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General information about Hanoi and Halong

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the only place hosting International flight in the Northern area of Vietnam.  That is why the majority of Halong Bay tours start from Hanoi; and the Hanoi – Halong Bay tour packages are common among international tourists.

Halong is famous for its karst seascape, and while the limestone landscape is not hard to find in Asian countries, what makes Halong Bay unique is the overnight cruise, which takes you deep inside the limestone maze. The Bay is divided into three different areas (Halong Bay center, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay), depending on the operator companies, you will be taken to different parts of Halong Bay. A high number of tourist cruises operate in Halong Bay center, leaving Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay rarely explored. Take a note that Halong Bay Center is the most tourist area, and is closer to the mainland thus makes it a good choice for a day trip.

The distance between Halong and Hanoi is approximately 170 km. Due to the going-to-be-better road condition in Vietnam, it takes up to 4 hours driving from Hanoi to Halong Bay.

How to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi 

Taking local bus

As mentioned above, the common buses take about 4 hours to get to Halong from Hanoi; then you catch a cab to get to a pier where your cruise anchored.

In Hanoi, the local bus departs from My Dinh bus station, about 8km from Hanoi Old Quarter (View on map) to Bai Chay bus station (Quang Ninh province) then you catch a cab to the pier or hotel in Halong city. The local bus service is not recommended for international service, for two reasons: the bus attendants don’t speak English, and there are many scams that even Vietnamese people are victims of these scams. Although it doesn’t happen every day or to all international visitors, who choose to use the local bus, you should take note and take care of your belongings. The bright side is that, it is fun to travel like a local, and sometimes, you may, by chance meet someone who is good at English, and have some chitchatting on the road. 

  • Some recommended bus operators: Phuc Xuyen, Kumho Viet Thanh, and Hoang Long…
  • The price is between 100.000 – 150.000 VND/ person

The website vexere.com has an English version, thus booking is easy. If you need to call bus operators (Phuc Xuyen limousine, Ha Vy limousine, Van Don Xanh, etc.), you should ask your hotel to assist you since most of the operators speak only Vietnamese. (You will be lucky if they can speak English). The price is at 200.000 – 250.000 VND/ person.

A new bus service called the limousine is exclusive for visitors who travel to Halong Bay. It still takes 4 hours, but the car is more convenient with water, wifi, etc. The car will pick you up at some fixed places in Hanoi; some operators can pick up you at Hanoi Old Quarter (you should call in advance to know more about the pick-up points).

Hanoi Halong Bay Transfer Luxury Van

Shuttle tourist bus

Shuttle bus is an inclusive service in Hanoi – Halong Bay tour package. The operators arrange a shuttle bus to pick you up from a hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter and bring you back following the schedule. There might be an English speaking tour guide or a tourist driver to escort you. The main advantage of using shuttle bus is that you don’t have to worry about where to go; it is a part of cruise trip to bring you directly to the harbor where operators waiting for you to check in and start cruising

  • The quality of the bus has improved much in recent years; now you can enjoy the limousine van which has more space and very comfortable seats with wifi and music player.
  • The driver has more experience to take care of visitors; they know basic English language to communicate.
  • Pick up and drop off at your hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter

Private car transfer

If you want to enjoy more privacy and less time on driving, the private car is the choice, book it with cruise operators or a transport supplier. However, you can’t drive the car by yourself because of legal driving license and traffics in Vietnam.

Getting directly from Hanoi (Noi Bai) Airport to Halong Bay is possible by private car during 4-hour transfer. 

Train

The train is the least common choice. ( I even didn’t know this train still operate, I thought it was closed years ago) The train runs from Yen Vien Station (13 km from Hanoi center) to Halong Railway Station, only available for a hard seat. From the station, you can catch a cab to go to Hon Gai Pier or Tuan Chau Pier according to your cruise company. The problem with going by train from Hanoi is that you have to get on and off taxi or bus or train because of the uncentered location of the stations. Also, there is only one train from Hanoi to Halong and one from Halong to Hanoi every day. Book the ticket at https://dsvn.vn

Hanoi – Halong Train Schedule

Hanoi – Halong
Train No. 51501
Hanoi 04:55 AM
Halong 11:34 AM
Total time 7h21’

Halong – Hanoi
Train No. 51502
Halong 14:10 PM
Hanoi 20:43 PM
Total time 7h33’

Helicopter/Seaplane

A luxury choice that allows you to see Halong Bay in a different angle is helicopter or seaplane.

The helicopter is available and supplied by Vietnam Northern Service Flight Company. This service is only available for charter and is at a higher budget range. They have MIA-17 (24 seats) and MIA -8 (12 seat), produced by Russia. For more information about price, flight schedule and booking, visit its website: http://www.vnh.com.vn/

The seaplane takes off from Noi Bai international airport and lands off at Tuan Chau Marina with only 45 minutes. You also have 15 minutes of sightseeing over Halong Bay. Hai Au Aviation is the unique seaplane service in Vietnam until now. Website: https://www.seaplanes.vn/en/

Seaplane Schedule Flight

Winter flight (1 October 2017 – 1 May 2018)
Code Flight  Departure  Arrival  Fare per way Note
HAN HLG HAI601 10:00 11:00 VND 8,662,500 (US$ 385) With 15 minutes scenic flight
HAN HLG HAI603* 14:00 14:45 VND 3,937,500 (US$ 175)   
Summer flight (2 May 2018 – 30 September 2018)
Code  Flight  Departure Arrival Fare per way Note
HAN HLG HAI601 09:00 10:00 VND 8,662,500 (US$ 385 VND 7,516,800 (US$ 324) With 15 minutes scenic flight
HAN HLG HAI603* 14:00 14:45 VND 4,060,000 (US$ 175)  
Winter flight (1 October 2018 – 1 May 2019)
Code Flight Departure Arrival Fare per way Note
HAN HLG HAI601 10:00 11:00 VND 9,396,000 (US$ 405) With 15 minutes scenic flight
HAN HLG HAI603* 14:00 14:45 VND 4,060,000 (US$ 175)   

* Subject to seating availability

Tours and Things to do in Halong Bay

The most famous and most recommended tour to do in Halong Bay is overnight cruising

An overnight cruise is a classical option which gives you more time to relax and truly enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the bay. Also, you will stay in a wooden cabin whose design reflects old junk ships in Southeast Asia while having all the necessary modern facilities. The overnight cruise tour is classified as 2 days 1 night and 3 days 2 nights, the longer stay (4 days and more) is only available for chartered cruises.

2-day 1-night cruise is a great option to admire the marvelous natural beauty of Halong Bay in a limited time frame. This itinerary lets you to not only discover thousands of beautiful seascape but also participate in interesting outdoor activities such as swimming on a wild beach, kayaking around the island and visiting a fantastic cave on the Bay.

  • Less than 24 hours cruising (the boat cruises and stop at different visiting sights and anchorage area, not cruising for the whole time) 
  • 8 hours round trip transfer between Hanoi and Halong Bay
  • 1 night on Halong Bay
  • Activities: kayaking, cave visiting, fishing village, swimming…
  • Meals are included (Many selections of seafood)
  • Accommodation: hotel-style cabin with private bathroom and other modern facilities.

3-day 2-night cruise is ideal for you to discover Halong Bay and local life in a relaxed schedule. You will get to visit a cave, go kayaking, take a look at a floating village, and have a BBQ lunch on the beach. This trip takes you deep into natural wonder, and you will experience two memorable nights in the majestic bay. In the of 3-day 2-night cruises, some operators will organize you on a day boat to explore the bay on the second day of trip and back to the main boat in the afternoon. On the other hand, Indochina Junk offers you a continuous cruise experience, not switching between boats on the second day of the trip.

  • Less than 48 hours cruising (the boat cruises and stop at different visiting sights and anchorage area, not cruising for the whole time) 
  • 8 hours round trip transfer between Hanoi and Halong Bay
  • 2 nights on Halong Bay
  • Activities: kayaking, cave visiting, fishing village, swimming…
  • Meals are included (Many selections of seafood)
  • Accommodation: hotel-style cabin with private bathroom and other modern facilities.

Day Cruise and stay in hotels in Halong

Halong Bay Cruise Dragon Bay

Day Cruise is a short journey created to give you a short observation of the breathtaking scenery of Halong Bay. The day cruises can be classified as the haft-day cruise and full-day cruise. While attending day cruises allows you to travel from Hanoi to Halong and back within a day where your time is limited. Some tourists (mostly Asian and local tourists) would prefer day cruise and stay at a hotel in Halong city

  • 4 – 8 hours cruising depending on each cruise option. (4-hour cruise is the most popular choice)
  • 8 hours round trip transfer between Hanoi and Halong Bay
  • Activities: kayaking, cave visiting, bamboo boat…
  • Meals are included (Many selections of seafood)

Two attractions which are famous among local tourists in Quang Ninh province are listed below. If you choose to stay in a hotel in Halong city, then you might want to check out these attractions:

  • Bãi Cháy tourists area with Sunworld Park, night market, Tuan Chau island, Bai Chay bridge…
  • Hon Gai area:  Bai Tho Mountain, Quang Ninh Museum, Long Tien Pagoda, Halong seafood market…  

Some recommended hotels and restaurants in Quang Ninh: Wyndham Legend Halong, Paradise Suites Hotel, Novotel Ha Long Bay Hotel, Sen A Dong Buffet Restaurant, 1958 Restaurant, Cong Ca Phe…

Hanoi – Halong and other destinations

Hanoi – Halong – Sapa

Sapa

Sapa is 170km Northwest from Hanoi and 454km Northwest from Halong Bay. 

Sapa is considered the tourist capital of mountainous north area of Vietnam; it is also known as “the Tonkinese Alps” because of its location 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level and on the western edge of a high plateau. The special location of Sapa makes it the only place in Vietnam that has snow in winter time.  Sapa is famous for both its breathtaking, dramatic scenery and its rich cultural diversity. There are direct local buses from Halong to Sapa. However, buses take more than 12 hours (mountain road) to get to Sapa. Therefore, we do not recommend this option.

The second and the most common option for Halong – Sapa tour is to take a break in Hanoi then go to Sapa the next day by either overnight train (8 hours) or buses (5 hours). This means you go from Hanoi to Halong for the cruise trip, and go back to Hanoi after the cruise. Stay one night in Hanoi, then go to Sapa the next day. Or you can go to Sapa first, go back to Hanoi for a 1-night break, and then go to Halong Bay.

Hanoi – Halong – Ninh Binh

Halong Bay Ninh Binh Tour - Dragon Legend

Ninh Binh is 90km South from Hanoi and 288km Southwest from Halong Bay

Ninh Binh is a lovely destination which is blessed with magnificent landscapes. The city of Ninh Binh may offer little-to-no interesting things to international tourist, but surrounding area has plenty of options for travelers who want to spend a few days discovering the wealth of natural attractions without being annoyed by the crowd. The Tam Coc – Bich Dong is known as inland Halong Bay, while Trang An is recognized as-as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The distance between Halong and Ninh Binh is 288 km, there are plenty of direct buses from Halong to Ninh Binh, and it takes about 4 to 4.5 hours driving. Since most tour packages to Halong bay include transportation between Halong and Hanoi, you can go back to Hanoi and stay overnight, then go to Ninh Binh the next morning. The driving time from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is about 2 hour; if you take the train, then it will be up to 3 hours.

Hanoi – Halong – Yen Duc Village

Yen Duc Village

Yen Duc is a lovely village hidden among green paddy field. While the rice field is not a unique feature of the village, Yen Duc is remembered because of the friendly local. You can feel the warm welcoming as soon as you arrive.

The meaning of visiting this village is to get your hands on daily tasks of local people. You will have chances to do some fishing with a bamboo basket, join in rice making process, broom making and cooking class.

Your experience will not be fulfilled without “puppet water show” – a traditional and unique form of art which is still fascinated and performed in Vietnam. The show in Yen Duc was performed by local farmers after their day word, and it tells stories, folk tales and legends related to daily life activities: the celebration of the rice harvest, dragon and phoenix dancing, and many more.

Yen Duc village locates on the way from Hanoi to Halong, and some company offers 2.5 hours to overnight tour at this village. If you book Halong and Yen Duc tour, you might get some really good discount, visit
https://www.yenducvillagetour.com/

Should you book a package tour or traveling on your own?

Halong Bay Cruise Kayaking

Before you think about going to Halong Bay, I hope you know that you cannot rent a sailboat or a speedboat and sail to Halong Bay by yourself (except for chartered cruise). So the only difference between booking a package tour and traveling by yourself is that the package tour includes transportation from Hanoi; while going by yourself means you go your way to the pier and check-in the cruise or buying a ticket at Tuan Chau Pier for a day tour in Halong Bay. 

Now, if you opt to travel on your own by taking the train or local bus to Halong Bay, make sure to check the rent price and bus/train ticket price.

  • The price for a local bus from Hanoi – Halong is about $5 -$7/ one way.
  • The train ticket is about $3/ one way.
  • The self-driving car option is nearly impossible in Vietnam, even with the international license. Car hire tends to be car and driver. Driving car in Vietnam is a surviving game with no traffic rules appear to abide, especially in the rural areas where the highway goes through.

How to buy a visiting ticket at Tuan Chau Harbor?

  • Day tour price range from $17 to $27 depending on the routes.
  • Chartered day cruise: $200 to $400

One advantage of the tour package is that it includes transportation. The tour company picks you up at your hotel and then drops you off at your hotel again after the Halong tour. For the overnight cruise, I strongly recommend to book in advance with trusted cruise operators, and it is the best way to discover Halong Bay in comfort. 

Depending on your types of cruise, and the length of stay, the price can vary from as low as $90 to as high as $400 for a 2-day 1-night tour. Be aware that not all boats are with the same high standard service and obviously you get what you paid for.  If you find a too-good-to-be-true price, then you should be careful with the quality of the services. Truly, it is hard to say about the quality of a $60-70 per night cruise or $30 for a day cruise, but the cheap cruise is crowded. The operators will try to maximize their profit by arranging as many tourists in one cruise as possible, so before the moment you step on board, you have no idea what will happen or how your cruise looks like. My first time to Halong Bay was with a cheap tour that I found in the Old Quarter. The cruise was 180 degrees different from the pictures they showed me. It wasn’t too crowded on the cruise, the service was at an acceptable level, and the tour guide spoke something that we called Vietlish. We sat, smiling kindly, and understood nothing.

The best option is booking from a middle range cruise with good reviews either from friends or the Internet. The price will vary from $70 for a day cruise to $150 for an overnight cruise. Booking the tour as soon as possible when you pick your traveling date, the Early Bird promotion and ability to get better room are some good advantages. If your budget is not tied, then the luxury cruise should be booked, the services and the food are as it’s named – excellent. While the itineraries and activities of Halong cruise are kindly the same among most of the cruises, you can expect main activities include kayaking, swimming, visiting the cave.

Some insider tips

Halong Bay Luxury Cruise Service - Dragon Legend
  • If you are a solo traveler, don’t forget to pay attention to single supplement fee. Most of cruises operator on Halong bay don’t provide single cabin/room for solo travelers. But some did (such as Dragon Legend Cruise). Of course, if you’re happy to pay a supplement for single occupancy of a double cabin, you can enjoy your trip in a larger cabin. Normally, the supplement can range anywhere from 20 to 100 percent of the trip cost.
  • We highly recommend you to book a taxi or motortaxi in Hanoi via Uber or Grab.
  • You should pay attention to safety while traveling with children: always keep an eye on them while kayaking, swimming and even when they play around on the sun deck.
  • Be aware of the poisonous jellyfish:  During summer, especially May, June, July, before going to swim, you should ask the guide or captain for advice because it is when the poisonous jellyfish are most active. Jelly Fish mostly doesn’t cause too much trouble but popular symptoms such as hives, and rashes…
  • What to bring for an overnight trip?
    • Your original passport
    • Sunscreen and sunglasses
    • Beach hat/Umbrella, Swimsuits, Bikini (a sarong is recommendable for women if you want to go up to the sundeck and sunbathe)
    • Flip flops, sandals, comfy cotton t-shirt, shorts, skirts, maxi dresses, etc. are all you need for an awesome summer. If you visit Ha Long Bay in the winter, do not forget to bring warm clothes, scarves, and shoes to keep warm.
    • Other necessary things (such as camera, Insect repellent sprays, and lotions, etc.)

Need more information about Halong Bay? Download the FREE e-book: https://www.indochina-junk.com/download/Ebook-Halongbay-cruises.pdf