With Ha Long Bay being Vietnam’s number 1 tourist destination, it is no surprise that it can get pretty crowded. The immensity of it and the rising karst mountains out of the waters are truly phenomenal and attract nearly 5.5 million visitors a year. With that comes a plethora of tour companies, guides and choices to make. We’ve written this piece from our experiences in hopes that knowing what to expect makes things a bit easier!
Choosing your Ha Long Bay tour
You’ve decided to go see Ha Long Bay, awesome! No doubt you have done a bit of research and got slapped left and right by the sheer amount of tours out there, all offering the same thing, but different. Consider the following:
- Do they include the pick up and drop off from Hanoi?
- What kind of boat will you be on? (traditional junk boat or modern cruise ship?)
- How many people will be on the boat?
- What is included in terms of food and drinks?
- Are you allowed to bring your own if alcohol is not included?
- Which activities are included?
- What does the itinerary look like?
- Check the cancellation policy (weather related)
Choosing a timeframe
The above should go hand on hand with choosing the amount of time you want to spend in Ha Long Bay.
1 day cruise
Boarding time is usually around noon, a pick up in Hanoi Old Quarter will be at around 8am. You’ll set sail to Ha Long Bay, and usually have a kayak trip and seafood lunch included. You will return to Hanoi at around 10pm. Costs are anywhere between $30 and $70
2 day cruise
The same as the 1 day tour, except you spend the night on board! Here is when it’s important to find out what kind of ship you’ll be on and what the itinerary looks like. You will also visit a fishing village or a pearl farm and get a chance to go squid fishing at night. Prices range anywhere from $100 to $170.
3 day cruise
This is the one we ended up choosing. We chose to go with Indochina Junk, because they offered small ships, exquisite cuisine and added Bai Tu Long Bay into the itinerary. We did ask for a specified menu of all meals, and a detailed itinerary. We paid around $280 per person, which is expensive, but we found it worth it.
Here is our experience of this trip!
We got picked up at 8am sharp at our hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter and loaded into a minivan with 4 more people. The 4 hour drive is uneventful and not so pretty, which makes it perfect for an extended nap. Driving onto the pier reminded us of the Spanish costa a bit, a long modern boulevard with rows and rows of resorts and hotels under construction.
After finding our cruise company in the main hall and checking in, it was only a short wait until departure. All 10 of us plus luggage got onto a dingy to take us to our ship where the captain was waiting. After a swift room assignment (we got super lucky with the master) the table was set for lunch. This is where we found out alcohol was not included!
Between lunch and dinner we set sail, enjoyed the views, did some kayaking and lounged around. We loved seeing the mountains glide by. Jochem did some midnight squid fishing, and actually caught a bunch of them.
Day 2 was busy! We got up early for breakfast to get to Thien Canh Son cave before the masses did. It was a successful attempt and there was no one there until we left. There were kayaks again for those that wanted to (we did) and we had a smooth ride between the karst mountains.
We sailed further to Cong Da and found a secluded beach for a private BBQ. It was perfect! It was just the 10 of us on the beach, food and drinks and a bit of swimming. It was really from here on that we did not encounter any boats anymore until the next morning.
Back on board we got a small cooking class and lounged around until dinner time.
Last day! It was an early riser again to get to the small fishing village of Vung Vieng. We got loaded off into traditional rowing boats, were rowed through the village in about half an hour and ended at the town’s pearl farm. After that, we sailed back to the port, hand lunch and were back on land at around 1pm.
When we did this in early February, we had a shitty week weather wise. We had a few hours of sun, but mostly the days were covered in fog. We actually didn’t mind as it made the whole area seem pretty mysterious (and we could still see the mountains) but some people on our boat were a bit disappointed. Maybe this is why we didn’t feel it was busy at all, especially as of day 2, but it could also have been the route.
In hindsight, we were happy with the company and tour we chose. Though the food was good, we felt like the ‘exquisite’ also came from having sit down meals with linnens on the tables and the wines that were actually quite nice. The crew was amicable, the boat in good condition and we just love kayaking!
Because there are so many different options, from booze cruises to super luxurious ones to mass ships it really pays off being thorough. We exchanged a number of emails with the company before we booked, just to make sure it was going to be worth our money.
We loved Ha Long Bay so much we would even consider going back when the weather is nicer. It really felt like a vacation from our vacation.
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