There is truly no greater pleasure than waking up to the sound of gently lapping waves and jaw-dropping views of paradise. Even better when you realise all that can be found during only a short(ish) plane ride away from Australia in Vietnam when you are on a Halong Bay cruise!
If you are planning a trip to Vietnam then chances are Halong Bay will be on your radar. I’m sure you’ve seen the stunning photos of the limestone cliffs topped with jungle or heard of the ‘Jurassic Park Island’.
There are so many ways to experience Halong Bay but if you want to do it right it has to be on a boat!
Taking a Halong Bay Cruise
Located in the Quang Ninh province of northern Vietnam, Halong Bay (also known as Ha Long Bay) is a unique natural landscape made up of the 1,969 ancient limestone pinnacles that rise from the water. It’s a magical, almost otherworldly sight; and there is no better way to see the World Heritage-listed bay, and one of the newest 7 natural wonders of the world!, than by taking a Halong Bay cruise, of course!
Whether you prefer to sail for a day or even enjoy one of the many three-day cruises in Halong Bay, there are plenty of options for those seeking the best Halong Bay cruise.
I personally like tours that allow you to meet and interact with the families that live on or by the water, including the squid and prawn fishermen, pearl farmers and those that live in the floating villages. I don’t eat seafood but I do love to wear some pearls so this was, of course, seeing how these cultivated Akoya pearls came to exist were a highlight. (If you choose to buy some pearls, it’s important to know that the black Akoya pearls are died or treated with cobalt to achieve the colour. Akoya pearls tend to be white with silver or pink hues.)
If you are short on time, Halong Bay day trips are possible from Hanoi. It will be a full day but worth the time and energy. If you can spare the extra time, and for those seeking the ultimate relaxation, consider a Halong Bay overnight cruise, or multi-night for those who want to get off the main tourist trail and discover some of the more secluded islands. Oh, and discover that there is silence in Vietnam! The noisy motorbikes that rule the city streets will be far away from you when you are on your Halong Bay cruise.
Regardless of the length of your tour, one must do experience in Halong Bay is kayaking. While sunrise is the best (and quietest) time to head out for a paddle, though it is possible to paddle later in the day. As you set out to paddle around these giant limestone formations it really gives you a sense of perspective and appreciation for the world and this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site.
What else can you do in Halong Bay?
Many Halong Bay boat cruises will include some of these activities in their itinerary, but if you prefer to do a Halong Bay day trip and then go it alone you can find plenty of activities to keep you busy around the Bay! These include:
- Swimming at beaches
- Visit the floating villages
- Visit a pearl farm
- Cooking classes (discover some of the food you should try in Vietnam!)
- Cave exploring (there are heaps to choose from!)
- Fishing (particularly squid and prawn!)
- Tai Chi
- Bike riding on Cat Ba Island
- Go bird and monkey spotting
How to get to Halong Bay, Vietnam?
When comparing prices of Halong Bay cruises, be sure to check whether a return transfer is included. If it is, generally, the transfer will travel on the new Ha Long-Hai Phong Expressway which cuts travel time from Hanoi to Halong Bay to around 2.5 hours. Many transfers include a ‘comfort stop’ (a stop for the bathroom and convenience store) so be prepared that the journey can take 3-hours or more.
You can also fly on a seaplane from the capital, Hanoi. While more expensive it will significantly cut down the travel time and allow you to see beautiful Halong Bay from above!
Where to stay in Halong Bay:
- Overnight Cruise in Halong Bay – from the gentle rocking of the boat lulling you to sleep to the incredible water views when you wake. There is no place better accommodation than on a Halong Bay cruise!
- Mithrin Hotel Halong – offering excellent value for money for budget-conscious luxury travellers, the hotel is located right in the center of Halong City, close to most attractions.
- Golden Halong Hotel – located on the east side of Bai Chay Beach, the Golden Halong Hotel offers luxury accommodation on a reasonable budget. The hotel is located just 1 kilometre away from the main wharf, perfect if you are planning on taking a cruise, and only 4 kilometres away from Tuan Chau Island (there are resorts and even a golf course here).
- Vinpearl Halong Bay– if you are looking for luxury accommodation in Halong Bay look no further. This stunning property is the largest resort in Northern Vietnam and located on an island within Halong Bay. The hotel will be able to arrange specially curated tours for you or help escort you back to the mainland if you prefer to partake in another tour. If you have time be sure to book a treatment and their renown spa; you won’t be left disappointed.
Read next → 4 incredible Vietnam festivals not to miss!
Good to know:
- The best time of year to visit Halong Bay is in November. Temperatures are moderate and the seas are calm. High season is from June to mid-August. February to April is cool and often raining; though the fog is incredibly beautiful it can be dangerous to sail through. From May to September there can be tropical storms.
- The Halong Bay entrance fee is US$13 per person for a day cruise and US$25 for an overnight cruise. Most mid-range and luxury Halong Bay cruises include this in the cost of your ticket but do check.
- Not all tours go to Halong Bay; seriously! Many companies will take you to Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha but the best Halong Bay cruises will take inside the bay, so be sure to ask! This Bay has the highest concentration of limestone karsts (the technical term for those islands!) and is also the busiest area, but the stunning views are worth it (and it is the only area that is World Heritage listed!)
- Check to see if transfers for your Halong Bay tour from Hanoi are included in your ticket and if it’s both ways. Especially if you are partaking in a full day tour of Halong Bay!
- While most travellers take a day trip or overnight trip, these tours can have a packed schedule and don’t give you a whole lot of time to enjoy the amenities of the boat or just relax and enjoy the incredible scenery. If your schedule permits I highly recommend you consider a two-night, three-day tour which will be much more leisurely and allow you to visit more sights with fewer people around!
- If you are going to be on a cruise for several meals and don’t like rice or fish, or have any dietary requirements, then please let your crew know ahead of time so the crew can plan an option for you.
- Please be wary of ultra-budget Halong Bay cruises. While the price is attractive there can be safety issues. While new safety regulations have been put into action since 2011 following a boat sinking, some operators are not as stringent as others so please do your research before boarding. Also, be aware that there are strong currents around some islands and kayakers can be at risk getting caught in them if not properly accompanied by a guide.
- Halong Bay is incredibly popular with tourists and the impact that mass tourism is having on the environment can be seen, particularly during high season. This natural wonder needs protection and while many companies do try to improve the area (some bay cruises even often rubbish collection as an elective) there is always more you can do. When travelling to Halong Bay be sure to clean up behind you and dispose of trash in a thoughtful manner. Even just picking up one or two pieces of trash and disposing of them properly can add up when others also help to protect this incredibly special area of Vietnam.
All photos in this article are owned by Bhaya Cruises, Vietnam