Everything You Need to Choose Best Halong Bay Cruise

No doubt, cruising Halong Bay is a must. But, with the crowded number of boats there and the all-too-similar itineraries those companies promise, you will surely be overwhelmed. A wrong decision could totally spoil your trip.

So, better safe than sorry, to save yourself from tons of cruise mishaps caused by rush decision: 

  • Being on wrong boats,
  • Having to share rooms with strangers,
  • Visiting the claimed destination, 

and many other travel scams

Let’s check out our guide below on how to choose best Halong Bay cruise in 2018!

Checklist for quick and wise decision: How to choose best Halong Bay cruise?

Here are 8 questions you should ask yourself before you make your final cruise decision:

1. When do I visit?

when to visit halong bay

Even though Halong Bay welcomes you all year round, it’s better to visit this place from March to May when the weather is ideal. Remember to avoid Vietnamese national holidays (April 30th and May 1st) if you don’t want to be choked with crowds.

June to September is low season so you can have better deals and promotions. Yet, be wary of storm forecasts. October and November is high season again and it is still sunny. 

December is cool, cloudy but dry while January and February are cold, foggy and drizzly. The showers will hide the splendor of the bay. But for many, misty Halong brings a whole different view from the normal green and blue color.

For more information about Halong weather throughout the year, please check this out.

misty Halong Bay
Misty Halong Bay - a different look
misty halong bay
Halong Bay on a foggy day is like a mistery

2. How long do I want to go?

There are mainly 3 types of cruise tours operating in Halong Bay:

  • 3 Day-2 Nights cruise
  • 2 Day-1 Night cruise
  • Day trip cruise

However, a day trip to Halong Bay is not a good idea at all. It takes you up to 4 hour drive from Hanoi to Halong. Just by a simple calculation, how much time left do you have? 

A day trip, minus all the road time, won’t get you far out of port and away from the shipping channels to see the most beautiful areas of the bay.

For most travelers, the joys of Halong are kayaking, swimming, sitting on deck and watching the sunrise and sunset (most tourists agree that Halong Bay sunset and sunrise is a scene you must watch once in your life, so jaw-dropping!). 

You will miss all those with a day tour. Therefore, we highly recommend you choose to spend at least 1 night in Halong Bay. Believe us, you will never regret that decision!

3. What is my budget?

Undeniably, your budget is an important factor that decides your trip. The differences between budget, mid-range and luxury cruising usually come from cabin amenities, on-board facilities and furnishings, as well as the quality of the food and service. 

As you get what you pay for, you may want to spend a few extra dollars to ensure a memorable journey in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Budget cruise (3* or 3* plus): price starts from $90
  • Mid-range cruise (4* or 4* plus): price starts from $107
  • Luxury cruise (5*): price starts from $120
Want to have a closer look at cruise prices? Click HERE to quickly jump to our table for comparing cruise prices!

4. Is the boat big or small?

It’s important to consider how big is the boat, how many cabins it has and how many passengers it accommodates. If you want to spend your trip with worldwide tourists, go for a medium to large boat. On a bigger boat, there are more new people to make friends and more public spaces to move to, especially if you want some alone-time.

If you’re on a honeymoon or travelling with your family or friends, consider chartering your own small boat. Yet, one thing to take note: smaller boats may get you seasick more easily.

Whichever cruise company you choose, make sure to check the number of cabins before you book. A boat of more than 20 cabins is considered big, so get well-prepared with crowds!

5. What are the cruise routes + destinations?

Although the whole area is mostly known as Halong Bay, there are in fact 3 different bays: Ha Long, Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha Bay. They all have a similar charming landscape of limestone cliffs, gorgeous bays, caves and beaches.

However, there can be some other factors that make one preferable than others.

Here is a quick look of cruise itineraries that helps you decide between these three bays:

  • Halong Bay

Halong Bay is the most popular destination, thus attracting hundreds of boats and tourists. Especially in the peak season, you will be amazed at the overcrowdedness there. Despite efforts and attempts to protect this bay, it is getting more crowded and polluted.

  • Lan Ha Bay

Lan Ha Bay is a small bay located 10km from the south of Cat Ba. Luckily, it still remains pristine and unspoiled. A great choice if you prefer to enjoy the purity of nature. Some cruise boats even offer you a night sleeping in a resort in Cat Ba.

  • Bai Tu Long Bay

This itinerary combines the best of Halong Bay with some more remote areas in Bai Tu Long Bay. However, Bai Tu Long is harder to reach, with fewer accessible caves, so you should expect a higher price for this tour.

6. What are cruise activities?

Also, don’t forget to check what activities are included during your cruising tour. Consider your interests then choose the best activities in Halong Bay you want to engage in:

  • Water sports: kayaking
  • Swimming
  • Exploring caves
  • Visiting floating villages
  • Squid fishing
  • Cooking class
  • Tai Chi exercises
  • Spa

Kayaking in Halong Bay

Tai Chi exercises

Exploring caves

Watching sunrise on deck

Swimming

7. Is transfer included?

From Hanoi to Halong city, 160 km away, it takes roughly 3 and a half hours by bus and from the bus station to the pier is about 15 minutes. 

Most Halong Bay cruise lines charge extra for transfers from Hanoi to the port, although the luxury cruise boats are increasingly including transfers in spacious luxury vans with business class airline-style seats and many boats will throw in transfers during the low season or rainy season.

You can choose 1 out of 4 main ways to transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay:

  • Shuttle bus
  • Seaplane
  • Private car
  • Taxi
For detailed information about transportation to Halong Bay from Hanoi, please read this post.

8. Which food will be served?

Cruise boats might serve Vietnamese food, Euro-Asian fusion, and Western dishes, and of course seafood will be in abundance. But, what if you have allergies or you are a vegetarian?

Don’t worry, most cruises can accommodate your dietary preferences, whatever they are. 

Whether you are a vegan, have a food allergy or need gluten free, just notice your cruise beforehand about your special diet within at least 48 hours before departure. 

Pelican, Orchid, Garden Bay Luxury, and Garden Bay Premium are highly recommended cruises for their special care to meet passengers’ requests.

Ask yourself those 8 questions then answer each one by one. 

Now, you can browse the best Halong Bay cruises available here to pick out your ideal cruise.

Cruise Name Rating Launched Year Design Style Hull Minimum Price Number of Cabins Cabin Size Private Balcony Price Range US$ Cruise Area Boarding Port
Aclass Legend 3.5* 2010 Classic & Traditional Wood 92 14 15-16 Yes 92-121 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Carina 3.5* 2014 Classic & Traditional Wood 107 9 15-16 Yes 107-117 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Aclass Stellar 4* 2015 Classic & Traditional Wood 107 21 14-23 Yes 107-140 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Glory Legend 3.5* 2013 Classic & Traditional Wood 87 22 16-32 No 87-102 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Pelican 4.5* 2014 Classic & Traditional Wood 113 22 18-36 Yes 113-173 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Gray Line 3.5* 2010 Classic & Traditional Wood 96 14 15-20 Yes 96-140 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Rosa 3* 2015 Classic & Traditional Wood 90 9 18-28 No 90-92 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Ginger Cruise 5* 2018 Classic & Traditional Wood 210 12 37-50 Yes 210-295 Lan Ha Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Jasmine Cruise 5* 2007 Classic & Traditional Wood 177 23 16-18 Yes 177-274 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Violet Cruise 5* 2009 Classic & Traditional Wood 286 6 38-43 Yes 286-353 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Paradise Luxury 5* 2011 Classic & Traditional Wood 280 17 16-23 Yes 280-380 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Paradise Peak 5* 2012 Classic & Traditional Wood 302 8 38-42 Yes 302-372 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Paradise Elegance 5* 2017 Classic & Traditional Wood 192 31 13-35 Yes 192-257 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Alisa 5* 2017 Contemporary Steel 120 22 20-40 Yes 120-170 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Bhaya Classic (III) 4* 2009 Classic & Traditional Wood 136 20 13-17 Yes 136-216 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Bhaya Premium (VII) 4* 2015 Classic & Traditional Wood 164 5 19-21 Yes 164 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Alisa Premier 5* 2017 Contemporary Steel 130 22 22-45 Yes 130-180 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Indochina Sails 5* 2003 Classic & Traditional Wood 142 23 16-29 Yes 142-219 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Syrena Cruise 4* 2010 Classic & Traditional Wood 103 17 15-21 Yes 103-159 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Hera Cruise 5* 2016 Classic & Traditional Wood 385 11 28-55 Yes 385-649 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
La Fairy Sails Cruise 4* 2015 Classic & Traditional Wood 129 11 15-30 Yes 129-149 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Aphrodite 4.5* 2011 Classic & Traditional Wood 150 17 17-22 Yes 150-280 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina
Au Co 5* 2012 Contemporary Steel 390 32 20-40 Yes 390-703 Halong Bay Tuan Chau Marina

Choosing the best Halong Bay cruise that suits your taste is not a rocket science. But not a piece of cake, either. 

Don’t rush. Read on as you may want to consult more from real experience of real people, instead of advertising or flattering posts on some boat-selling websites.

Cruise reviews from worldwide travel bloggers

Our team have conducted an interview with travel bloggers from over the world. They have come to Vietnam and gone on a cruise on Halong Bay once, twice or even three times. 

Let’s read on to find out what these travelers have faced up to from the time they do research, book a cruise, to the date they get on board and explore the giant “Descending Dragon”.

Mirela from AboutVariousThings

Hi Mirela, could you share with us how you chose your cruise? And why that cruise appealed to you?

For me, to come to Ha Long Bay meant fulfilling a dream, that’s why we wanted this cruise to be a special one. 

I searched for a lot of information on the internet and I decided to choose a one-night cruise in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was not easy to choose from dozens of companies that offer such services. 

But Orchid Ha Long Cruise has come close to what I wanted. First of all, the ship was built recently, had extremely comfortable rooms and modern design, culinary preparations and promised services sounded quite tempting. 

halong orchid cruise
On deck an Orchid Cruise. Source: Mirela

Also, the bathrooms with the glass that is located above the bathtub with Jacuzzi, was another reason why I chose this company. The fact that it is a company that offers 5 star services and is considered one of best Halong luxury cruise, also meant a lot in my choice.

So, you must have enjoyed your cruising trip. How was it? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?

The Ha Long Cruise Orchid has exceeded my expectations. Although the price was not small, it deserved this money in all aspects. Everything was perfect: crew, food, services offered, friendship and smiles of everyone. The program proposed by the cruise manager was well established and respected to the smallest detail.

The crew, along with the cruise manager, were dedicated. They did everything so we won’t miss anything. They were always smiling and they responded promptly to any of our requests. 

I felt safe all the time, even when we did kayaking, a few crew members watched us and they were always with us.

halong orchid cruise - pic 4

Beyond the human side, I loved the cleanliness and the decor of the room. And, I was most impressed with the landscaped balcony and the spacious windows to view amazing attractions in Ha Long Bay.

A special place in my soul was the bathroom with Jacuzzi tub placed near a wide window that gave a dreamlike view. 

The fact that the alcoholic drinks at the bar were not included in the cruise price was not a point in the minus. Since they were not so expensive and, if you bought a cocktail then the second one you received for free. All in all, we totally enjoyed that 2 happy hours.

jacuzzi-bathtub-on-best-halong-bay-cruise
Jacuzzi tub was placed near a wide window that offered a dreamlike view

Could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?
Yes, of course. I have some tips for you to keep in mind when choosing a cruise in Ha Long Bay. I hope you will find them useful:

  1. Set up a budget that you can afford and choose a cruise that will provide you safety throughout the trip. Do not opt for a very cheap boat because the conditions that will get will be below the expected level
  2. Make sure the company services you choose include transfers to/from Hanoi or the airport
  3. Choose to spend at least one night on the cruise because Ha Long Bay will tell you stories at night too. A full moon that lightens the rocks from the water is the perfect setting to live a beautiful love story, or just a romantic night. If you are thinking of choosing a short day trip, you will not enjoy the beauties offered by the entire area
  4. Choose, if you have this option, a room with its own terrace. It is magical to admire the stars standing on a lounge chair in the balcony of your room with a cocktail in front and the pleasant sound of the water that will accompany you discreetly all night.
  5. If the weather does not keep up with you and there are a few drops of rain you do not despair, Ha Long Bay is great also when the weather is unfavorable. I’m sure that if you choose the right cruise, the crew will adjust the schedule to the weather outside.
  6. Take a sunscreen for you, because you do not know when you need it
  7. Have fun and take advantage of every moment, you will gladly remember your whole life of this trip.

Many thanks for your great advice, Mirela!

Helene from HeleneInBetween

Hi Helene, which cruise did you go on in your trip to Halong Bay last year?
Hi Halong Hub, we went on the Dragon Pearl Junk with Indo China Junk. It appealed because of the beautiful views, the wonderful pricing, that I could choose to spend a short amount of time on the boat. My trip to Asia was so short and I wanted to do so many things so this was an easy way to so it all.
Halong Bay cruise

What was the highlight of your trip?
The best part of the cruise was the magnificent views and the people. Mr Kim led our cruise and made it such a memorable experience. The food was also particularly delightful. It was a nice intimate setting and I really go to know the other people on the cruise as well.

A smiling waiter with well-decorated Vietnamese food
A smiling waiter with well-decorated Vietnamese food. Source: Helene
kayaking-in-halong-bay-is-worth-trying
Kayaking is worth trying. Source: Helene
Kayaking through caves.
Kayaking through caves. Source: Helene

Could you share with us some advice on picking the right Halong Bay cruise?
Yes, definitely! I think the best way to choose a cruise is based on how much time you’ll have. I would have loved to do a longer cruise but I simply didn’t have enough time. If I was to go again I would definitely make sure to be there for an extended time. 3 days would have been perfect!

Sarah & Kris, from JetSettingFools

Which cruise did you go on? Why that cruise appealed to you?
We sailed with Aclass Legend Cruise. It was recommend to us by our hotel as one of the best mid-range cruises.
How was your experience? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?
We loved our cruise! We had a great group on-board, some of whom we still keep in contact with today. The ship’s crew was fantastic as well, and of course Halong Bay is magnificent!
Could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?
I think booking the 2-Day cruise is highly recommended. The full day spent exploring on the smaller boat was so amazing and we got to see so much more of Halong Bay. We trusted our hotel’s advice on which cruise to book, and for us it was perfect!

Jolene & Andrzej – the owner of WanderlustStoryTellers

Hi Jolene and Andrzej, you two have recently visited Halong Bay. Can you share with us about the cruise you went on? And what made you choose that cruise?
Hi Halong Hub, we went on one of the Indochina Sails cruises. Our Vietnam trip was special as we went without the kids on a trip to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
So we were after a 4 or 5 star luxury cruise experience. We also wanted a cruise that only had a small number of cabins. Lastly a criteria for us was to choose a company that went into Bai Tu Long Bay in order to escape the masses of Ha Long Bay crowds.
Beautiful Halong Bay Views
Beautiful Halong Bay Views. Source: WanderlustStoryTellers

Indochina Sails was one of the top companies that people were recommending on sites such as TripAdvisor. We also asked our local Vietnam tour guide which company he recommended and he also told us that it is one of the most popular cruises. In actual fact the boat was sold out when we booked a room and we had to purchase a cabin on a different boat. But fortunately there was a late cancellation and we could make a last minute swap over to this company instead.

How was your experience about the cruising trip? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?

We absolutely loved every minute of the cruise. Our cabin was small but comfortable and we truly loved the personalized experience from the staff. We enjoyed all the optional on-board experiences such as cooking classes and squid fishing lessons.

Whilst we absolutely loved the itinerary we did feel that some days were too fully-packed with ‘stuff to do’ and not enough time to just relax. We especially enjoyed visiting the cave, the fishing village, doing some kayaking as well as climbing to the top of TiTov Island.

Overall we truly felt that the cruise was worth every single dollar and we would return in a heartbeat.

It is obvious that you two picked an ideal cruise for your wedding anniversary. So, could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?

We highly recommend that you choose the 2night/3day cruise option. The 2 night option will be way too rushed and you won’t have enough time to simply soak in your beautiful surroundings.

Unless you are a party animal, we also suggest that you choose a boat that have a smaller number of cabins on board, don’t go for a company that has over 20 cabins.

Try to find a cruise that ventures into Ha Long Bay as well as Bai Tu Long Bay. Indochina Sails had a brilliant itinerary that always got us to the sights before the other companies arrived, so that we could enjoy each area without being squashed by masses of other tourists.

Think about whether you would like a traditional-style junk boat (there rooms will be smaller and older) or if you want a new boat that offers large rooms, Jacuzzis and up-to-date furniture.

Do ask the company to send over the itinerary for you to check out before you book. Have a look at what is included and think about whether you like to stay busy or whether you would like to have a more relaxed itinerary.

Lastly, read the small print to figure out what is included in the coast of the cruise. Some companies might seem like they are cheaper, but if you look closer they will charge you extra for activities such as kayaking.

Thanks for your sharing. Hope your next trip to Halong will be just as unforgettable!

Nic Hilditch-Short from TheRoamingRenegades

Which cruise did you go on? Why that cruise appealed to you?

We actually chose to take the public boat over to Cat Ba island and then take one of the cheaper tours from there, this meant we paid a lot less and could also explore the island at our own pace. We wanted to do this mostly because the tours from Hanoi were really expensive and also we wanted some more flexibility.

How was your experience about the cruising trip? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?

For the price the tour was actually really amazing, in one day we were able to see much of the bay, we went kayaking and also had food included and went swimming. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t go further into the main bay itself on the cheaper tour but what we did see what amazing.

Could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?

Think about what your priorities are, if you are short on time and have the money then I would still do one of the multi-day tours from Hanoi where you can see much more and with a lot more ease.

Do your research though as many companies over charge and have bad facilities. If you are a backpacker then heading to Cat Ba and taking a tour from there is a great option, they have many different trip and they are a lot cheaper, you could even do another if you didn’t get the weather or wanted to do several that go to different places.

Megan from BoboAndChichi

Which cruise did you go on? Why that cruise appealed to you?

We went through Halong Bay on the Viola cruise for 2 nights and 3 days. We wanted this boat because we were celebrating and wanted a 4 star cruise. The elegant rooms is what attracted us to Viola.

Viola boat. Source: Boboandchichi.com
Elegant room of Viola boat. Source: Boboandchichi.com

How was your experience about the cruising trip? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?

Overall, we ended up being blown away by Halong Bay’s beauty. The only thing we didn’t enjoy was how many boats were parked on top of each other every night. It made for a noisy night. We also didn’t enjoy some of the mandatory stops like the Pearl Farm but we really enjoyed the kayaking through Halong Bay.

Orange huge sky above Halong Bay. Source: boboandchichi.com
Kayaking on Halong Bay
Kayaking on Halong Bay. Source: boboandchichi.com

Could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?

We recommend first setting your budget and shopping around. You don’t get to spend a lot of time on your cruise and in your room, so if you’re worried about budget don’t go for the 4 star rooms. 

We also realized we would have much preferred choosing the route that went through Bai Tu Long bay as we were told it was less crowded than Ha Long Bay. And last, check reviews online before booking your cruise.

Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay is the same as Halong Bay but less touristy.

Tasha Amy, from BackpackersWanderlust

Which cruise did you go on? Why that cruise appealed to you?

To explore the magnificent Ha Long Bay I booked with Ocean Tours on their cocktail cruise 2 night 3 day tour. There are honestly so many options of different cruises to do, so choosing one was not an easy decision.

Though, what I liked about the cocktail cruise run by Ocean Tours was that it is an affordable option, making it perfect for a backpacker like me. As it is also advertised in a variety of hostels in Hanoi, so I knew I would be exploring with a group of like-minded people.

Like most cruises in Ha Long Bay the tour included kayaking in the famous light and dark caves, though it does not include the other common activity of squid fishing (which is a plus for any vegetarian like me).

Throughout my research I came to hear of many horror stories regarding sleep aboard Ha Long Bay tours with run down junk boats, so knowing that on the cocktail cruise the nights would be spent on a well facilitated private island was certainly a bonus.

How was your experience about the cruising trip? Is there anything you weren’t satisfied with?

Overall, I was extremely satisfied with my experience on the cocktail cruise with Ocean Tours. The guides we had throughout the journey were knowledgeable, approachable and knew how to make everyone feel comfortable. 

Many delicious meals were had, which can sometimes be risky when you are on an island with one restaurant and there were plenty of activities such a kayaking, swimming, hiking and visiting the nearby Cat Ba Island. Also, even though it is called a cocktail cruise everyone only had a couple drinks and it never got messy. Some of the people I met on the tour I caught up with again further down in my adventures throughout Vietnam, so it is the perfect place to meet new friends!

There was not too much I was unsatisfied with about the tour itself, though if I were to go back to Ha Long Bay I would definitely do it differently. As it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an item on many people’s bucket list it is truly an experience you do not want to skimp on.

Next time I would brave it and do a sleep aboard junk boat, even if it is a more expensive option. This way I would feel like I am getting the full Ha Long Bay experience, not just a drive through for a few hours.

Could you share some tips on choosing the right cruise?

Honestly, my best tip on choosing the right Ha Long Bay cruise for you would be to do your research (and if you are reading this article you are obviously on the right track). You will want to make sure you book with a reputable company, know that their boats are safe and comfortable, as well as the variety of activities they provide. 

For example, the cocktail cruise does not visit Ti Top Island which has one of the most picturesque views of Ha Long Bay. This could be a make or break for some people, so make sure you are fully informed before deciding on your Ha Long Bay tour.

Conclusion

We hope this article has helped you with all the necessary information on how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise. Once again, preparation counts. Do careful research on reliable websites and pick your ideal cruise for your next trip.

Don’t forget to get in touch with us for further advice, ideas, and bookings!

Share this post

More from Halong Hub