How to choose a cruise in Halong Bay?
- on Jun 2, 2020       By: BN
Who has ever dreamed of going to the world-famous Halong Bay? To admire one of 35 natural wonders of the world recently published by the journal Insider? Also honoured by numerous US News outlets as one of the top 30 destinations in the world to visit at least once in your lifetime. Halong Bay is synonymous with incomparable splendour.
When we think of Halong Bay, we think of cruising. A relaxing boat trip is undoubtedly the best way to appreciate its sublime and magical beauty. Before going on a cruise, a question arises: "How to choose a cruise in Halong Bay?" If it's your first time in Halong, you will have to take into account the different aspects concerning itineraries, boats, budgets, duration, advice and tips on board to find a circuit that fully meets your expectations.
Remember that there are no less than 500 boats sailing in Halong Bay and neighbouring areas like Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha. You will certainly be spoiled for choice of boats, all ranging from 3 to 5 stars. Rest, entertainment, discovery or even for your honeymoon, whatever your desire, there is always a cruise for you. In order to help you find your perfect cruise more easily, we have prepared for you a short guide to show you how to choose a cruise in Halong Bay.
These are 6 key steps to consider. Each one tries to shed as much light as possible on the different points likely to influence the quality of your getaway, from your departure from the port to the activities on board. Before tackling these crucial questions, a quick glimpse of this dream destination is necessary to help you imagine what awaits you and which path you should follow in the middle of these endless rocky corridors.
Halong Bay, between legends – A natural wonder of the world
Found in the Gulf of Tonkin about 170 km East of Hanoi, Halong Bay is made up of more than 1,600 islands and islets, many of which are inhabited. It is renowned worldwide for its exceptional values, be they natural, historical or cultural. Twice inscribed on the Unesco natural heritage list, Halong is repeatedly acclaimed by the international media as one of the most beautiful bays on the planet and one of the seven new natural wonders of the world.
Halong means "Descent of the dragon". This name refers to the legend that tells the tale of the Dragon Mother who came down to help the Vietnamese people to attack the invaders of the North. The thousands of limestone peaks scattered in the sea result from the movements of the descent of the Mother Dragon and her son, the current Bai Tu Long Bay which is known as "son of the prostrating dragon".
With its world-renowned beauty, Halong Bay has for years established itself as one of the best destinations in Vietnam. In 2018, it welcomed more than 9 million visitors, the majority of whom opted for a cruise ship.
6 steps to find the best cruise on Halong Bay
There are mainly three types of cruises in Halong Bay:
+ Day cruise
+ 2 days and 1 night cruise
+ 3 days and 2 nights cruise or 4 days and 3 nights cruise
The first circuit is a good choice for those with time constraints who wish to appreciate Halong Bay even for a short period of time. A wide range of day cruises are available to book depending on your desired departure point, from Hanoi, Haiphong City or Cat Ba Island.
A circuit with an overnight stay on board is undoubtedly ideal for relaxing and fully enjoying the marvellous landscapes. This choice is an opportunity to soak up the magic of Halong in all dimensions, day and night. Start the day before a superb sunrise in the open sea with a multitude of fantastic activities, it’s a real delight. This is what a 2-day 1-night tour has to offer, and is suitable for many travellers.
In short, the length of your stay in Halong depends on your need for relaxation and your budget. Longer routes are recommended for those wanting to rest and explore the more remote corners of the bay, as offered by the 3-day 2-night and 4-day 3-night cruises. In this case, you will move from time to time between the main boat and a small one for the different activities and then spend the night on board the big boat.
Halong is the first name that comes to mind for visitors, but the area actually includes three adjacent bays. Halong is the largest, followed by Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha. Knowing the features of each of these bays helps a lot in making a good decision about yourchoice of cruise. These sisters have in common countless multifarious karst islands and islets, many of which are attractive to the eye. There are also beautiful beaches, coves and in particular caves as magnificent as any other. Halong Bay; a long-time feature, now seems a bit like a big undertaking due to the hundreds of boats that sail there throughout the year. It’s not the best idea for those seeking relaxation away from the crowds.
The bays of Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha, however, are still relatively undiscovered, and offer similar attractions but in a more tranquil and relaxed setting.
Not far from these bays, Cat Ba Island is to be seen without hesitation for a stay in the sun that combines relaxation and discovery. Its beautiful beaches, spectacular cliffs and biodiversity-rich national park make it a haven of untouched nature. Note that it is quite easy to navigate between these points of interest because of the number of available boats serving them during the day.
Cruise itineraries in Halong Bay
This option takes you along the busiest and therefore least tranquil track of the large bay. Given the importance of navigation, the water is polluted in certain detours. Along this route, classic stops often include Titov Island and the Surprise Cave.
Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island
This tour provides you with the opportunity to spend the night at a resort in the heart of Cat Ba Island after relaxing for hours by the emerald waters of Lan Ha. Cat Ba really does deserve an extension of a few days of relaxation between the sea and the jungle.
Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay
This route takes you on a tour of some of the most famous spots in Halong combined with some secret corners of Bai Tu Long. This is a program that takes you off the beaten track and the price is usually more important to pay attention to.
The classic formula aboard almost all cruises of including a number of services such as food, activities, leisure but not drinks. So remember to check what is and isn’t provided for you.
Reading the detailed program is important because it is not always the same between different operators. In addition, sometimes the transfer from Hanoi to the boat in Halong is not supported by the cruise company.
A typical program of activities on board on Halong Bay
Visiting a pearl farm
Visiting a fishing village
Discovery of one or a few caves
Biking (Cat Ba)
Some cruises offer a few slightly different activities as well, such as dining in a cave, picking up trash from the bay etc.
There are usually hundreds of boats circulating in Halong Bay, so what should you choose from a large selection of boats with different sizes, styles and quality standards? You should know the boat and be sure to research it online before you book . Besides the question of the age of the boat, its overall capacity must also be taken into account. A cruise capable of carrying more than 35 people certainly does not guarantee great intimacy or space.
The price to quality ratio is essential, especially when you pay for an excursion of which almost all is taken care of by the boat. Eating, sleeping and having fun, everything happens on the open sea. Imagine a bout of food poisoning in the middle of the sea, it’d be a nightmare, wouldn’t it? A cruise in Halong Bay is far from being an opportunity to save money so remember to inquire about the quality of the boats, safety, activities, cabins and food.
If you book through a local travel agency in Vietnam, negotiations can sometimes be very long. When booking online, you can compare prices with Halongbaycruises.com or Expedia.com, which offer a wide range of cruises in Halong Bay.
A final question which is particularly important to think about before departure is who to count on. Let us know when tourist traps, not necessarily very common, are practised in Vietnam and Halong can be a big target. To avoid unpleasant surprises, avoid an ambiguous tour. More than anywhere else, Vietnam is the destination on which it is necessary to be well informed beforehand. Places recommended by other travellers are to be preferred.
Using a cruise line directly is a thinkable option. But reality shows that it is not these operators who offer a better price. On the contrary, the cost is higher than through a tourist agency.
It is better for many people to entrust the organization of their cruise in Halong Bay to a reliable travel agency. This requires sorting work on your part with the search for information of different available channels. Take advantage of other people's opinions and comments and check their credibility.
The best time to go on a cruise in Halong Bay
Note that during May and August is the time for the Vietnamese to come to the sea. It is the high season of Vietnamese resorts and Halong is no exception.
On the weather side, you can admire Halong Bay in style during the months between late February and April or between September and October for pleasant temperatures and perfectly clear skies.