visiting? Continue reading as we break down everything you need to know about visiting Halong Bay. In this ultimate guide to visiting Halong Bay, you will find the best time to visit, different ways to discover, and many of our top tips that you won’t want to miss. 

We’ve also answered most of the common questions asked when booking your Halong Bay cruise, and we’ve outlined what you can expect on a 1-night luxury boat cruise in Halong Bay.

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What is Halong Bay?

Halong bay, also known as the bay of descending dragons, has been on every traveler’s list when they visit Vietnam. From dramatic karst scenery to emerald green water, Halong bay is a must see when visiting Vietnam. This Unesco World Heritage site has over 3000 islands of towering limestone and the best way to visit is through a cruise. 

Boats surounded by island of limestone, Halong Bay

Is Halong Bay Worth Visiting?

To answer the question of whether Halong Bay is worth visiting, we say yes! Every cent we've spent has been worth it because of the breathtaking views, activities, and the experience of waking up to the spectacular rock formations from your private balcony. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if you only get to do it once, why not make the most of it? 

Read on to find out how to make the most out of your Halong Bay trip and why it should be on your list of places to visit in Vietnam.

Limestone island in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Best Time to Visit Halong Bay

You can visit Halong Bay all year, but the best months are October to December. These are also peak season months, so expect a crowd. However, you will most likely have the best weather, with pleasant temperatures and little rain.

Read: Best Time to Visit Vietnam

Limestone island and a small boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Ways to Discover Halong Bay

Cruise Ship: The most popular way to experience Halong Bay is on a cruise ship. There are numerous companies that provide tours on a daily basis. If you're short on time, consider taking a day tour cruise. Otherwise, you can book a 1-night or 2-night boat cruise. There are also various boat options available, ranging in price from budget cruises to luxury cruises. 

A cruise-ship in Halong Bay during sunset.

Seaplane: You can now have the option to see Halong Bay from above on a seaplane. Hai Au Aviation offers a 25-minute scenic flight from Tuan Chau Marina for about 120 USD per person. 

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Yacht: A yacht is another way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Halong Bay. If you only have a short amount of time and want to enjoy the views with family or friends, this may be an option for you.

Bird-eyeview of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Day Trip or Overnight

Halong bay is beautiful and there’s a reason why it's so popular. We highly recommend taking an overnight cruise so you can have a bit of time to sit down and enjoy the scenery. However, if you don't have the budget or the time for the overnight cruises, then a day trip would also suffice. 

Just keep in mind that day trips are typically more rushed, and Halong Bay is one of those places where you simply must stop and enjoy. The day trip from Hanoi also includes a lot of back and forth transportation as well as waiting times at the port. An overnight cruise takes you to parts of Halong Bay that day trippers do not visit.

Colorful boats in Halong Bay, Vietnam

1-night or 2-nights Cruise

The most popular option is the 1-night cruise, which provides a good overview of Halong Bay. While joining a 2-night cruise will give you more time and flexibility, you will also be able to participate in more activities and travel further into Halong Bay. Again, if you have the time and budget for a longer cruise, you should do it.

You should also do your research before making a decision because there are many cruise companies with different itineraries. The two-night cruises will most likely explore more of Halong Bay and head towards Bai Tu Long Bay, which is located in Halong Bay's northeastern region. You'll also have a lower chance of running with other cruises if you do the two-night tour.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay 

Lan Ha Bay is in the same geographical area as Halong Bay, so they have similar geographical features and weather conditions. But here is a quick breakdown of the differences between Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay. 

Halong Bay is located off the coast of Halong City with bigger caves to explore and larger beaches to visit. Lan Ha Bay is an extension of Halong Bay but in a different province. It is located east of Cat Ba island and has more underwater caves and smaller, pristine beaches.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

If you want to see the must-see scenes and sights and fill your itinerary with activities, take a trip to Halong Bay. Go to Lan Ha Bay, on the other hand, if you want to sit back and relax in the midst of natural tranquility.

It's also worth noting that some tour companies offer itineraries that include visits to both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay. If you want to do a day trip to Halong Bay, you'll need to board a boat at Tuan Marina, whereas you'll need to start at Cat Ba island for Lan Ha Bay.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

How to Get to Halong Bay

There are numerous bus and limousine companies that travel to Halong Bay from various parts of northern Vietnam. It takes about 2 hours to get from Hanoi Old Quarter to the main port in Halong Bay, and tickets cost around 15 USD.


Many cruise lines also provide transfers from Hanoi to the port. Inquire about discounted transfers from your tour company if you've pre-booked your Halong Bay tours.

Book your bus to Halong Bay

Portrait of a rower in Halong Bay.

How to Choose Halong Bay Cruise

Deciding a cruise company can be very overwhelming with the hundreds of offers you’ll find online. We’re sure there are many great companies out there you can choose from that will fit your budget or your needs. However, here are our 5 tips to choose the best cruise company for you. 

Cruise-ship in Halong Bay during sunset

1. Choose a small or medium size boat. 

We recommend booking a boat that has around 30 cabins or less. Halong bay can get really busy especially during the high season. While you will encounter other boats on the bay, booking a smaller boat with fewer people will give you a better chance of a relaxing cruise. Even if you see crowds during activities, you will have a space to enjoy and experience the views of Halong Bay when you are on the boat. If you book one of the big luxury cruises, you will not only encounter crowds at certain locations, but you will also meet them on the boat. 

Limestone islands and boats in Halong Bay, Vietnam

2. Visit the tour company’s official website. 

Based on their website, you will immediately know if the tour cruise is legitimate. This is especially true when it comes to booking a luxury cruise. Some companies will even try to mimic the name of a well-known cruise line, but will direct you to another website to book. So do some research and look for the company’s ratings on other reputable websites such as TripAdvisor or Booking.com.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

3. Find the sample itineraries posted on their website. 

Each tour company has different itineraries, so check them out ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. You may need to start at Cat Ba island for tours beginning in Lan Ha Bay. 

Checking out the sample itineraries can also help you decide whether or not to book a 2-night cruise. We've also found out that if you book a 2-night cruise, some companies will take you on a smaller boat to explore on the second day.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

4. Check if the boat is sailing on your preferred date.

As most tour operators have different boats and itineraries, contact them ahead of time to see if they are sailing on your preferred date. They might have to move you to a different boat, or you might have to change your dates.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

5. Compare the rates offered before booking. 

Once you’ve decided on which cruise to book, inquire about the rates and compare it with different tour agencies before booking. Also, do not forget to ask what is included in the price and get confirmation. 

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Peony Cruise (Luxury) Review

We've put all of the time and effort in deciding which tour company to use for our Halong Cruise. We're glad we went with Peony Cruise, which we highly recommend, out of all the options we had. This review is not sponsored by Peony Cruise and is based on our personal experience.

What we like best about the Peony cruise is how well-organized it is, and our room was exactly as described - clean, spacious, and beautiful. Aside from that, all the rooms have their own balcony so you can have a private place to enjoy the view. It was also a medium-sized boat with 20 cabins and plenty of space to enjoy on board. They have a wide variety of food and drinks to choose from, as well as a range of activities to participate in. We also appreciate how the staff goes above and beyond to serve you.

Peony Cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam

1-Night Halong Bay Cruise Itinerary

Here is what you can expect on a 1-night Halong Bay with Peony Cruise based on our recent experience. 

Pick Up: The limousine will pick you at your Hanoi accommodation at around 8 to 9am. The drive takes approximately 2 hours depending on the traffic. Most Halong Bay transfers will stop at a pearl factory. There is a small demonstration on how pearls are cultured, which was interesting. You can also shop for pearls which we found to be a tourist trap. Otherwise, you can use the toilet or grab some coffee at the food court. 

Day 1: When you arrive at the port, you will check your luggage and wait in the lounge until you depart. There are plenty of chairs in the lounge, which is air conditioned, and you can order drinks while you wait.

At around 12pm, you will board a small boat that will transport you to the larger ship. You will cruise further along Halong Bay for about half an hour before being escorted to the restaurant for lunch. You'll get your room keys while eating lunch, and you'll have the afternoon to relax as you sail deeper into Halong Bay.

A man driving a small boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam

By 3pm, you’ll get on a small boat to visit the dark and bright cave. Here, you can choose to explore on your own in a kayak or to ride a bamboo boat with a local rower. 

Tip: If it's busy, we recommend taking the bamboo boat for a more relaxing experience. We saw a lot of tourists kayaking and thought it was a little dangerous as there’s only one way for both boats and kayaks to go. We saw plenty of kayaks colliding with the bamboo boats which could pose some serious risk.

A rower brings tourists to a cave in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Tourists in kayak's in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

You'll be back on board by 5pm, just in time for the sunset. Head to the deck and take advantage of the happy hour specials! You can also join a cooking demonstration on the deck around 6:30pm. Dinner will be served at the main restaurant around 7:30pm. After dinner, you can either relax or go squid fishing on the smaller boat.

People sell goods to a cruise ship in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Day 2: Start the day early and head up to the deck for sunrise! You can choose to participate in a tai chi class at around 6am or enjoy the morning breeze as you sip a cup of coffee. Breakfast will be served around 6:40am and afterwards you can choose to join the tour to visit the Trung Tang cave on Cat Ba island. 

Tip: We thought the timing for breakfast and the activity was a little rushed and would have preferred more time. If you're not interested in caves, we recommend skipping the activity and spending your final hours relaxing on the boat. 

A bamboo bridge in the jungle

The activity involved taking a boat to Cat Ba and then a minibus to the cave's entrance. After exploring the cave, you'll board the same minibus and then the small boat back to the bigger ship.

You will check out at 9:40am and then have your final meal on the boat before boarding the small boat to return to the port. By 11:30am, you’ll be back at the lounge to wait for your transfer back to Hanoi’s old quarter

Read: How to Spend 48 Hours in Hanoi

A small boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Cost

The cost of your Halong Bay tour can vary depending on the length and type of your cruise. Here is a rough estimate of what to expect to pay for a Halong Bay Cruise:

Day Trip: 60 USD per person 

1-Night Cruise: 150 to 250 USD per person

2-Nights Cruise: 300 to 350 USD per person

What to Pack

Here is a list of the essentials you’ll be needing for your Halong Bay cruise:

  1. Passport - You’ll need to show your passport to board the cruise.
  2. Water Bottle - You will be given two free bottles of water in your room and will be charged after that. Refill your bottles in the water dispenser.
  3. Sunscreen, Hat, and Sunglasses - It can get hot while on deck and during your activities so make sure you are well prepared.
  4. Good pair of shoes - For activities such as visiting the caves, you should bring comfortable shoes.
  5. Mosquito Repellant - Expect mosquitoes at night, especially if you spend time on the deck, as well as during your trekking activities, so bring mosquito repellant.
  6. Swimsuit and Slippers - Most Halong cruises have pools or jacuzzis on deck. So make sure you're well prepared if you intend to use these facilities.
  7. Medicine - There are emergency kits on board, but remember to bring your own medicines if needed.
  8. Cash - You can use your credit card to pay your bill on the cruise, but you'll need cash if you want to buy something during activities and for tipping.
  9. Entertainment - Bring a book to read or a deck of cards with you if you don't want to participate in the activities to keep you entertained.
  10. Clothes and Toiletries - Keep in mind to pack light. The room will have basic toiletries.
  11. Earphones - Make sure you have some movies or your favorite music ready for your transfers.

Limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Our Halong Bay Cruise Tips

  1. Avoid going on weekends and holidays. 
  2. Take advantage of the buy one get one drink during Happy Hour. 
  3. Wake up early to catch the sunrise.
  4. Skip the cave tour on day 2 and instead spend it relaxing on board. 
  5. Bring water bottles that you can refill at the water dispenser on board. 
  6. Ask the price before buying from the small boat vendor. 
  7. Book ahead for your Hanoi accommodations before and after your cruise. If you don't want to bring all of your belongings to the cruise, you can leave them behind and your hotel will most likely be happy to store them for you.
Where to Next?
Hanoi
Famous Hanoi Train Street
Ninh Binh
Boats on a river in Tam Coc, Vietnam
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And that’s it!

We honestly believe that visiting Halong Bay should be on any Vietnam itinerary. Whether you’re visiting for a day or an overnight cruise, Halong Bay is worth every cent. 

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Some links in this Halong Bay guide may be affiliate links.

This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of our links, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please know that by doing so, you are supporting Colorful Journeys in continuing to provide free high quality content to help you in your travels.

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