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Undoubtedly, Halong Bay is one of the most sought after tourist destination in Vietnam. A place where you can swim and kayak on the emerald-blue waters; hike and rock climb on endless islands; enjoy fresh local seafood and other delights and, of course, capture the magnificent landscape, whether it is sunrise or sunset. What else can you ask for?
But figuring out exactly how to explore the bay can be a little overwhelming especially for the first timer. So I thought I’d use my experience to put together this guide to help anyone else dreaming of experiencing the majestic beauty of Ha Long Bay and needs to find great cruise deals.
The best way to explore Ha Long Bay is by a traditional junk ship. You can either charter a private boat and cruise as you please or join a group cruise. The price difference between these two is vast, it can be as little as 55 USD to around 550 USD per person. The choices you have are only limited by your budget, your expectations and the level of comfort you want to experience. It all comes down to how much you are willing to spend. It is advisable, however, to choose the cruises run by big and reliable companies. They have more experience and more professional in providing cruising service.
Once you’ve got a budget in mind, you’ll be able to make a faster decision on the cruise length that will suit your need. There are several options to choose from and here’s how it works:
For those with limited time, a day cruise to Halong is just enough for you to soak up the atmosphere and take a short glimpse over the must-sees of Ha Long Bay. Most day trips do not allow time for swimming or kayaking and normally last for 4 to 6 hours only.
If you have a day of two to spare then opt for a one-night cruise. Typical overnight cruises usually begin around midday, with lunch served just as you set sail. With activities such as visits to cave, Islands, Kayaking, funny team building games on beaches, sunset watching with a cocktail party, and night activities on board. The following morning, your cruise will return to port at around 11:00am.
If you have more time to spare, I suggest book a two-night cruise. A two-night cruise consists of all the activities of one night cruise and an extra day that allows you to head further into the bay, leaving the bulk of the tourist crowds behind. In most cases, on your second day of cruising, you will transfer to a smaller boat to visit some lesser-known corners of the bay – swimming, kayaking and exploring in peace until you return to the main ship for the night. This is an excellent option for those with a little more time in Vietnam.
Lastly, a three-night cruise – it is for those who really want to slow the pace and discover the furthest and untouched corners of Halong Bay and neighboring Islands. If you have the time to spend, opt for this cruise. All the activities included in this package is the same as in the 2-night package plus the overnight stay in Cat Ba Island.
Bear in mind that not all cruises go to the same place, there are many cruises which visit many different areas and, this part may shock you, Halong Bay is only one part! It is surrounded by many other areas just waiting to be visited and discovered by tourists. So I suggest do your research, work out if you want to see places like Bai Tu Long Bay, Cat Ba Island, Vong Vieng Floating Village, Trong Cave, Lan Ha Bay, Sung Sot Cave and Cong Do or Cong Dam. Determine which one you want to see and if it’s within your budget.
Halong Bay has a tropical coastal climate, with two distinctive seasons: hot and moist in summer, and dry and cold in winter. The temperature ranges through most of the year from 15°C to 25°C.
Although you can visit Ha Long Bay all year round, you’d better plan your cruise carefully. Bad weather affects the visibility and can even spoil your trip. The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is from March to June; however, avoid crowded public holidays (30 April and 1 May). June to September is a low season so you can get better deals but pay attention to storm forecasts. October and November are high seasons again and it is still sunny. December is cool, cloudy but dry while January and February are cold, foggy and drizzly. The showers will hide the splendor of the bay.
Booking a Ha Long Bay tour/cruise is easy, you can deal with a travel agent or the cruise line operator at your hotel in Hanoi. It is advisable to shop around and ask clearly for what is included and, just as importantly, excluded in the package. The total cost should include all transfers from Hanoi, all meals, an appropriate length of accommodation, and all activities and entry fees. Avoid assuming something is part of the package simply because you paid top dollar for the tour. A kayaking tour that is not part of the itinerary can cost more than $50 per person. So you really have to be clear on this.
If you can avoid it, DO NOT book organized tours from Ha Long Bay as they will overcharge you as there is not much competition. The touts at Ha Long Bay pier will say anything to get your money and should be avoided if you don’t want to be scammed. Pre-booking through a travel agent or your hotel in Hanoi will be safer and cheaper.
You might think that traveling on your own (DIY) would always be cheaper than booking a tour. It may sound adventurous but I wouldn’t recommend it especially for first timer. You won’t save any money by booking in Ha Long City or Cat Ba Island and besides, you’ll still essentially be on an organized tour — you’ll just have to sort out the bus yourself and leave Hanoi earlier to ensure you get to Ha Long City in time to book and get on the boat.
So just book on a budget tour from Hanoi because it’ll cost about the same, less hassle plus you’re guaranteed lunch.
Spend as much as your budget will allow. If you want to get the most out of your trip I recommend you to take the overnight or a 2 – 3 days cruise.
If you have more time to spare, I suggest you spend an extra day in Cat Ba town and explore the island by motorbike. Cat Ba in itself is an interesting sight … so might as well give it a try.
Have you been to Halong Bay? What was your experience like? Do you think the experience is worth it? If you enjoyed this post, why not follow me on my Facebook or Instagram page, for more travel tips and inspiration.
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photo credits: all photos where taken from bestpricevn.com