As beautiful as it is ancient, Halong Bay is the cruise destination that people dream about. Nestled in the northern shores of Vietnam, and just 2 hours from the capital city, Hanoi, a trip to Halong Bay is about much more than just a beautiful piece of coastline. The Halong Bay region is comprised of nearly 2,000 islands and islets dotted throughout a huge geographical area of approximately 1,500 km².
Inside Halong Bay, mountains made of limestone tower a hundred meters or more above the crystal clear water and sprinkle the landscape with a kind of majestic beauty only found in this region of Vietnam. In fact, the unique geology of Halong Bay, which began to form some 340 million years ago, has landed Halong Bay on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites and been named one of the world’s seven natural wonders.
Should I take a day cruise or an overnight cruise?
Although Halong Bay is only two hours from Hanoi, there is a lot to do and see when you get here. If you have limited time, a day cruise is the easiest way to experience some of the abundant natural beauty that Halong Bay offers.
On the other hand, with all the exciting activities you can do on overnight cruises, you will be glad you allocated more time. Here are just some of the incredible experiences on an overnight Halong Bay cruise itinerary:
- Relax in utter serenity on the top deck of a luxury Halong Bay cruise
- At night, watch the sunset of a lifetime before the stars fill the sky
- Retire to the comfort of your private cabin with stunning ocean views from every bedroom
- Discover what makes Halong Bay a UNESCO world heritage site with an experienced ship captain that knows all the best spots
- Indulge in the culinary creations of your own chef in the ship’s world-class restaurants
- Explore limestone shores by kayaking and swimming in the deep blue waters of Halong Bay
- Exchange culture with guided tours of floating fishing villages and other national heritage sites
- Island hop in an ancient landscape filled with hidden beaches, lagoons, and cave networks
At Halong Hub, our luxury cruises have tailored itineraries that feature all these experiences and much more. With so many itineraries to choose from, it begs an important question.
What is a typical Halong Bay cruise itinerary?
Halong Bay cruise itineraries can be broad and depend on the cruise operators. Though a standard Halong Bay cruise experience can be broken down into two choices: 2 days 1 night or 3 days 2 nights. Obviously, more time equals more fun and relaxation, so the best cruise experience is a 3-day itinerary.
A general 3-day itinerary is as follows:
Bright and early in the first morning, most guests are collected from their accommodation, usually in Hanoi, by private car or bus. They are then chauffeured to the ferry terminal, Cat Hai, to board or transfer to the main ship. Operators can also pick up from other localities like Ha Long City, so talk to your cruise company about your pre-departure needs.
Cruises typically set sail from 08:00 to 12:00. At check-in, guests will meet their crew and enjoy a welcome drink served on the main deck followed by a safety briefing that highlights where to find life jackets and such.
When everyone is aboard, guests are shown to their bedrooms where they can relax and freshen up ready for the afternoon’s activities.
Bedrooms are carefully decorated in modern, or traditional junk boat fashion. All Halong Hub luxury cruise ships offer bedrooms with high-quality beds, furniture, and bathroom amenities. As standard, every room has stunning views of the ocean, and some even feature a jacuzzi on a private balcony overlooking the bay.
Travel tip: The port city of Ha Long is a fantastic destination alone with great views of Halong Bay and entertainment facilities like Sun World Adventure Park. With more time on your hands, it’s worth transferring to Ha Long City after your tour ends!
Shortly after midday, the crew and your chef begin to serve lunch on the main restaurant deck. Featuring dishes from several world cuisines and the best of local Vietnamese food, Halong Bay cruises are famous for the incredible menus crafted by the chef and their team.
After lunch, boats will continue to cruise through the majestic landscape and visit breathtaking locations like Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, or continue to explore Halong Bay. Sit back and let the captain take you on a tour of the most breathtaking sights in Halong.
Swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking
At this point, the offboard activities begin by exploring secret coves for beach swimming, reefs for snorkeling, and lagoons for kayaking. Cruise itineraries differ in route as each experienced captain knows the best spots for these activities.
Spa and massage
Alternatively, there are many facilities available on the Halong Bay cruise for those wanting to stay dry. You may choose to stay on board the cruise ship and relax with a spa treatment or massage, or simply enjoy the weather on the sundeck.
Travel tip: Snorkels are often available for guest use, but do bring goggles if you are interested in seeing firsthand the vibrant aquatic life that puts Halong Bay on the bucket list of diving fanatics worldwide.
Before dark, guests will retire to their cruise ship to relax, watch the sunset, and prepare for a well-deserved dinner. The itinerary will continue to explore Halong Bay until the boats reach the mooring stop for the night. A flexible cruise itinerary means the captain can find the right spot for a night of VIP entertainment by anchoring in quiet and secluded locations.
At night, a full course meal is served at roughly 7 pm, often with various meat and seafood from local fisheries. The recipes are loaded with healthy vegetables and a kind of rice that’s unique to Vietnam. Other overnight cruises may serve gourmet menus or even have a buffet party. Whatever dinner menu your Halong Bay cruise has, the food is guaranteed to be top-notch and filling after a hard day of play.
Cocktails and squid fishing
After dinner, the evening’s entertainment kicks off with music, cocktails from the bar, and the possibility of squid fishing in the serene waters below. This is an opportune moment in the itinerary to mingle with fellow travelers and share culture with the crew who have a wealth of Halong Bay knowledge.
The second day for a 3 days 2 nights Halong Bay cruise is packed full of exciting activities. For a 2 days 1 night Halong Bay cruise itinerary, skip to day 3 for a general idea of what the final day has in store.
The second day of entertainment and relaxation begins early with optional fitness classes such as Tai Chi and Yoga at 6:30 am. As the sun rises, a guided class on the top deck is a unique and healthy way to start the day with panoramic views of Halong Bay that will amaze any gym-goer.
If you didn’t wake up for sunrise, it’s no problem. There is plenty of coffee and fruit juice served at breakfast to supercharge the day. Breakfast is usually comprised of traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Pho, with continental breakfast items available too.
Caves and fishing villages
After breakfast, the itinerary may take you to several interesting locations in Halong Bay. Thien Canh Son Cave and Sung Sot Cave are two magnificent caves that are often visited.
Travel tip: All cave tours are led by an English-speaking guide so guests can soak in the rich history that these caves hold.
Additionally, there is another opportunity to get back in the kayak with an excursion to a local fishing village. Fishing village platforms float on the water and local fishermen build floating houses that connect in a patchwork. The fish are kept in large nets but are relatively free-range in the ocean below the floating fishing village.
Cap La and Cat Ba Island
While in Lan Ha Bay, cruise itineraries may explore Cat Ba Island and the stunning national park there. Halong Hub overnight cruises, such as the Elite Of The Seas cruise, feature a visit to Viet Hai village for a chance to exchange culture with local people from the region.
Alternatively, the cruise itinerary may take you to Cap La Island in the beautiful area of Bai Tu Long Bay. Both of these islands boast white sandy beaches and pristine jungles that are actively protected by the Vietnamese government, so are still relatively untouched by tourism.
Lunch is served either on the boats or one of the many islands such as Cat Ba island. Depending on the Halong Bay cruise itinerary, it could be a buffet-style BBQ on the beach or a set menu onboard. The menu, again, is carefully tailored by the private chef on the cruise.
Dinner and cooking class
The evening begins with retirement to individual cabins for a chance to refresh and relax after a long day of activities. Shortly after, guests are invited to join a cooking class where the Chef guides and instructs on how to make classic Vietnamese cuisine, for example, how to make traditional spring rolls.
At around 8 pm, dinner is served. Some cruises will arrange a BBQ party on a private beach, weather permitting. While others will host a dinner party in the main restaurant of the boat where panoramic views of Halong Bay serve as the backdrop. After dinner, guests can unwind with more drinks from the bar and dance the night away with music and maybe even karaoke, if you’re brave enough.
On the third and final day (or the second day if you book a 2 days 1 night Halong Bay cruise) guests have one or two activities in the morning before disembarking and returning to Hanoi or another location.
Tai Chi and sunrise
Like the previous morning, guests are welcomed to join a fitness class before breakfast. The class start time of 6:30, though early, is also the best time to witness Halong Bay in all its majestic beauty. As the sun rises over the limestone pillars, the weather is fresh and the feeling is electric.
One or two more Halong Bay cruise experiences
As the cruise heads back to the port, most Halong Bay cruise itineraries will include a few more stops in breathtaking locations. For example, guests might jump in the kayak one last time to explore the Light and Dark caves, jump offboard to enjoy the final white sandy beach, or visit a pearl farm and learn about the trades that supplement the local economy.
The last meal in Halong Bay cruise itineraries is breakfast, or brunch as this meal sometimes comes after the final bout of activities. Like every meal, breakfast is a delightful experience and the last chance to try some typical Vietnamese cuisine from an experienced Chef.
Guests can check out of their rooms from breakfast but disembark the cruise at around noon midday. After the final bill has been settled, for things like extra drinks at the bar, the crew helps guests to find the right transport for their connection back to Hanoi or another location.
It’s time to wave goodbye to the captain and take any last pics to remember the enchanting time you had on the Halong Bay cruise.
Travel tip: These memories are bound to look stunning on your social media page, so don’t forget to tag Halong Hub. We love to see your dream come true!
If you are interested in the amazing Halong Bay cruise itineraries that are available, but you’re not sure which overnight cruise is right for you, then check out our 10 best luxury cruises. Our guide to recommended cruises has all the details you need to get informed and fired up for your trip to Halong Bay!