Last Updated on 7 November 2022
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Choosing the best cruise in Halong Bay…
As with the majority of travellers to Vietnam, I departed for my Halong Bay cruise from Hanoi. But I found choosing which Halong Bay cruise tour to go with during my 2 weeks in Vietnam a gruelling process. I was completely overwhelmed with the choice of junk boats and cruise ships, and deciding which operator to go with probably took me more time than planning the whole Vietnam itinerary itself! So to help you try and avoid Halong Bay overwhelm, here are 5 super useful tips I learned as a result of my experience, for how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise for you!
Where is Halong Bay?
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an utterly enchanting area of northern Vietnam. Located around 180km east of the charming capital (Hanoi), Halong Bay is abundant with over 1,600 jungle-clad and mostly uninhabited islands. Weaving between the limestone karsts is a truly magical experience which should be on any bucket list for Southeast Asia. Given it’s jaw-dropping scenery, Halong Bay is now one of the best places to visit in Vietnam and a Halong Bay overnight cruise is the best way to enjoy the serenity of its surroundings!
What is the best time to visit Halong Bay?
In terms of weather, the best time to visit Halong Bay is March-May (spring) or October-December (autumn/fall).
March-May (spring) can be warm with reduced humidity and clear skies, but there is a chance of rainfall (I went in March and the weather was gorgeous).
October-December (autumn/fall) is characterised by significantly reduced humidity levels, less rainfall and warm temperatures, but this is regarded as peak season meaning it can get busy.
June-September (summer) can be very hot, making it a good option if you are a sun-worshipper or water-baby, but perhaps not so much if you aren’t. There can be an influx of domestic tourists during this time, and it is also the rainy season which can interrupt tours.
January-February (winter) can be a cold time of the year for visiting Halong Bay, and there can be limited visibility due to fog. If you want to swim in Halong Bay, then you should probably avoid winter time.
Halong Bay Cruise Tips – How to choose the best Halong Bay cruise?
1. Pick a Halong Bay cruise operator which has good reviews
Sometimes you need to be cautious when reading reviews because they are personal perspectives and some people find fault with things that others wouldn’t (and vice versa). But generally they are a good way to get an honest sense of what you can expect. When I was spending hours searching for the best Halong Bay cruises, I literally read hundreds of reviews to get a good idea of what the Halong Bay tour was like and the facilities on the boat!
So one of the best Halong Bay cruise tips I can give to you for when you set about planning your voyage is to check out reviews of the operators and cruise ships that catch your eye the most. This will help you to make your mind up on the cruise that suits you best for the time and budget available to you, and your personal preference. The best sites to look at for reviews such as these are TripAdvisor and Booking.com, and you can often find photos uploaded by the traveller (so you don’t just need to rely on the professional photos from the company which may have been taken when the boat was brand new)!
2. Go for a 3 day/2 night cruise of Halong Bay
Just like looking at the cruise reviews, I spent a lot of time deciding whether to go on a 2 day/1 night or 3 day/2 night cruise. I scrutinised many routes to decide which Halong Bay itinerary to opt for, after deciding to book a 3 day/2 night Halong Bay cruise from Hanoi. This was easily the best decision I made on my trip to Vietnam…
A 3 day/2 night tour will afford you the opportunity to cruise deeper into Halong Bay to areas such as Bai Tu Long Bay where less tourists go. As a lot of people opt for either a day trip to Halong Bay or a 2 day/1 night cruise, they don’t get the time to visit this more secluded extension of Halong Bay and just visit the typical tourist hotspots, like the pearl farm at the floating village (which is still an incredible experience by the way).
A 3 day/2 night tour will also offer you the opportunity to spend a relaxed day soaking up the enchanting scenery and doing activities such as kayaking around the karsts, which is one of the best things to do in Halong Bay. It will cost you a little more than a 1 night cruise, but if you’re going to do it, you should do this once in a lifetime cruise properly, and really allow yourself the time to enjoy the surroundings.
Tip: Whether you go for 1 or 2 nights, the itineraries offered by the various cruise operators don’t differ much. Most follow the same route, sail to the same points of interest, and offer the same activities. However, I would recommend you try and pick an operator which sails through the quieter area of Bai Tu Long Bay, as the scenery is truly magical!
3. Check if transfers to/from Hanoi are included
A lot of cruises on Halong Bay depart from Hanoi, but I found from researching the various tour operators that 9 times out of 10, transfers to/from the capital were excluded. If you’re departing from Hanoi, you will need to reach the Port of Hon Gai to board your ship. The cost of adding the return transfers to/from Hanoi onto the cost of the cruise is usually an inexpensive (and very necessary) extra. Just don’t assume that transfers are included, because you don’t want to miss your departure time!
4. Budget extra for drinks onboard
As Halong Bay cruises are usually full board (meaning they include all meals but no drinks), you will need to budget extra for any drinks that you want onboard the ship. This is an added extra you will probably want to factor into the cost of your Halong Bay tour. After all, how could you resist a cold Bia Hà Nội or creamy Piña Colada whilst watching the sun disappear behind the limestone karsts?
Tip: One of the best Halong Bay travel tips is to take some snacks and large bottles of water aboard with you. This way you’ll save on costs and have a treat in between meals (travelling is hungry work)!
5. Pick an operator that offers in-room private balconies
Granted, this is completely down to personal preference. But I would recommend you find an operator where the rooms have a private balcony. It is a complete privilege to be able to head back to your cabin and unwind on your own front-row-seats balcony whilst enjoying Halong Bay in all its mystical glory! I did my 3 day/2 night cruise of Halong Bay with Cristina Diamond Cruises, and all rooms have private balconies (this is one of the main reasons I picked them). I’d highly recommend Cristina Diamond if you are looking for an affordable option, cosy cabins, friendly staff, and plentiful food!
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