Ha Long bay is one of the biggest destinations for tourism in Viet Nam. The gorgeous natural scenery, exquisite beaches and collapsed caves make Ha Long a must for all travellers. If you are planning a trip to Ha Long, don’t miss the chance to view it on a cruise. We are here to give you an overview on Ha Long Bay cruises.
1.Why is Ha Long bay special?
Recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site and listed as one of the greatest 7 Wonders in the World, Ha Long Bay is all you need for a marvelous dream.
Photo by jennifer yin
As an awe-inspiring limestone bay, Ha Long hosts over 1,600 islands and islets. What set the bay apart from others are its limestone pillars, a symbol of natural beauty. Also, Ha Long bay with its group of offshore islands are diverse in forms and extents. Sitting on a boat, getting a wide view over the bay, you will definitely be amazed with how stunning this little treasure is.
2.How to get to Ha Long Bay
Buses and private cars are the most usual transports to travel from Ha Noi to Ha Long. To arrange a private car, ask your receptionists for help. If you want to go by bus, head to Gia Lam bus station and buy ticket at 120,000 VND.
On these days, there is a new - launched seaplane that brings you from Ha Noi to Ha Long in a faster way with, off course, a much more expensive price.
A 3-hour drive boat from Ninh Binh is also a good option for those who want drift around the river. It's not suitable if you go with small kids.
3.Ha Long Bay cruises
As the tourists’ demands vary, there are many kinds of cruise you can choose from daily tour (4 to 8 hours), DIY tour and overnight tours on boat (luxurious and average cruises for 2D1N or 3D2N).
Photo by Malingering
Most tourists spend a 4-hour boat trip to go through the Bay but if you want to get a closer look on Ha Long, make sure you join in an overnight boat trip which offers a socializing, relaxing and comfortable tour on waters.
The best way to explore Ha Long Bay is getting on a cruise. There are 3 basic options for your cruise as followed.
DAY BOAT TOUR
With this kind of tour, you are better stay a night in Ha Long bay then get up early and take a tour (full day or half day tour) in the morning.
There are many kinds of tour ranging from 25$ to 75 $ for a half day or full day tour in turn, including lunch. Note that you need to check information carefully as some tour operators don't give exact information of what included in a package. They also can ask for extra charge for some items like swimming or other activities. You can get to the agents located opposite the post office on the beach side, further along Ha Long Road – towards the pier – and on Vuon Dao Street. A day trip lasts for 4 or 8 hours depending on your choice. It departs at 7 a.m or 12 a.m.
Another cheaper option is to take the number 3 bus to the pier (7,000 VND) and pay 100,000 VND for a four-hour boat trip (150,000 VND for six hours including cave and beach) plus 120,000 VND entrance fee. A trip departs at 12:30 a.m.
Be aware that there are many scammers who wait for you in the entrance of pier to ask you buy their tickets with a lower price, ignore them and get directly to the counter if you don’t want to have problems with the ticket.
For all backpackers, you need ensure all money is spent wisely on what you want the most. And a DIY tour in Ha Long is not a bad idea.
Make your way to Gia Lam bus station and buy tickets at the counter. Ask a ticket to Ha Long bay and it costs 120,000 VND. Ha Long is a bit of a journey, 4-hour ride from Ha Noi. Compared with the bus standard in Viet Nam, this Ha Noi – Ha Long bus is quite good and comfortable.
When you get on bus, reconfirm the bus driver of where you want to drop. Then, they will take you to a place which is about 5 km away from Ha Long center. If you can, walk to the city but it’s quite exhausted because of a long way. Motorbike taxis are available to get you to your desired spot. The price is about 30,000 - 50,000 VND depending on your bargaining skill.
Even though this is a DIY tour, you have to hop on a tourist boat. There is a person who offer a boat trip at 300,000 VND, including transport from your hotel to the harbor. You will be picked up at 12:00 a.m. At the harbor, you need to buy ticket by yourself at 120,000 VND, exclusive for lunch or any activity.
There are 2 stops on the way to Cat Ba: A cave and stop for kayaking. As the ticket doesn’t include anything, you need to pay extra money for extra item.
Photo by David McKelvey
At the end of a journey, tourists get to Cat Ba at 7 p.m. Find a hotel and spend a night on this small island. Unlike Ha Long, Cat Ba is much less touristy and expensive. The beaches here are also more calm and beautiful than they are in Ha Long. Rock climbing or trip to Cat Ba national park are what you can join in if you have spare time.
OVERNIGHT BOAT TOUR
Tours can be booked in Ha Noi or Ha Long but packages with same price should be booked in Ha Noi as they include transfer from Ha Noi to Ha Long. The more costly a tour is, the more luxurious and comfortable you feel.
5.What features to consider when choosing a cruise
Depending on which kind of tour you choose, the price range is different. It’s smart to plot out which is suitable for your financial condition. If you can, try to book a cabin with balcony to enjoy the warmth from the sun and the glorious emerald – green waters.
The length of cruise
If you charter a private boat by yourself, you can sail as long as you want. Normally, people choose to get on a group tour. There are 2 options for that type of tour: 2 days 1 night and 3 days 2 nights. These long day tours always leave a memorable impression on travellers as you can truly enjoy the area, get out of the main spots.
Best time to visit
- Spring – February to April: The climate is dry but it's nicer than it is in winter.
Pros: Cool, ideal temperature and blue waters for swimming.
- Summer – May to August: The temperature is higher but it's not overwhelmed as other cities in Viet Nam.
Pros: Good for swimming, kayaking and sailing.
Cons: This time of year is the Vietnamese holiday so it's really crowded and the price is higher.
- Autumn – September to November: Offers a great breeze with a cool temperature.
Photo by David McKelvey
Pros: Amazing atmosphere, quieter season.
Cons: A high risk of unexpected typhoon.
- Winter – December and January: The low temperature makes it difficult for swimming. Also, there can be typhoons and storms in this season.
Pros: Not crowded as it is in Spring.
Cons: Not ideal for swimming.
It is not a problem if you only take a half or full day trip but it turns out a big concern if you are on board for 2 or 3 days. As usual, the quality of food depends on the money you pay for. The pricier a cruise is, the better food will be.
Photo by Crosa
Some tours offer buffets or individual courses as you can choose specific foods from menu. Most importantly, if you are in a strict diet or food requirement, make sure the chef or cruise staff aware of your requests.
Where do you want to go
Currently, there are 3 destinations that a boat trip makes their ways to: Ha Long Bay (to the west), Bai Tu Long Bay (to the east) and Cat Ba island. Ha Long is much more crowded than other stops with an endless lines of ships at all sizes. If you are not bee-lining for the area’s most visited tourist’s locales, leave a door wide open for the 2 left options in which Bai Tu Long Bay is truly a beautiful treat for a remote scenery.
A tour to Cat Ba Island is not as costly as other tours but you should knowledgeable on the accommodation offered on Cat Ba to suite your purpose.
Is the question should be asked firstly when you book a tour. Does the package include kayaking, swimming, transfer, etc.? If not, you have to pay extra cost for additional activity you want to get in. Ensure you get enough information and the confirmation of the tour operator.
Photo by Michael
6.What kinds of ship available?
Classic wooden Chinese-style junk boat
Decorated in Chinese style, this one is the most usual boat type used for transfer in Ha Long. This boat type is as diverse as forms, decoration from mid-range to luxury level and facility.
Photo by David McKelvey
In general, the more expensive vessels will have larger cabins often with private balconies, and bathrooms will be larger, more private and better equipped.
Modern luxury vessel
Unlike the classic boats, modern luxury vessel, as its name refer is more convenient, well-equipped and beautifully decorated than the wooden Chinese Junks. It's ideal for a long day trip.
Photo by David McKelvey
Traditional paddle steamer
This original European-style paddle steamer is another option for an overnight trip. The elegant Emeraude is steel-hulled and has a unique European colonial atmosphere.
Budget tour for backpackers:
- Operator: White Pearl
- Price: $52 (tax included)
- In Ha Noi, you are picked up at the meeting point at 8:00 a.m. When you get to Ha Long, after doing some paper work, make your way to the boat. There is a long line of boat waiting in the pier, just follow your guide to get to the right one.
- After drifting over a selection of cave which is called in different animal names, you are led to a fishing village. There, people can take a leisurely trip with kayaking. It's a great activity as you can get close to the cave and have an entire view of the bay. It costs $3 or $5 to be involved in the activity.
- When you get to Cat Ba, it’s time for dinner. As it’s a budget cruise, the food is average but it’s enough to fulfill your belly after a long evening tired of sightseeing.
- In the early morning, breakfast is served with bread and omelet. Then, the boat leads its way to pick up tourists staying on Cat Ba and back to Ha Long.
Halong Bay 1 day tour with Alova Cruise
- Operator: Alova
- Price: 75 usd
Alova Cruise offers a full day tour as you can be in a great fun discovering the wide open spaces and different forms of natural rocks in Ha Long. Alova boats are well-equipped with wooden facility; the guide is informative and helpful.
This kind of tour is suitable for family and those who are on a strict schedule and budget. It may be a little bit costly for backpackers but the service and equipment is better than other budget tours for sure.
You can view the itinerary at: Halong Bay 1 day tour with Alova Cruise
Calypso Cruiser 2D1N
- Operator: Calypso
- Price: 184 usd
If you have time, a 2D1N tour is a must to view Ha Long in the best way. Voted as one of the most modern and comfortable cruise among tens of other firms in Ha Long, Calypso is reliable for your bay trip.
Photo by Oriental sails
This tour is ideal for those want to have a relaxing day drifting on waters with a considerable price.
For more information, visit: Calypso Cruiser 2D1N
Deluxe Oriental Sails 3D2N
- Price: 400 usd
There is a saying in Ha Long: “The more money you pay, the more comfortable you get”. This is why Deluxe with its rather high cost is always listed as the one offering the best cruise services in Ha Long bay. A trip with Deluxe Oriental Sails for 3 days hosts different landscapes which you will fall in love at the first sight.
The tour is a good choice for those who have a deeper pocket.
Photo by Oriental sails
For more information, visit: Deluxe Oriental Sails 3D2N
8.Topic you may concern:
Any Inexpensive or free things to do for a day in Halong Bay?
To check out the well-known bay, you need to pay fee at different prices depending on your budget. However, if you want to see a local life, head to the night market or you can walk along the beach road and enjoy a cool breeze at night.
For cheap cruise, you can view DIY tour above.
Ha Long Bay cruises are good for children or not?
Most of the cruises for 2 or 3 days in Ha Long are well-kept and safe for kids. Some boats have the private port so it’s good for kids.
How to get to Ha Long from Hoi An?
When you finish your trip in Hoi An, make your to Da Nang and fly to Ha Noi (or go by train), spend a night in Ha Noi and catch bus to Ha Long in the following morning.
Another option is that you can fly from Da Nang to Hai Phong, then take a bus or private car to Ha Long bay.
You also can ask the tour agency where you book cruise whether their package includes transfer from Ha Noi to Ha Long or not. That will help you to plan trip easier.
Should you do a DIY cruise trip?
No, if you have a time limit, you should check for a half or full day tour suitable for your budget. In case you have more time to spend, it’s not a bad option because you can get nose to nose with the local life in Cat Ba for 1 night.
One thing to seriously concern is that if you do a DIY tour, expect to face some unexpected problems with the boat, staff or schedule because they can be changed without warning.
After all, Ha Long Bay has reconfirmed its standing as a must-visit place for all tourists. Among thousands of option for cruise, you should wisely choose the best one for you. It’s commonly believed that if you spend 2 or 3 days on boat, don’t take a budget cruise, other cruises can be a little more costly but they surely offer better accommodation and service for a long time on waters.