A cruise vacation in the scenic Halong Bay was an idyllic location for our all ladies trip, but when it came to planning it, we were quite overwhelmed with all the options we came across. There were different cruise companies to choose from, the variety of tour options and not to forget the mixed reviews on how Halong Bay is a must-visit or not. Luckily, in the end, we were able to enjoy our vacation just like we imagined all thanks to Alisa Cruise.
So, in this post, we are sharing some important tips to keep in mind while planning you’re a trip to Halong Bay.
1. Do your research well
We always go by the rule that any trip planning must be done on the basis of thorough research. Same goes without any doubt for Halong Bay trip too. Research about the location well enough to know if this is the kind of place you want to visit for a holiday. If you are not a water person or get easily seasick, cruising along the Halong Bay might not be an ideal pick for you.
Related Post: Why Halong Bay is Vietnam’s must visit destination!
Research on the various tour operators, the itineraries they offer and the locations they cover, compare and decide what suits you best. Do remember, due to the growing popularity of Halong Bay, certain parts of the bay are extremely crowded with tourists. However, there are also places which are completely isolated from human life. If you want to avoid crowds, research about the less explored areas in the region and accordingly plan the trip. Our research led us to Alisa Cruises, who ticked off every single cruise requirement of ours.
2. Decide on the budget
A great thing about Halong Bay is you have tours catering to every budget group. One can splurge and go on a fancy cruise or chuck those luxuries and enjoy the scenic locales in a budget by opting for a junk boat. Once you have done your research you can shortlist the cruise operators that cater to your budget group and connect with them to plan your trip. We would highly suggest comparing the offers and itineraries closely before choosing any tours/ agencies instead of just picking on the cheapest available. Also, do take into point the safety issues, boat size and food hygiene, trip inclusions and reviews from other travellers.
3. Trip Duration
There are 2 options available on the length of time you want to spend in Halong Bay:
- Day trip: Ideal if you are staying around the area and do not have too much time in hand. This is mostly a touch and go kind of visit, whereby you will just get a tiny glimpse of the Bay. The 4-6-hour cruise will cost anywhere around $50- $60 per person and will include tours to one of the caves and pearl farm along with lunch.
- Overnight cruise: A favorite choice among the majority of the Halong Bay visitors is the overnight cruise trip. One can opt for 2 days, 1 night / 3 days, 2 nights/ 4 days, 3 nights for the cruise. This is will be ideal for people looking forward to unwinding in the midst of nature along with exploring the gorgeousness of Halong Bay.
The 2 days, 1 night cruise is a most opted one, which in our opinion is a very short duration to spend in Halong Bay. But, if you had just 24 hours to spare and want to spend it in one of the most beautiful places in the country, then you definitely have to go for this. We highly suggest opting either for 3 days, 2 nights or 4 days,3 nights as this we will be a much-relaxed in comparison to the other options. The cruise operators shift you to smaller boats during the day, taking you through the towering karsts and tiny islets to some less explored locations.
The cost of these tours varies depending on budget junk boats and the luxury cruise liners.
4. Choose the cruise routes
Due to strict rules and regulations imposed by the Vietnam Government to conserve the Heritage Site from the ever-increasing tourists, the cruises are supposed to follow 5 main routes. Majority of the cruise operators take the visitors to the main Halong Bay region, which is often crowded which includes Titop Island and Sung Sot Cave. However, if you want to do a bit of offbeat, we would suggest considering Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay, for a slightly higher price than regular cruise route.
5. How to reach Halong Bay
Halong Bay is about 3.5 hours’ drive from Hanoi city and most of the cruise companies offer free pick up and drop facility to its guests from Hanoi (to your hotel in the city or to the Hanoi old quarters). Others offer the service for a cost of $35 per person, in either case, a limousine shuttle bus will be provided. Do remember to check if the service is a round trip or just one-way trip to or from Hanoi.
You can also take a local bus/coach from Hanoi city to Halong bay for $15-$20. Another cheaper option would be taking the train from Hanoi to Halong Bay, which will be for $4 dollars and takes almost 6.5 hours to reach.
6. Trip inclusions
Majority of the cruises includes meals, entry fees to various locations, guided tours, kayaking, biking (if visiting Cat Ba) and so on. Before making any confirmations, careful read through what exactly is offered in the cruise package. Connect with the tour operator and clear your queries regarding the same. However, do remember tips are not included in the package, and we highly recommend tipping the staff for their services as many are locals who work very hard and ensure the guests are very comfortable throughout.
All the cruises have all meals included plan, however, it is best if you check with the tour operator regarding the meals. It is also best to inform in advance them of dietary requirements if you have any. We enquired for an all vegetarian meal plan while making the bookings and Alisa cruise was happy to oblige to our request.
8. Activities offered
Every cruise has a fixed schedule or set of activities for its guests which depends on what part of Bay you are visiting and the duration of your stay. Major highlight of the Halong Bay cruise is exploring the caves and grottoes, where you will see some marvellous creations of the nature. An English-speaking guide will take you on a detailed journey through some of the famous caves in the region like Sung Sot Cave, Luon Cave, Trong Cave etc.
Apart from the caves, the cruise also has options on visiting the local floating villages and the famous floating houses, pearl farm, kayaking, hiking to Titop Island and swimming. Evening in the cruises are very pretty eventful too, as there are free cooking classes by the chef where he will teach how to make traditional Vietnamese spring roll. If relaxation is high on your agenda then the sunrise Tai Chi session is a must.
9. Best time to visit
The cruises operate all throughout the year, barring extreme weather conditions. February to April is the peak season, as the weather is cool and dry with tourists thronging everywhere. We visited in May, which is the beginning of summer and the weather was fairly hot with clear skies. Luckily there was no rain or thunderstorm as it is usually does. The summers extend till August – September and chances of cruises cancellation is high due to heavy rainfall. October- January is the winter when there is no rainfall and temperature drops to about 15 degrees. This is a good time to visit, if you are avoiding the sunny weather but there is also the possibility of fog affecting the visibility badly.
10. Packing tips
Since Halong Bay Cruise is all about relaxation and enjoying the picturesque locations, pack casual clothes and beach outfits, swimwear, hats, sunscreen and flip flops. Keep a pair of sports shoes for the hiking and cave visits. Also, best to pack a waterproof jacket/ windcheater depending on the time of visit. While smartphones might be generally useless as there is cellphone connectivity in the region and the Wi-Fi service in the cruise is very weak, but it will come handy to capture all the beautiful moments of the journey.