Halong Bay Travel Guide
Halong Bay is a must see destination in Vietnam to welcome million tourists every year. If you area having some troubles in finding your right Halong Bay overnight cruise, this little travel guide with updated information for 2018 is for you.
Halong Bay locates in the Northeast of Vietnam, in Quang Ninh province, 160 km from Hanoi capital. The bay is a system of legendary islands covering over 1969 islets with water body. It consists of two types; Limestone & Slabs which made the marvelous landscape of Halong Bay, dotted many sandy beaches and caves, about 40 caves and grottos are discovered, 20 of them are opened for tourists.
Visitors coming to Halong Bay includes both domestic tourists and international toutists. The domestic tourists prefer to visit Halong bay in summer by the combo hotel stay and day boat (4 hours) cruising on the bay. For the international tourists (mostly from English speaking countries), they prefer to stay on an overnight cruise, get to the less crowded part on the bay and enjoy activities: kayaking, cave visiting, floating villages, BBQ on the beach… There are now more than 500 cruising boats on Halong Bay in which more than 200 boats offers overnight cruise service, most of them are wooden boat ( 1 – 20 cabins/boat) added by the new iron made boats which provide more accommodation choice ( 18 – 30 cabins/ boat)
- Domestic and Asian tourists prefer to enjoy Halong Bay on a day cruise ( 4 – 8 hours) and stay at hotel in harbor
- Western tourists prefers to explore Halong Bay on overnight cruise (1 night, 2 nights…)
Halong Bay devides into 3 different areas (Halong Bay center, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay), now all these areas are possible to discover on overnight cruise trip.
Weather in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is situated in the Northeastern part of the country, its weather is different in 4 seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) but it can be mainly divided into cold dry winter and hot humid summer.
- Summer (May – Aug): the whole region is quite hot, perfect for swimming and sun-bathing. There is light rain in some days and even unexpected typhoon at the end of the summer that might cancel your trip.
- Autumn (Sept – Oct): the weather is cooler with the chance of storms although they are short lived. The air is clear, perfect for photography and all our scheduled activities.
- Winter (Nov – Jan): Although the winter months from late November to January are quite cold and dry, it is the peak season for the bay. Early morning fog cloaks the islands of Halong in a mysterious beauty.
- Spring (Feb – Apr): is glorious, with clear skies and cool evening breezes. Flowers begin to bloom and trees and bushes sprout new foliage. There is still the possibility of rainy and foggy conditions during the spring months, but the fog is not as thick as it is in the winter.
In summer, there would be possibility for cruise cancellation by weather condition, check out Possible Scenarios and Refund Policy.
The best time to visit Halong bay is spring (March, April, May) and fall (September, October), the weather is cool to enjoy outdoor activities and less tropical storms…
How to get to Halong Bay
Airport near Halong Bay
- Noi Bai Airport (Hanoi Airport): 165km to Halong Bay, 3,5 hour transfer by cars
- Cat Bi Airport (Hai Phong Airport): 70km to Halong Bay, 2 hours driving time
- There is another international Airport building in Van Don (50 km from Halong Bay) but it is expected to operate at the end of 2018 only.
Most tourists get to Halong Bay from Hanoi, the destination hub but there are many others visit Halong Bay from Ninh Binh or Hai Phong…
Hanoi to Halong Bay (170km – 3.5 hours)
- Seaplane: the fastest mode of transport to Halong Bay, just 45 minutes to arrive in Halong Bay instead of 4 hours driving on bus. However, this still takes time to move from Hanoi center to Noi Bai Airport for check in including some waiting time as other flight, the cost is also higher than standard shuttle bus. You might want to try for one way then take shuttle bus for the other route
- Shuttle bus and Private car: this the most popular mode of transport to Halong Bay from Hanoi which takes 3,5 – 4 hours. Most of cruise packages will include shuttle bus with pick up an drop off at hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter and nearby. The quality of shuttle bus has been changed a lot, the introduction of premium transfer service (Luxury van) provided a much better experience when you have better comfortable seat, free wifi, modern facility and very relaxing space on the bus, each has only 7 seats for a small group, it works well to ease the long driving time at a litter higher budget. The road system also has been changed to support better transfer to Halong.
- Local buses area also available to get pick up from My Dinh or Gia Lam bus station at price of 7 – 10$, some local buses even pick up from Hanoi center (in front of Hanoi Opeara House) but they speak Vietnamese only and generally not convenient as tourists buses.
- Train: this is not convenient for both tourists and local. We recommend you not to take this transfer, most used by locals to carry goods
Ninh Binh to Halong Bay
Getting from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay can be easy by hiring a private car to arrive Halong Bay after 4 hours (200 km). There also shuttle bus, check out The long bus scheduled from Ninh Binh to Halong depart at 06:00 – 07:00 and from Halong to Ninh Binh departs at 12:30 – 13:00, price at 200.00 VND (10$), this bus schedule works well with overnight cruise time frame.
Hai Phong to Halong Bay
Getting from Hai Phong to Halong Bay by private car is the easiest option (70km, 2.5 hours transfer) or you can depart from Cat Ba Island on a ferry to Tuan Chau wharf then opt in for shuttle bus to back to Hanoi city.
More about Halong bay transportation:https://www.indochina-junk.com/halong-bay-transportation/
Choose the right itinerary
There are some popular Halong Bay itinerary that you should consider before booking:
- 1 day cruise ( 4 – 8 hours)
- 2 day 1 night cruise
- 3 day 2 night cruise
- 4 day 3 night cruise
1 day cruise is chosen by traveler who has very limited time to visit Halong Bay and back to Hanoi within 1 day only. This standard trip starts from Hanoi at 7:00 – 8:00 am to arrive Halong bay habor at 12:00 then enjoy 4 – 6 hour cruising with a set menu lunch and transfer back to Hanoi at 8:00 – 09:00 pm
- Activities: Kayaking, Cave visiting, Floating villages by bamboo boat
- Transfer and lunch will be included in the day trip
- 8 hours cruise is possible on a private boat hiring to cruise further
2 day 1 night cruise is the most popular choice, choosing this program you have less than 24 hours on cruise depending each cruise operators, plus 8 hours transfer to and from Halong Bay and Hanoi. The 2 day cruise let you experience kayaking, visiting cave or fishing village by bamboo boat, food served for dinner, lunch and breakfast.
- Activities: Kayaking, cave visiting, floating villages…
- Less than 24 hours cruising
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
3 day 2 night cruise provides another day and night to get further to the bay. Indochina Junk will offer a continuous cruise during 3 day while some other tour will break the second day and transfer you to a day boat excursion then back to the main boat, you are free to check with operator when make a reservation. In this longer cruise, you normally have longer time for kayaking, plus a BBQ on the beach or trekking in the island (Cat Ba Island) and fishing village…
- Activities: Kayaking, cave visiting, floating villages, BBQ on beach, biking…
- Less than 48 hours cruising
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
4 day 3 night cruise is for private tour only and be at the higher budget, this private tour could be a very nice experience for a couple on such a boat like L’amour Junk. The longer cruise than 4 days is not available.
More detail can be found here: https://www.indochina-junk.com/choosing-right-halong-bay-cruise-itinerary-infographic/
- Halong bay center
- Bai Tu Long bay
- Lan Ha bay
Halong Bay center becomes more crowded while both Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha bay cruise is a nice alternative experience.
- Halong bay center has the most famous attraction and easy to discover but keep overcrowded.
- Cruise departs from Tuan Chau habor
- The main visiting sites: Thien Cung cave, Amazing cave, Titop Island, Soi Sim Island, Cua Van floating village…
- Bai Tu Long Bay cruise
- Depart from Hon Gai habor
- The main visiting sites: Thien Canh Son cave, Vong Vieng fishing village, Cong Dam area…
- Less crowded than Halong bay center
- Lan Ha bay cruise
- Depart from Cat Ba island ( Cat Hai Port)
- The new itinerary with less known attraction but great for kayaking…
- The transfer from Hanoi via Hai Phong national highway to embark cruise at harbor is just 2 hours
Video 3 day 2 night cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay:
Wooden boat or metal boat?
The wooden boats in smaller size have dominated Halong bay cruise experience since the beginning time. Since 2016, there has been a new requirement from local authority to allow metal boat to be newly built only.
For those who love the charming wooden style boat, the metal boat might not be the choice. The wooden boat provides a unique appearance on Halong Bay with cozy cabin, boutique decoration style. Some wooden boats are really luxurious and unique.
The new metal boat could have been equipped modern facility, better accommodation standard, and more space as well. The metal boat generally has more cabins than wooden boat.
So, if you prefer a small group and boutique style, the wooden boat as Prince Junk, Red Dragon Junk… could be your choice while metal luxury boat as Dragon Legend could provide a more spacious accommodation and luxury service.
Activities on Halong Bay overnight cruise
Here are some most popular activities that could be included in a cruise tour:
- Visiting caves
- Visiting fishing village/ lagoons by bamboo boat
- Relaxing on beach, having BBQ ( 3 day 2 night cruise only)
- Biking in an island (3 day 2 night cruise only)
Kayaking is the most popular and always be a part of cruise itinerary but you should check the tour price if that is included in the package price or not. Cruising on 3 day itinerary you will have more time for kayaking than 2 day cruise. The water in Halong Bay is calm and safe for kayak but you should follow the tour guide and safety instruction.
Visiting caves (Thien Cung cave, Amazing cave, Thien Canh Son cave…) is also a part of itinerary to explore nature and geological values
Visiting fishing village (Vong Vieng fishing village, Cua Van fishing village…) is a nice touch to local life and also to see a pearl farm. Even though many locals has been resettled in mainland, the floating village is still a charming place to see.
In longer cruise of 3 day, you might enjoy a BBQ and relax on the beach, or biking in Cat Ba Island. Some other activities that you might experience, depending on each cruise
- Tai chi in the morning
- Cooking demonstration
- Squid fishing
- Tea demonstration
If you have heard about dinner in cave, it is a very special activity but it is no longer available due to authority restriction.
Budget for Halong Bay cruise package
There are more than 200 overnight cruising boats on 3 main area of Halong bay with many price range. Some cruise offers very low price for the not fulfilled experience so it requires much of consideration before booking. We recommend the price range based on values you received, not based on lowest selection.
- 1 day cruise budget: the tour can be found from 70 USD$/ person for a sharing trip with transfer from Hanoi, lunch and cave visiting… ( it should include kayaking or bamboo boat rowing)
- 2 day cruise budget: it is easy to find some rate as low as 70 – 100 US$ but we recommend to take a cruise from 135 US$ up to 300US$ for a better experience.
- 3 day cruise budget: the price should be between 250 US$ – 500 US$ for a nice experience on a charming boat and comfortable accommodation
What is normally included in cruise package and what is not?
A cruise package should include:
- Shuttle bus transfer to and from Hanoi with pick up, drop off at hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter
- Food: lunch, dinner and breakfast. The meal before check out sometime could be arranged as brunch. Tea and coffee should be offered free on breakfast.
- Activities and entrance fee: kayaking, cave visiting, fishing villages, bamboo boat ride…
A cruise package will not include
- Drinks (soft drink, alcohol drinks…) and extra service (spa, kayaking…)
- Kayaking might not be included on some cruise package, you should check in advance.
How about food?
Meals on cruise could be served you as set menu, buffet or a la carte for both lunch and dinner in the restaurant space onboard. Most of the dishes are local seafood. It can be Vietnamese traditional food or Western food, the most popular menu is the mix of both Vietnamese food and Western oriented food.
Vegetarian food or other special request could be well managed with a clear note in advance.
Visit Yen Duc village on the way from Halong Bay to Hanoi – a great insight to Vietnamese culture and life
Yen Duc village is in Dong Trieu district, 60km from the west of Halong Bay and 100km from Hanoi city, just on the way between Hanoi and Halong Bay. The village is rich in Vietnamese tradition to bring you a great opportunity to get a deep insight to Vietnamese local life. The locals are very warm and friendly to welcome you in their village. Yen Duc village provides day tour experience, Vietnamese food, folk song performance and overnight tour at an authentic homestay or luxury Vietnam house. More information about tour and activities: www.yenducvillagetour.com