Just a short distance from the city of Hanoi in Vietnam lies the stunning limestone seascape of Halong Bay. This is a World Heritage site where the jagged limestone cliffs tower out of clear blue water, creating a set of vistas unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Halong Bay is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam, and for good reason. The environment is beautiful and unforgettable, and there are many things you can do in the area including taking a cruise, kayaking, or staying on board a boat or small island.
The most popular way of seeing the bay is by taking a cruise, and there are unsurprisingly many options to choose from. Here are some tips for making the most of your Halong Bay visit – and to make sure this turns into one of your highlights of Vietnam.
Spoil Yourself With a Luxury Cruise in Halong Bay
If you want to see Halong Bay in style you can’t really go wrong with a luxury cruise. While these cruises are obviously more expensive than your standard trip, you are paying for five-star facilities and amenities. If you want a little luxury on your trip, consider upgrading to this type of cruise. You won’t necessarily see anything different to the standard cruise participants, but you will enjoy a quieter, less crowded boat with comfortable living quarters, lovely food, and great deck space. A luxury cruise makes for a nice treat but if you are on a more modest budget you don’t need to miss out – simply look for mid-range options.
Mid-Range and Budget Cruises in Halong Bay
Most people visiting Halong Bay choose to go on one of the cheaper cruise options and opt for a budget cruise or a mid-range choice. There is a huge range of options available within these price ranges, and the quality varies considerably. Think about how much you are paying, and if it is at the extreme economical end of the market you can probably expect crowded boats, and often less-than-exceptional safety standards. But if you pick a mid-range cruise you can find some excellent trips with cozy cabins, small group sizes, and knowledgeable guides. If you have very little money to spend it is worthwhile picking a mid-range day cruise rather than going for an ultra-cheap overnight option, as you will probably get a better overall experience.
If you are staying in Hanoi you will see tour operators everywhere organizing day and overnight tours from the city including minibus transfers and extras. Look around for the best price and try to go with recommendations from travelers who recently visited the Bay as competition is fierce and it can be hard to decide between options.
Tourist Boats from Bai Chay
If you don’t mind just getting on a boat, sharing it with plenty of people, and quickly heading off into the Bay then go to the Tourist Wharf in the Bay and pick one of the day-trip tourist boats. If you have very little time and money, this is a good option. You will see the main highlights of the Bay and there is bound to be entertainment on board (not ideal if you are seeking a little peace and quiet!)
Kayaking in Halong Bay
A mid-range overnight cruise will probably include some time spent kayaking. This is a great experience as you can get up close to the limestone cliffs and see the Bay from a lovely angle. If you have more experience in a kayak and you want a longer time on the water, you can choose a kayak-only trip. There are a number of different options from Cat Ba Island, which explore Lan Ha Bay, which is just as pretty as Halong Bay and much quieter.
Practical Considerations for a Halong Bay Trip
It is best to choose a Halong Bay cruise run by a reputable operator as this will ensure a good standard of safety. Budget cruises led by unprofessional organizations can take safety measures. If you decide that you want to go kayaking, check that a guide will accompany you as the currents can be strong.
You can buy cruises from operators in Hanoi, Cat Ba Island, or in other parts of the country. If you need transport, choose an option with a bus transfer included in the price.
One of the best times to visit Halong Bay is in November. The temperature in November is good, and there are plenty of blue skies and the seas are largely calm. Throughout May to September you may experience a tropical storm as these can arrive without much warning at any time during this period. The months of June to mid-August are busy as this is when local people also take their vacations. The months of February through April are cool and can be foggy, although the mist can lend the Bay a certain otherworldly atmosphere.
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