Halong Bay: How to Choose The Best Cruise In 6 Easy Steps

how to choose best halong bay cruise recommendations

Having trouble choosing the best Halong Bay cruise for you? I feel you, I went through the same to avoid scams. That’s why I’ve put together this little guide to help. 6 steps for you to make a decision!

Picking the right cruise in Halong Bay was a largely overwhelming process to me.

Dozens of different boats available, each with their own route, facilities, activities and prices made me go nuts! To make it worse, there was no website or resource that truly helped me what to expect or even what to look for. This is the travel drama I’m trying to solve here.

I’ve put together a 6-step guide for you to pick the right cruise tour and give you some peace of mind. But first, a quick overview and why you should take a cruise in Ha Long Bay the first place.

how to choose best halong bay cruise recommendations

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.

Today Halong Bay is also one of the main tourist hotspots in Vietnam, receiving more than 6 million travelers each year, mostly on cruise boats.

Why go on a cruise in Halong Bay

how to choose best halong bay cruise guide recommendations tips halong beach
Without a cruise boat, you couldn’t reach some of the most beautiful places in Halong Bay.

We took the classic cruise option in Halong mainly for convenience. You’re not only buying a boat ride. It also means you don’t need to worry about travel plans, activities, accommodation or food. There’s no human in this planet to which this idea does not sound good.

You will still get the feeling of an organised tour and lose some independence. In some of the most touristy itineraries, you can even feel like cattle.

I don’t like organised tours – in fact I more and more hate them – but in Halong I can see advantages in doing a cruise. It allows you to not only see Halong Bay from where it’s truly powerful, from the sea, but also to navigate to remote areas you’d never reach on your own.

Halong Bay Cruise Tips: 6 Key steps

#1 Decide how long you want to go.

There are mainly three types of cruise tours operating in Halong Bay:

  • Day trip cruises
  • 2 Day-1 Night cruises (2D1N)
  • 3 Day-2 Nights cruises (3D2N)
  • 4 Day-3 Nights cruises (4D3N)

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.

#2 Decide where exactly you want to go.

how to choose best halong bay cruise map bays
It’s always better with a map.
Source: halongbaycruisesnolimit.com/

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 summarised as in the box below.

Itineraries of cruises in Halong Bay

  • Halong Bay
    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.

We were initially thinking of spending all our time in Cat Ba, but in the end we decided to do a 3D2N cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay and squeeze in Ninh Binh in our route.

vietnam tips tricks halong bay
First time in Vietnam?

Make sure you read my key tips and tricks before going for a safe, worry-free and memorable Vietnam trip.
26 Things To Know Before Visiting Vietnam!


#3 Always double check what’s included.

🇻🇳 VIETNAM | 🔇Retreat. Halong Bay receives more than 6 million tourists every year, mostly on cruise boat tours. In some areas it’s so noisy, crowded and even dirty that you easily forget the scenery around you. Fortunately, some of the more remote aras are able to provide a much better experience. We kayaked here in Bai Tu Long Bay and there were no other boats in sight for the entire afternoon! #kayak #vietnam #vietnamcharm #halongbay #outdoors #ExploreToCreate #PeoplesCreatives #VisualOfLife #NeverStopExploring #WanderOut #Destination_Earth #Travelgram #Wonderful_Places #BeautifulMatters #Fantastic_Earth #LiveOutdoors#TourThePlanet #TheGlobeWanderer #OurPlanetDaily #EarthPix #WeLiveToExplore #EarthOfficial #PassionPassport #MyTinyAtlas #wildernessculture #RoamThePlanet #ThePhotoSociety #TravelPhotography #PassportReady #ExpediaPic

Uma foto publicada por BRUN🌎 (@bruno_mb) a

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 beach
  • Cave 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.

#4 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.

Top Halong Bay Cruises Recommendations

Based on online reviews and feedback from other travelers and from travel agencies, these are my top recommendations:

Medium-High Quality Cruises

Luxury Cruises

My choice for a cruise in Halong Bay

choose best halong bay cruise cristina diamong

Cristina Diamond Cruise

Not the most luxurious option, but a great value experience. Meals are not included via this link. Book now >>

#5 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.

If you’re booking through a travel agency in Vietnam, prepare to negotiate hard, but come with a maximum budget in mind and stick to it. If you’re booking online, start comparing prices with Halongbaytours.com or Booking.com which have a large offer of Halong Bay cruises.

Sort out your Halong Bay cruise today


#6 Book through the right place.

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. This is one of my biggest tips I give someone heading to Vietnam.

I would strongly advise against booking through your hotel. I got some quotes from the hostel I was staying in Hanoi and they were absolutely terrible. Far worse than anywhere else I’ve checked.

Surprisingly, I also don’t think contacting the cruise companies directly is worth it. I contacted at least a dozen of them and in all of them the price were more expensive than through an agency.

The solution is contacting a reliable tour agency. Do your research, check reviews, ask around. To make your life easier, here’s a convenient online option for all sorts of cruises in Halong Bay.

Halong Bay travel information

Best time to do a cruise in Halong Bay

 halong bay cruise in ha long weather best time to go
Rainfall averages for Ha Long Bay.
Source: holiday-weather.com

There are cruises throughout the whole year, choosing the best time to go depends on what you look forward to the most. Considering the crowds and weather factors, it’s usually from late February to April that you can expect the best conditions to cruise Halong.

Still, here’s a breakdown to help you a bit more.

When to do a Halong Bay Cruise

  • Spring time – February to April
    Dry weather and getting warmer and warmer as the summer approaches. The only con is that there will be more tourists in the water, some spots might be too crowded!
  • Summer time – May to August
    It’s the warmest but also the rainiest period of the year. In sunny days, it’s great for the daily activities, specially kayaking and swimming.
  • Autumn time – September to November
    It’s a relatively uncrowded time of the year in Halong, however the weather can be a bitch. Cancellations due to rough sea conditions are more frequent.
  • Winter time – December & January
    Although it hardly ever rains and there are fewer tourists, this is also the coldest time of the year – expect temperatures between 15 to 20C and some more foggy days. Not the best time to swim.

How to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi

The big majority of travelers get to Halong 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!

My experience in Halong Bay

how to choose best halong bay cruise guide recommendations tips halong islands
Being surrounded by this scenery for two days made it hard to come back to reality!

I usually don’t like organised tours and this one wasn’t exactly cheap, but the idea of having EVERYTHING sorted out for 48h was appealing enough.

Since I was already paying big bucks for a cruise, I wanted one that was able to explore more remote areas. In the end we booked a 3 day/2 night cruise in Hanoi, aboard the Cristina Diamond Cruise with an itinerary farther out into Bai Tu Long Bay. We paid 4,540,000 dong each.

Transport from Hanoi was reliable and efficient. Right from the get go they knew your names and subsequent travel plans to Ninh Binh (we booked everything through the same agency). The boat looked very good from the outside – I’d say better than 90% of the ones I saw in Halong! On the inside, the room was quiet and clean, although a bit small.

During the daily activities, you’re transferred to a smaller boat. From Tai Chi at 6:30 in the morning until squid fishing after dinner, passing through kayaking and swimming, there’s always things to do.

Overall, I’m glad I did the cruise. Service was very high quality and food was delicious at all times. The highlight was definitely to kayak the waters of Bai Tu Long with no other boats in sight. Breathtaking!

There are only thing I can point out that I quite didn’t like. The first was the weather. It was always cloudy and chilly all the time which was a true bummer.

The other thing was our third day plan, which ended up being too touristy for my taste. We slept in an area with dozens of other boats and we ended up visiting the Surprising Cave along with TONS of other people. On the other hand, this made us realize how lucky we were to enjoy the quietness of the previous day.

My choice for a cruise in Halong Bay

choose best halong bay cruise cristina diamong

Cristina Diamond Cruise

Not the most luxurious option, but great value experience. Meals are not included via this link. Book now >>

Halong Bay Blog Review

It’s not a coincidence Halong Bay has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site AND one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of The World. The limestones cliffs, the calmness of the sea together boast dramatic landscapes and creates an unique aura of mystery.

Even in cloudy days, you can see how special is this place. It’s relaxing, perfect to unwind and it makes you feel insignificant.

For me the highlight were definitely the kayaking sessions, which were as memorable as the one in Dubrovnik.

 how to choose best halong bay cruise guide recommendations tips halong kayak

Yet massive tourism is clearly threatening Halong Bay already. At least in some areas. You can see it in the hundreds (!) of boats cruising around or in the oily water with trash.

If you’re splurging on a cruise, make sure you choose one that is able to provide you a more authentic experience, as away as possible from crowds and scams. Only the real Halong where you can feel in touch with nature is worth the high price tag. Otherwise, you are better off going to Ninh Binh, appropriately nicknamed “Halong in land”.

Update (May 2017): Extra port fees for cruises departing from Tuan Chau and increased entrance fees have been applied from April 2017. Don’t be surprised if your cruise trip become more expensive compared to last year.


Other Vietnam Resources

What do you think is the best way to explore Halong Bay?

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  1. Hi Bruno
    OverallI I would agree with you – just a few things though
    I think there is now an express road between Hanoi and the Bay which cuts the travel time to something like 2-3 hours. Even so, I would agree that a day tour from Hanoi is a bit crazy.

    Many of the operators will have transfer included in their price (but for some reason this is not always clear on OTA’ s such as booking.com or other).

    I ALWAYS use the OTA’ s – in particular booking.com, mainly because it has the largest selection in one place and loads of filter options to narrow down what’s on offer. Once I find something, head straight to the operators own website – they will as a minimum match whatever you have found elsewhere, but frequently (not always) they will throw in a little extra such as cabin upgrade, a bottle of wine or whatever. They pay commission if booking is coming from somebody else and of course they prefer to get all of your money, not just some of it.

    Maybe mention WIFI as well – pretty much everybody will advertise that it’s free onboard – what they forget to mention is the fact that the signal is picked up from a mast ashore, so pretty much 10 minutes after leaving the dock, wifi is gone or if you are lucky, extremely poor.

    I would say Pelican is a luxury cruise – I was on Glory Legend (one of the boats) and it was absolutely fine, but still very affordable.

    Finally (I am probably going to upset some folks) but I also usually check british tour operators to see what they have on offer – whichever cruise operator (or hotel) they use, I will avoid at all cost to stay clear of the british drunks 🙂

    If anybody is interested (link removed)

    I would agree that Ninh Binh is equally gorgeous but much less crowded – unlike the Bay, it can be done in a day trip from Hanoi as transport is down to just under 2 hours.

    Like your blog btw – keep going 🙂

  2. I’ve taken your recommendations and tried booking for Pelican, unfortunately they were close during Covid season, but they offered us another option to go with Orchid Cruises (another boat which was in Lan Ha Bay), which was a little bit more expensive but soooooo worth the price. From disembarking to dining, everything was top-notch and luxury. In my opinion, Lan Ha must be one of the more beautiful and less crowded bay (although its getting more and more recognized so I think more tourists would come eventually).
    Just wanna shout out to you guys that going to Halong Bay is a 1 in a life time experience. It’s absolutely beautiful and should not be missed out.

  3. I had a 2 day 1 night trip in Halong bay with halongbaycruisedeals.com it was really great. They arranged for us in a very nice and luxurious room on the V’Spirit Premier Cruise. I am really impressed with the landscape here and the professional way the company and its crew work.

  4. I do’nt need transportation from Hanoi because the cruise ship, Celebrity Millenium, docks at the internation cruise port near HaLong. How can I fine local Halong Bay cruise from there? I want to go on a 6 to 8 hours cruise but Celebrity only offer a 4 to 5 hour cruise.

  5. We are planning to do a 3 day/2 night tour next February on the Bhaya cruise boat. Have you heard anything about them? Also, when I asked them to confirm that they go to Bai Tu Long Bay they said that they still go there but this is now considered the crowded route. Do you know if this is the case? Instead, they now have a new route that stays in Halong Bay and goes to: 1/ Trinh Nu Beach; 2/ Surprise Cave; 3/ Ho Ba Ham for kayaking; and 4/ Cua Van village. We are trying to decide which route to book. Thank

    1. Yes, it is true. Bai Tu Long Bay in the past was quiet as most of the cruises were in Halong Bay but later more and more cruises moved to Bai Tu Long becuase the pier in Halong Bay charged them a lot of port fee per year so now Bai Tu Long is crowed also. Now, you can travel with the cruises in Lan Ha Bay and it is less crowed. You can go with Escape Sails and it is a good day cruise for for a less touristy area or Perla Dawn Sails for overnight cruise.There are a lot of cruises options you can see in Incredible Asia Journeys Travel Company Site with the good price.

  6. Perfect summary, thanks. We went in September last year and as you write the sea was rough and due to typhoon, the trip was one day shortened. We were waiting in Hanoi unsure whether we will eventually get to the sea or not, but luckily the next day it was ok and we set.

  7. I have just come back from a 3D/2N cruise with Christina Diamond with my partner (who is Vietnamese, so that helps). We booked through a ‘hole in the wall’ agency in Hanoi and paid US440 (ca. 10 million Dong) for the two of us. There were 26 on the cruise and we were all picked up in Hanoi and taken to Halong for transfer – and returned to Hanoi. All food was included as well as the sunset drinks (fruit juices and wine). Food was good and plentiful and dietary concerns were taken care of. All other times the drinks had to be paid (payment at the end of the cruise). Beers and wine were US$6 and a bottle of wine was US$29 – respectable hotel prices in Hanoi. There were plenty of activities but no pressure to engage in them. Lien can not swim so was not interested in the kayaking – and neither was I when I realised that a kayak and my expensive camera on the open water was probably not a good mix. We definitely want to repeat the exercise at another time of the year. And probably with a 4D/3N cruise with a different company just to make comparisons. Of course there can always be problems with operations like this. I am sorry that some have reported bad experiences. But I would certainly recommend Christina Diamond based on our experience.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. In these multi-day tours, it’s very hard to not have something to point out that could have gone better, right? I had a similar experience with Christina, would be interesting to compare to other tours as well.

  8. I just wanted to let you know that you might want to consider removing Cristina Diamond from your cruise recommendations. I booked a 3D/2N cruise with them for December 2019 (partially on your recommendation) and the experience was an absolute nightmare. They lost 4 people during our kayaking trip for over 2 hours (fishermen found them), dietary needs were ignored (pork given to Muslims), guides barely spoke a lick of English, many items on the itinerary were completely ignored, and to top it all off, the company was completely and totally unapologetic about everything when concerns were brought up by us (and many other groups who were on our cruise). In addition, they offered us a partial refund ONLY if we removed our negative reviews from Booking, TripAdvisor, and Google, which explains why there are so few negative reviews. BELIEVE THE NEGAVTIVE REVIEWS YOU SEE! If anyone reads this and wants more details, please email me or respond here and I would be happy to share. This company is not to be trusted with your money, and definitely not your life.

    1. Thanks for sharing and I’m really sorry you had a bad experience.
      My experience was entirely different!

  9. We only have time to do either Ninh Binh or Ha Long…. which would you go for Bruno?

    1. I can’t decide for you. Do you want a cruise relaxing experience or prefer a more adventurous and off the beaten track destination?

  10. The current price for Cristina Diamond cruise(in booking.com) is much higher than what you quoted in post. Should I book with booking.com or other travel agency?

    1. It’s possible they have inflated the prices due to demand or the time of the year you’re traveling. I encourage you to compare different booking systems!

  11. Really helpful. I’m traveling alone and planning my own itinerary and getting on a bit so all the info will help me to get what’s right for me.
    Many thanks

  12. Hi, I was wondering if you could recommend a travel agency that you used to organise the halong bay and ninh binh part of your trip?

  13. Hi , great article, really enjoyed it, from the perspective of a likeminded traveller. Do the cruises drop you back off in Hanoi? We are looking at doing 3 nights Hanoi then the cruise for 1 night then back to Hanoi for 1 night if we cant get night train to Da Nang in time on our return from the cruise. Thanks again.

    1. Yes, they should be able to arrange transfer back to Hanoi.
      Better to confirm with them first.

  14. Hi, my question is if I can easily alone arrange cruise on the spot in HalongBay, simply to buy ticket without travel agency? My idea is to buy simple bus ticket from Hanoi and arrange everything alone.
    Thanks, Marek

  15. This was so helpful- thank you! I’m exploring lots of your blogs to try to figure out how we maximise a few days here. You are really thorough.

  16. Hello! Love the blog. Halong bay looks amazing. Do you have any advice for getting to Halong bay from Hanoi?

    1. Hi Lain. if you have time, you should to visit Halong bay 2 days 1 night, or 3 days 2 night on the boat, conversely, you can book a halong 1 day trip if you have a little time. Have a good trip.

  17. If I book a room in cruise via booking.com, not thru travel agent . How about all activities (kayaking, cave sightseeing) ?? I not entitled to join right ?

    1. Booking a room on a cruise SHOULD give you right to participate in activities.
      It’s better to send a message and ask them directly though.

  18. Thank you so much! I am have so much trouble finding the right boat. After reading your steps I am ready to book a cruise. You have so much good information.

  19. Thanks for this post! We booked with Cristina Diamond cruise based on your recommendation and we weren’t disappointed. It was great value for money, well organised and we enjoyed all of the activities, just wish we could have had better weather! (We were out there in early Dec). Thanks again! I’m going to follow your account on twitter to keep up with your latest

    1. Sounds like the exact same shitty weather experience I had 😛

      Thank you a lot for your support!

  20. We are going to Hanoi right after Tet— we were advised against Ninh Binh As apparently there is a massive influx of locals coming to worship and see the sights. That actually doesn’t sound bad to me, in fact it sounds fine, what do you think? We have Sunday to Wednesday in Hanoi. Do we keep it simple and just do the Old City? Use up most of our time doing a rushed overnight to Halong Bay (the tour co departs from Cat Ba, so we have to get there — hotel pick up up Tuesday, returned to airport Wednesday by 1:30), or attempt to get to Ninh Binh ( we have also heard much is closed, and getting around will be tricky.) your thoughts would be very appreciated.

    1. What does a “massive influx of locals” mean? I was there in Dec so hard to comment on that but I don’t think there will be a problem…

  21. Hi! Sorry if you mentioned this, but what time of year did you do this cruise? Will be there around Feb 20th and am hoping we can avoid the cold weather you experienced. Thanks!

  22. Hi. Would like to ask which agency did u go to and u sort out your ha long trip and conmects to ninh binh? Thanks in advance! Great post and very informative! Appreciate.

  23. Hi,

    I booked Cristina Diamond cruises for 2 days and one night cruise. On the booking website it says that everything is included, as well as on their own website, but when I got the reservation confirmation e-mail, it says that I have to extra for the breakfast and that the shuttle from hanoi to halong bay is not included. Do you remember if yours had everything included?

    Also, I booked this one because it goes to Bai Tu Long, with less tourists and pollution. Is it equally beautiful as Halong bay ? I read somewhere that it has less islands.

    Thanks for your post, it did help us a lot!


    1. Hi, I had the same surprise after booking Cristina Diamonds for 2 nights, 3 days. I got the confirmation email which says lunch and dinner not included and breakfast is 15$ (big price for breakfast in this country!). This is very annoying after all the recommendations for this cruise company and cancellation costs half the price, so it’s not really an option.

    2. Hi Francisco, this is completely news to me.
      When I booked mine, everything was included, had no idea they practiced this difference in prices.

      Thank you for letting me know.

  24. Welcome to Vietnam! Since Ha Long Bay is becoming more and more popular, please be a creative and responsible travelers and treat well to Ha Long in order to preserve the beauty of nature with the magnificent limestone karsts from the emerald water.

  25. Thanks for the post. Did you reserve ahead of time, online/by phone, or did you find the the agency once in Hanoi?

  26. My friend and I are traveling from Da Nang and want to go straight to Halong for a cruise. Is booking in advance necessary or can we just walk up to a boat and get a deal for that day? If we do that, what time do most depart, looks to be around noon on most websites. Thanks!

  27. Hi thanks for your in depth review of Halong Bay..We have been to Vietnam 5 times in 4 years but have never gone that far North..we usually stay in Nha Trang Hoi An and Tu Bong as tgsts where my daughter in law comes from..so its always a family affair..we are thinking of doing Halong Bay this time..but I’m really worried about how rough the seas get…I get seriously sea sick..I’m ok on a lake or river that’s it…so I’m worried about spending so much money and not being able to eat swim etc…also I have both hips replaced is there any issues with steep steps ..etc..thanks so much.

    1. We had the same concern and while the weather can be rough in some periods of the year, the boats are stable and reliable. I recommend checking the weather patterns for the time of the year you’re going as well as giving preference to bigger cruise boats.

      Cruises itself shouldn’t be a problem, but they include a wide range of activities (kayaking, cave sightseeing) and those might not be recommendable for your hips. I advise mentioning this to a travel agent.

  28. Hello and thanks for such a detailed guide. It is very helpful!
    Do you remember the name of the agency that you booked your cruise through? Also, in which month did you visit Halong Bay? We are debating between August and September. Thanks so much!

    1. The agency is called Lily’s Travel Agency, in Hanoi.
      August is the rainiest month so I’d go for September.

  29. Hi! We are two couples travelling from Barcelona to Vietnam on August and our idea is to visit two days Ha Long Bay by boat (between the 11th and the 13th)

    It is possible to sleep both nights on land, we don’t want to sleep on the boat because one of my friends gets sick when she spends to much time on a boat. Would be possible? A friend of mine recommend me Monkey Island Resort

    Could you help us?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Yeah, Barna connection! 🙂

      The cruise boats are very steady and you won’t feel sick, specially in the bigger ones. I met some people who get sick very easily on boats and they didn’t have any problem.

      Anyway, yes, it is possible. There are a few hotels in Ha Long right next to the “harbour” where all boats depart or preferably in Cat Ba island (more scenic, backpackers area). You can then book day tours to explore Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay.

    2. Overnight cruises will be great for Halong Bay. I travelled with V’Spirit Premier cruise in Lan Ha Bay and it was awesome.
      However, for the people who do not have much time in Halong Bay and need to do it one day then Escape Sails will be great. Now there are more and more cruises in Lan Ha Bay which is less touristic than Halong Bay.