When it comes to the question, “How to do Ha Long Bay right?” not everyone can give you a proper answer. If you ask a travel agent or your hotel about which cruise to take to Ha Long Bay, they will say they’re all good or give you a list of ten or so cruises ranging from low to high cost. If not, they will recommend their partnering company, even if the company is not reputable because they receive a commission per referral.
It is clear that different types of travelers with different budgets will have different expectations when they are visiting Ha Long Bay. In order to help you solve this dilemma, I will provide you with recommendations based on each type of travel: honeymoon, backpacker, budget, relaxed, adventurer, and family. Take a minute to define and choose your style and let’s dig in.
General Information & Facts about Ha Long Bay
For those of you hearing the name for the first time, Ha Long Bay is the most beautiful bay located on the Western side of the Gulf of Tonkin in Northeastern Vietnam. It has almost 2,000 islands and islets in various shapes and sizes, of which mostly are limestone. Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast and Lan Ha Bay to the southwest are your best options while visiting Ha Long Bay: go to the less popular Bai Tu Long Bay or experience the charm of Lan Ha Bay. They all share a similar climate, cultural, geological, and geographical characters.
The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is from September to November and from March to May due to its dry climate and pleasant temperatures allowing you to do most of the interesting activities available. May to September is the low season of the year which means you can probably get a good deal from most cruise companies. July and August are the months you want to avoid – that’s storm season and the weather is turbulent which will affect your trip negatively.
For the Romantic Honeymooners/Couple
Ha Long Bay is extremely suitable and romantic for a getaway. To experience Ha Long Bay, the two-day, one-night (2D1N) tour is the most common choice. However, if you want to spend more time there, you can also choose the three-day, two-night or even four-day, three-night tour that offers more intriguing activities like fishing with local people or enjoying a BBQ lunch in an amazing private beach. The 2D1N itinerary to Ha Long Bay mostly follows the same schedule:
- Leave and arrive back in Hanoi at about the same time
- Have a rest break at a shop or cafe
- Includes two lunches, dinner and breakfast, a bed for the night
- Kayak, a visit to a cave, and swim
- Squid fishing (depending on the weather)
You generally only honeymoon once in your life, so the budget should not be a big issue when picking a tour. Go for luxury! I recommend one of the best, the IndochinaJunk. This company is ranked first out of 147 tour companies in Ha Long Bay according to Tripadvisor, which is strong proof of its quality. But the thing with well-known companies like this is that there are many different options providing different services on their website and sometimes you can’t make a decision because you are overwhelmed by your choices. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
What you are looking for is the 2D1N tour on the L’Amour charter junk – the special junk for couples. With this choice, you will have the chance to see the untouched beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay. You can also make a romantic night with wine and candles happen. Given maximum privacy, the en-suite room has a stunning view of the sea through the window and the outside dining area is a perfect place to observe the natural landscape as you indulge in delicious cuisine. In addition to the normal services offered to you by the company, you’ll also have the chance to see a water puppet show performed by local artists and also visit Vung Vieng fishing village on a rustic row-boat.
Since it’s your special day, your room will be decorated nicely with roses and candles. A beautiful honeymoon cake with a cute gift will be served within the day as well. In case you want to have a super special night, the staff will help you with any custom request, but of course, you’ll have to pay extra money for special service.
The tour price is subject to change due to high demand. April is currently the high season and it is priced at 410 USD/person, which 10% higher than in the low season. But if your travel date is around May or June, it will be just around 370 USD/person.
For more details, click here.
It is said that the people you meet along the way make your trip more memorable. If you want to combine celebrating your love and meeting amazing people, then this is what you should choose. Indochina junk also provides a 2D1N tour with shared junk. I’d recommend picking the Dragon’s Pearl Junk. It has the same schedule for the 2D1N as the L’Amour junk but since this one is shared, it’s cheaper. The early bird rate for a double cabin is 187 USD/person.
Bhaya is another well-known cruise company that offers a honeymoon package on their classic cruise with a special offer for honeymoon couples. A 2D1N trip with Bhaya has a different route, they will take you to Lan Ha Bay, where you will spend the night and then you will return the next day. This route makes for different activities on the cruise, like squid fishing, or watching a cooking demonstration with traditional Vietnamese food on the sundeck. 179 USD/person is the early bird rate for this package. You should check their site for more itinerary details.
If you want to extend your trip, then it’s a good idea to do the 3D2N or 4D2N package offered by Indochina Junk or Bhaya.
One more excellent option for your journey in Ha Long shared with other travelers is Onetrip. Our Onetrip guides will pick you up in a shared minivan early in the morning and then take you to breakfast. After that, with a carefully crafted schedule, you’ll explore the bay with its many islands, caves, fishing villages, and participate in a few activities such as kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing. You can also choose to stay overnight which is definitely worth it, looking at the shining stars and embracing the sea breeze. The price for a group day tour is 130 USD per pax (all included, no extra fees). Book your Ha Long Bay Tour with Onetrip here.
For the Relaxed Traveler
If you fall under this category, then this is your vacation and you don’t want to do anything but relax and enjoy the beauty of Ha Long.
That’s not a big deal with Indochina Junk or Bhaya Cruise. With their 3D2N package, your trip will be remarkable with many activities mentioned in the above section. If you’d love to watch the water puppet show and visit the fishing village, you should opt for the tour with Indochina Junk. Otherwise, if you are ok with missing the puppet show and more interested in the Traditional Vietnamese cooking and fruit carving demonstrations plus hiking a bit on Ti Top island, then Bhaya is for you.
Onetrip may be a better choice if you require a dedicated tour guide to help with your relaxing trip. Our friendly and knowledgeable private guide will take you off the popular tourist path in the bay area in order to explore the beautiful untouched parts. Unlike giant cruises from other tour operators, you will board a wooden cruise ship and sail through the grand natural karsts. It feels as though you are the captain embarking on a journey of exploration and natural wonder. With lots of activities such as visiting floating fishing villages, kayaking into caves and islands, having a tasty lunch, and spending some time basking in the sun on the beach, this tour in Ha Long Bay is an easy yes. The private tour costs 340 USD per pax (no extra fees). Book here.
For the Backpackers
Does your travel bucket list include these: Vang Vieng in Laos, drinking buckets of alcohol on Khao San Road, or partying at the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan? If your answer is yes, then add Castaway Island as your next stop. Staying overnight on an island, with a three-day digital detox meaning no wifi, and no internet, will allow you to have the time of your life and create some epic memories with some truly fun people. This is where the party begins.
If you’re thinking of a relaxing moment on the beach to take in the spectacular sights, then skip this part. We have a perfect guide for you after this.
Located in Lan Ha Bay, a part of Ha Long Bay, a tour to this island is a wild and fun experience. The 3D2N package is ideal even if you are a solo traveler. One night on the island is simply not enough to release the beast inside.
Central Backpackers Hostel does a good job running this tour. This is what the itinerary looks like:
The tour departs at 7:45 AM. Travel by bus and boat to Hideaway Island as you take in the sights of Cat Ba National Park along the way. Arrive in time for lunch on the beach and fuel up for some activities.
This will be a long day full of activities like taking a boat, cruising around the picturesque bay, and enjoying the beautiful scenery, then cliff jumping, challenging yourself to jump off the 12-meter high cliff, and kayaking.
You will head back to the island in time for sunset, and get prepared for beach games and drinks at the sunset party.
Breakfast is served at 7 AM so you can board the cruise at 10 AM for a day of excursions. You’ll go through the magnificent non-touristy mountain range of Lan Ha Bay and a remote village where the local people do things a little differently. Start your adventure by cycling through stunning landscapes of the village and then trekking through the jungle (bring your hiking shoes). On your bike, you’ll pass through traditional houses along the way. Lunch is served on a floating house.
After lunch, a day boat brings you to the beautiful and quiet areas where the Kong movie was shot and you’ll have the chance to do jump off the boat and swim.
At the end of the day, you will head back to the island to welcome the new Hideaways, share stories, eat dinner, and prepare for more fun.
You do not depart the island until after lunch so there is a lot of time to enjoy a slow morning: kayaking, swimming, or maybe a well-deserved sleep-in morning. After lunch, you begin the trip back to the modern and busy life of Hanoi via boat and bus, you will arrive back at the Central Backpackers Hostel at approximately 5 PM.
The 3D2N package currently is 130 USD/person (promotion cost). This will include your accommodation, all meals, transportation, and any entrance fees. Drinks, travel insurance, and personal expenses will be up to you.
Click here for more details about the tour, updated prices, and booking.
This is an amazing experience in life, especially for young people who want to experience all that they can. But there are some cons that you need to know before taking the tour:
- It is run by a hostel, so a comfy bed is not in the picture. Anyway, you probably won’t sleep much.
- This is a castaway island, there are no hospitals or police stations there. You need to be prepared to take care of yourself as the guides are not equipped to handle emergency cases.
- The food is not spectacular. You may be eating the same thing for three days.
- You won’t see much of Ha Long Bay, so if it’s your dream to see as much of this stunning natural wonder as possible, I suggest you pick another tour operator.
- You will drink a lot (you can decide if this is a con or pro).
For the Budget Traveler
You are traveling on a budget and have this question in your mind: “How can I do Ha Long Bay without spending too much?” Well, read on.
Among the many ways to experience Ha Long Bay, booking your tour via travel agent is probably the best option for you. They often offer reasonable tours with equal value. You can choose from 1D, 2D1N, 3D1N, and 4D3N tours. But as I mentioned before, the 2D1N tour with a higher price ranging from 100 USD – 200 USD per pax is better. If you find tours with lower prices, you’d better be careful because you might have to pay extra money for transportation or meals during the trip or even entrance fee. Also, there will be a high chance that your tour guide isn’t knowledgeable enough, doesn’t speak good English, or you won’t stay on the boat overnight. Make sure you check with them before you pay. Try to avoid the overly touristy tours too.
My recommendation is The Sinh Tourist travel agent. A common package on a cruise for 2D1N will cost you around 120 USD/person depending on how big and decorated the cruise ship. The Sinh Tourist itinerary package is 90% similar to other 2D1N packages: transport from Hanoi to Ha Long and meals, cave exploration, swimming, and kayaking. Check out this link for online booking and more tours package options with The Sinh Tourist.
Ha Long Bay is huge and that’s why the two-day tour is more common. However, if you just drop by and only have one day to explore the bay, consider taking the one-day tour with Central Backpackers Hostel.
With just 32 USD, you are still able to experience a long day of activities: such as cruising for four hours through a maze of islets amid dramatic natural scenery, visiting Thien Cung and Dau Go Grottoes, the fishing villages, and Dinh Lu Huong islet and fighting Cock islets. The lunch is also a highlight. The one-day tour will start at 7:45 AM (which is when you will be picked up from your hostel in Hanoi) and ends at 8:30 PM (arrival time in Hanoi). Inclusive services: A/C transport, boat trip, entrance fee, lunch, and English speaking guide. Kayaking for 45 minutes is available for just a measly addition of 2 USD. For booking and more details, click here.
For the Adventure Traveler
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
If you are the type to visit a place and then get adventurous, such as climbing, trekking etc, then this is your option!
For most people, Ha Long Bay is famous for its beautiful islands and islet system housing significant caves. But hey, this bay is also an ideal place for outdoor activities like climbing, trekking, kayaking, or yoga sessions on the beach. Pick the route to Lan Ha Bay and you will feel excited by all the adventurous activities available in this area. This isn’t quite a DIY trip, but you will have to first find your way to Cat Ba island – the closest island to Lan Ha Bay, and from there you can find the Asia Outdoor company. It is the only company that provides outdoor activities in the bay with a well-organized package of rad things for you to do.
See for yourself what the bay has to offer by taking the 2D1N package provided by Asia Outdoor. This is a combination of real adventures coupled with seafarer excursion. The experience includes a full day of kayaking, exploring the untouched areas of Lan Ha Bay, rock climbing on a private unique beach location, and even stand-up paddle boarding if you pick the seafarer plus option.
The price for the normal 2D1N seafarer excursion is around 135 USD/person (3,000,000 VND) and 105 USD/person (2,300,000 VND) for groups of more than two people. With the seafarer plus, the pricing is 150 USD/ person (3,300,00 VND) and 120 USD each (2,600,000 VND) for groups of more than two people. The quoted price includes transportation from Asia Outdoor office, access fees, tickets, guides, junk boat with captain and crew, two lunches, dinner, breakfast, kayaks, PFDs, UIAA Certified climbing equipment, mattresses, sheets, blankets, and pillows. Doesn’t that sound worth it?
Notice that January, February, and March are the winter months in the north, and Asia Outdoors does not run overnights on the boat during these months. Outside these times, an overnight on their junk boat under the stars is offered.
For the detailed itinerary and booking information, click here.
How to Get to Cat Ba
You can check the Asia Outdoor website, and every detail you need about transportation and time can be found there. Below are some brief instructions:
- Bus line: Hoang Long Bus/Boat/Bus Combination. (Book here)
- Price: 170,000 – 250,000 VND (may fluctuate seasonally)
- Duration: 4.5 hours (Hanoi to Cat Ba Town)
From Cat Bi airport – Hai Phong city
Take a taxi (100,000 VND on the meter) or motorbike taxi (80,000 VND) to Ben Binh Harbor from the airport. From Ben Binh Harbor, take either the Hydrofoil or the Hadeco boat. The fastest option from Ben Binh is Hoang Yen Hydrofoil.
- Price: 180,000 VND
- Duration: 45 minutes – 1 hour
For the Whole Family!
Traveling in the company of your family is something everyone should do at least once. When it comes to your kids, it is pretty tricky to find a suitable schedule and it is also difficult to find accommodation for the whole family. With that in mind, I’ve done some research for you to make your planning easier. Here are my two recommendations:
Paloma Private Cruise
Because you are a family, a private boat will work well. It will be more convenient for your group. Paloma is an operator with four-star luxury services. Their 2D1N Family Executive Suite Cruise has two triple cabins with a balcony that can accommodate three adults and one child below the age of 12. Just as the name suggests, this boat is for a private family trip.
Starting from 504 USD (round-trip shuttle bus transportation is not included) for three adults depending on demand, this package has most of the activities you can expect from a typical Ha Long Bay trip: kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, visiting caves, and visiting a fishing village, and it will also bring you to the Tu Long Bay area. The FOC rate for children under four years old is applicable for one child sharing a cabin with two adults (no extra mattress is provided) and is limited to one child per cabin. Children over 12 years old will be charged the same as adults. An extra bed is available for the additional charge of 20 USD/night, upon request. Safety equipment and life vests are inside the cabin.
For more info about booking and itinerary, click here.
Shared Treasure Junk
If you don’t want to travel in a private boat, you can take a connecting cabin in the Treasure Junk. There is a large sundeck that you and your family members can hang out on and enjoy anytime of the day. 219 USD/person is the starting price, and common activities are included in the schedule. Transportation is also included.
You can check their website for more details.
Tips to Do Ha Long Bay Right
Bring Some Food/ Drinks
The packages above only serve and include main meals. You are probably going to need more food. Additional food and drinks on the cruise are expensive so bring along your favorite snacks, drinks, and energy bars.
Buy Travel Insurance
Even if medical expenses in Vietnam are not that expensive, buying travel insurance in advance is a good choice in any case.
DIY is Not Recommended
2D1N is the ideal amount of time needed to properly experience Ha Long Bay, and with that amount of time, booking a well-designed tour from a well-known company is your best bet. There is not enough information out there for you to put together your own tour. However, if you wish to stay longer and explore Cat Ba Island or Ha Long city, then doing a DIY tour is worth considering. There is no other benefit to planning your own DIY tour over a package tour otherwise.
What To Bring
- Wide brim hat
- Insect repellent
- Warm clothes (in winter)
- Original passport with valid visa
- Some cash in Vietnamese Dong / USD for personal expenses
- First aid kit (if you are taking the Castaway island tour)
- Please be ready on time for the pick-up at your hotel
- Leave your big luggage at your hotel in Hanoi or the tour operator office if possible
The charm of the Ha Long Bay is undeniable no matter which trip you choose to do. However, understanding what you want will ensure an incredible experience that you will never forget. Do remember that the options we provide are only representative of different budgets and expectations. Boats are different, the guides change, and itineraries vary. Bon voyage!
If you fly into Hanoi before departing for Ha Long Bay, a comprehensive guide of how to get around the complicated street web of the capital is more than helpful. And if you just want to take care of your airport transportation now and not worry about it, give Muvv a try! Muuv is part of the Christina’s ecosystem, striving to provide travelers with the most amazing experiences in Vietnam possible.
Looking for more Ha Long Bay-related information? Check these great articles out:
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like some more fun info about what to see, do, and eat (and a bunch of interesting cafes!) in Vietnam, follow us at the Christina’s Blog!