Dozens of different boats available, each with their own route, facilities, activities and prices. How to choose your right Halong Bay Tours from Hanoi for you?
Halong Bay Overview
Halong Bay is located around 144km east of Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin. With over 1,600 islands and islets – mostly inhabited – it’s one of the most popular travel hotspots in Asia.
In ancient Vietnamese, it literally means “descending dragon”. According to the legend, when Vietnam was being attacked by northern invaders, the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon (and her children) to descend to earth and help defend the country. The Vietnamese gave the name “Halong” to the place where it first appeared as a sign of gratitude.
Guide to choose your rightHalong Bay Tours from Hanoi ?
Decide how long you want to go
There are mainly three types of cruise tours operating in Halong Bay Tours from Hanoi:
- Day trip cruises from Hanoi
- 2 Day-1 Night cruises (2D1N) from Hanoi
- 3 Day-2 Nights cruises (3D2N) from Hanoi
- 4 Day-3 Nights cruises (4D3N) from Hanoi
Day trip cruises are short journeys created to give you a little taste of the feeling of navigating between forest of islands. You can book day cruises with no overnight stay departing from Hanoi, Halong City or Cat Ba.
In the limit, you can do a long day trip from Hanoi with a half-day cruise in the bay, but I personally don’t see any appeal in this. It’s too rushed and there’s no point in having such a long tiring day!
Overnight cruises are more classic choices and allow some more time to relax and truly enjoy the scenery out in the water. Plus, you get to sleep on board and wake up with a gor-geee-ouuusss view!
2D1N cruises last exactly 24 hours and will suit most travelers. Longer itineraries are recommended for people looking to unwind and explore more remote areas of the bay
In 3D2N and 4D3N cruises, you are transferred from the main boat to a smaller one for the daily activities, returning to the main ship in the evening.
In a nutshell, how long you stay depends on how badly you need/want to relax and what your budget is. The longer you stay, the more chances you’ll have to navigate through areas far from crowds and to do more outdoor activities.
Decide where exactly you want to go
Although the whole area is mostly known as Halong Bay, there are in fact 3 different bays: Ha Long, Bai Tu Long and La Han Bay.
They all have a similar (beautiful) landscape of limestone cliffs, idilic bays, caves and small beaches. However due to massive tourism and a stupidly high number of boats, navigating Halong Bay can be disappointing.
Another point of interest is Cat Ba island. Known as the Jurassic Park island, it boasts a killer combination of lush forest, white sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs and hills.
The cruise boats offer different itineraries to cruise along these points of interest. Very roughly, these can be summarized as in the box below.
Itineraries of Halong Bay Tours from Hanoi
This is the most popular route amongst tourists, but also where you will find the most crowded areas. The water in some of the areas with more boats is oily and dirty. It will often include stops in Ti Top island and the Surprising Cave.
La Han Bay & Cat Ba island
Some cruise boats offers you the option of sleeping a night in a resort in Cat Ba. Good option if you wish to combine it with a stay of your own in the island for some extra nights.
Halong Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay
These itineraries combine some of the best of Halong Bay with some more remote areas in Bai Tu Long Bay. It’s more off the beaten path and usually come with a higher price tag.
Always double check what’s included.
A common rule amongst cruise operators is that everything is included – food, activities, etc – except for the drinks. Double check that.
Read carefully the itinerary proposed by each company and check the daily activities they have. Also, some companies do not include in the price the transportation from Hanoi. Make sure you ask all the questions!
What activities are included in Halong Bay cruises?
- Visit to Pearl Farm
- Visit to the floating villages
- Swimming in a beachCave exploring
- Tai Chi
- Cooking classes
- Squid fishing
- Biking (Cat Ba)
Some cruises offer more other activities like dining in a cave or even collecting rubbish from the bay.
Research the cruise boats.
This is key. You’ll notice there is a huge range of boats styles, sizes and quality standards to cater to all types of travelers. Make sure you ask which boat you’re going and do some research online before you pull your wallet. Does it look decent? How old is the boat? What are the reviews like?
If someone’s trying to sell you a cruise on one of those good-looking dark-wood boats with big red sails, raise a RED FLAG yourself. Since 2012, all ships on Halong Bay have been painted white by government order, so these literally don’t exist anymore.
The number of passengers it can hold is important. Remember you won’t be alone aboard. You’ll be eating and doing all the daily activities all together, so the number of people doing all that affects tremendously your experience. I’d say a boat that can hold more than 35 people is already too much.
Prepare your budget.
A cruise in Halong Bay is not the time to suddenly go on a shoestring budget but you don’t need to hurt your wallet either.
A quick search on the web will reveal stories of low quality food, poor accommodation and unwanted animals as your roommates. While you can endure a bad accommodation option for one night in land, while you’re out there in the sea things are different. Because you know, YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEA. A “simple” food poisoning can turn into a nightmare aboard! Be smart.
Do some research and/or ask around and try to get a sense of what’s a good deal. Always take into account not only the boat itself, but what’s included on the entire tour. This means activities, food, transportation to/from Halong, etc.
There are many tourist scams in Vietnam and people looking for cruises in Halong Bay are one of the best targets. Do not go walk in into any hole-in-the-wall travel agency. More than anywhere else, Vietnam is the place to research beforehand and try to find places recommended by other travelers.
How to get to Halong Bay Tours from Hanoi
The big majority of travelers get to Halong Tours from from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
For the common of mortals, Halong is reached by bus/car from Hanoi, in a journey that takes around 4 hours. It may vary slightly due to weather and road conditions. This trip should be inexpensive and is often included in the cruise package (always double check though).
Hai Au Aviation has recently started a seaplane service between Noi Bai airport in Hanoi and Tuan Chau Marina in Halong, cutting the time to 45 minutes. This will cost you at least 6 million Dong though!