Updated: 22 Oct 2020

Halong Bay Is the biggest attractions not only Vietnam but in the world. More than 10 million visitors a year take the day and overnight cruises. There are many cruises, tour operators in Halong but how to get the best one is hard. But after reading my tips, you can easily find your answer.

Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay Now 2020.

Halong Bay retains much of the otherworldly magic conjured up by 1969 jungle-clad islands and islets rising from deep emerald waters. Getting there is easy now. You can use the expressway from Hanoi to Halong Bay ( around 2 hours). Flights are directly open with Van Don International Airport (with flights to Ho Chi Minh City, and international flights coming soon) a mere 50km from Halong Bay. Of course, easier transfer, more crowded and overcrowding, water pollution and litter, our government has issued a strict regulations. Today, all the boats must follow one of five routes through the bay. It means that all overnight cruises will travel in same time, same place and must follow the selected route. Kayaking, Swimming activities are only allowed at a few designated beaches. So you should prepare if you join the day or overnight cruises ( usually the big boats). But if you have more time and decide to spend more money, you can take the charter cruises ( smaller cruises, better care, more unique itinerary). Halong Bay has some cruises/ boats from 1-3-5 cabins. So the private cruises for your family, small groups are the best options. Today, we suggest some options for you as below.

Halong Bay Luxury Cruises

Want to spoil yourself? Halong Bay has some sumptuous cruise options that are basically luxury hotels on water. You’re paying for the experience of five-star amenities here – not for any particular divergence from the typical cruise itinerary – but if you want to live it up from a swanky sun-lounger while watching the sun set over a vista of craggy jungle-topped islands, you can’t really go wrong.

For a luxury cruise, bank on spending around US$300–350 for a cabin.

Pros: It’s a serious treat. While the cost may seem high, it typically includes higher quality meals and amenities on board, such as a spa or gym, as well as entry to Halong Bay.

Cons: It is usually advertised for 2 days 1 night. But actually it is only 24 hours on cruise. So you should consider the cost. And make sure you should choose the best cruise. 

Halong Bay Luxury Cruises

Halong Bay Budget & Midrange Cruises

Most Halong Bay visitors go for midrange or budget cruises, but there is a huge range when it comes to price and value for money. At one end of the scale are some ultra-budget boats where conditions are rustic at best; at the other are some excellent midrange options offering cosy hotel-style cabins, knowledgeable on-board tour guides and kayaking stops. If purse strings are tight, for facilities, comfort and safety considerations, it’s sometimes better to choose a day cruise with a midrange operator rather than a bargain-basement overnight trip.

Budget cruise prices start from US$50 per person for a day trip. Paying between US$110 and US$130 should get you a worthwhile overnight midrange cruise.

Pros: Competition is fierce, which means plenty of operators add freebies into the itinerary, such as kayaking and private minibus transfers from Hanoi.

Cons: You have to wade through a lot of options, which can be confusing. It’s worth doing your pre-trip research.

Halong Bay Midrange Cruise
Halong Bay Midrange Cruise

Halong Bay Day Cruises

If you’re pressed for time, do as many locals do and see Halong Bay on a day cruise from Tuan Chau Marina in Halong City. Cruise boats can be rented by the hour (around US$30 per hour for a boat that accommodates up to 20 passengers) or you can join other passengers aboard a four- to six-hour cruise for about US$50 per person. Options vary greatly, so check whether the price includes lunch. On the other hand, you can choose the cruises from Hanoi, with 2 hour transfer on highway, you can maximize your time in Halong Bay and minimize the transfer.

Pros: Many day cruises, easily arrange. Some cruises are now operated for 6 hour or 7 hour itinerary, you can visit Halong Bay like overnight cruises, or visit further to Lan Ha Bay.

Cons: Can be crowded and noisy, with only time enough for a few stops. A little stressed time to go.
Halong Bay One Day Cruise

Halong Bay Kayaking

Most decent midrange Halong Bay cruises will offer an hour or so of kayaking (some charging an extra fee). Paddling around the karsts allows you to experience the limestone towers from a completely different angle: up close and without the constant thrum of an engine in the background.

For more experienced kayakers, there are also kayak-only trips. These trips are run by a handful of operators based in nearby Lan Ha Bay (off Cat Ba Island) rather than Halong Bay itself, though Lan Ha’s islet-scattered sea has as much wow factor as Halong Bay and is much less visited.

Full-day kayaking trips from Cat Ba Island cost between US$25 and US$30 per person.

Pros: In one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, a kayak trip is a way of escaping the crowds. You can visit your own place in Halong Bay.

Cons: On a full day kayaking tour, you’re only going to see a sliver of the area. To see more, it’s a better idea to take a cruise that includes a kayaking stop.

Halong Bay Kayaking


Halong Bay Safety Note

One of the most important reasons to steer away from the ultra-budget cruises is safety. After a boat sinking (and the loss of 12 lives) in 2011, new safety regulations were brought in for Halong Bay cruise boats, but scrimping on safety does still go on with some fly-by-night operators.

In particular, check that any kayaking stops are accompanied by a guide. Because of the variable and surprisingly strong currents close to the karst islands, a safety-conscious operator won’t allow kayakers to paddle off from the boat by themselves.

Halong Bay Booking tips

Most trips leave from Hanoi, but you can also base yourself in Halong City. When you're booking, bear these tips in mind:

  • The Halong Bay entry fee is US$13 per person for a day cruise and US$25 for an overnight cruise. This is generally included in your ticket, though it's worth double-checking for the cheapest cruises. Activities like kayaking and island bike rides may cost extra. So need the booking voucher, or email to confirm what includes and what excludes clearly. Sometimes cheap cruises cost you more to pay extra.
  • When comparing prices, check whether a transfers between Hanoi and Halong Bay are included, and if so, whether it’s one-way or round-trip, and if it uses the new expressway or not. The normal road is cheaper and take longer time ( around 4 hours. In contrast, the new expressway is only 2.5 hours). Also transfer by shuttle bus/ limousine/ private car is different price.
  • While the Ha Long–Hai Phong Expressway has cut travel time between Hanoi and Halong Bay to 2½ hours, that really only applies to private vehicles/limousine/ small van which don’t stop to pick up any other passengers and which don’t make the usual 30-minute comfort stop halfway through the journey. Aboard a shuttle bus, plan for a three to 3½-hour ride.
  • Check closely to see whether overnight cruise rates are priced by cabin or by person. Single travellers should expect to pay 70-80% of the full cabin price.
  • The itinerary on a one-night cruise can be very packed, with shore excursions, kayaking, swimming and hiking all included, leaving little time to actually just sit and watch the amazing scenery during daylight hours. If you have the time, a two-night itinerary is much more leisurely, with the bonus of visiting sights with fewer people around. Some cruises with 3 days, as my opinion, Halong Bay derserve 3 days to visit and relax.

    Choose the best operators/ travel agencies to Halong Bay.

    Some recommended operators:

    • Local Tours Vietnam: Owned by a local travel guide with more than 10 years working in toursim industry. We can arrange you the best cruises with quality guarantee. Especially, it is local prices and international standard.
    • Authentic Hanoi Travel:  Professional travel agency in Hanoi. Great reviews on tripadvisor. Many cruise offers with best deals.
    • Vega Travel: offers good-value overnight and two-night tours with comfortable cabins, and kayaking included. Highly recommended by travellers.
    • Cat Ba Ventures: runs tours out of Cat Ba Island, taking in both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay.
    • Indochina Sails has a traditional Chinese junk that’s been fully fitted out with all mod cons.
    • Handspan Adventure Travel has a proper sailing ship, so you don’t have to put up with that pesky engine hum. Handspan also runs full kayaking tours in nearby Lan Ha Bay.
    • Hai Au Aviation offers Vietnam’s only seaplane flights, including a 25-minute scenic flight over Halong Bay which presents a completely different perspective. From the air, the islands truly do resemble the undulating body of a dragon, the meaning of 'Halong'.
    • L’Azalée Private Premium Cruise has the bay’s only single-cabin cruiser for an ultra-luxe experience, but expect to pay dearly for the privilege.

    When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?

    One of the best times to visit Halong Bay is November – there are blue skies aplenty, temperatures are moderate and there’s a good chance of calm seas. From May to September, tropical storms can whip up without much warning. This is also high season in Halong, particularly from June to mid-August when domestic tourism peaks.

    February to April is often cool and drizzly, and the fog can make visibility low, though also adds an ethereal atmosphere. Year-round, cruises and tourist boats sometimes need to alter their itineraries, or trips can be cancelled with little warning depending on the weather and sea conditions. If you’re booking a cruise, check the fine print for the refund procedures.

    Halong Bay Vietnam