Halong Bay (or Ha Long Bay) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Vietnam. You would have seen hundreds of photos of towering karst pillars surrounded by stunning aquamarine water. The name, “Halong”, means “descending dragon”, and is one of the most incredible places you can visit in Vietnam. The entire bay has more than 1900 karst islands and covers approximately 1500 square kilometers, but the core area is within 400 square kilometers or so. The islands used to be below the sea but rose above water due to tectonic activity; it is also known as 1 of the “7 new natural wonders of the world” for its incredible landscape.
Back in March, we snagged some last-minute tickets to Hanoi so naturally we booked a luxury Halong Bay cruise to sail across the open waters! It is by far one of the most magical and relaxing travel experiences of my life, and I can’t recommend cruising in Halong Bay highly enough.
There are so many options for Halong Bay tour operators, different price points, different itineraries, and we also had to decide on a day trip, overnight trip or multi-day trip in Halong Bay – it can all become a little confusing. If you are planning a trip to Halong Bay in Vietnam, here are some essential things to know before you book!
Important things to know before visiting Halong Bay, Vietnam
- You can apply for a 30 day Vietnam e-visa if you hold a passport from one of these 46 countries. The official Vietnam e-visa website is here, and though the design is horrific it works fine. There are many websites purporting to be the “official” visa website and some even have a “.gov.vn” domain, so be careful when you apply for a Vietnam visa online!
- To get to Halong Bay you should fly into Noi Bai International Airport, located on the outskirts of Hanoi.
- The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong. The exchange rate is approximately US$1 to 23,000 Dong. Yes – THOUSAND. Cash is king in Vietnam so exchange some money when you arrive at the airport.
- Stay connected and buy a local SIM card at the airport. You’ll get 7 GB of data for just US$10! Most Halong Bay boats do not offer wifi.
How to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay
The easiest way to get to Halong Bay is by car. The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay will take approximately 3.5 hours with a toilet break midway through. Alternatively, you can get to Halong Bay from Noi Bai International Airport in about 3.5 to 4 hours.
Almost all of the Halong Bay cruise companies will be able to organize a pick up from/drop off to Hanoi. You can either book a 4-seater private car for approximately US$125 (round trip)/US$70 (one way), or take a shared luxury van (7 seater) for US$40 per person (round trip)/US$28 per person (one way).
Visiting Hanoi before or after Halong Bay? Click here for my quick guide to what to see and where to eat in Hanoi!
One thing you should know about the toilet break is that all the cruise operators have to stop for 20-30 minutes at a bizarre marble statue/souvenir shop/cafeteria. Though the salespeople are not (too) pushy, you should be prepared to aimlessly wander around for a while before you leave. Given that every single bus had to stop here, I can only assume that it is mandatory per government requirements.
The best Halong Bay cruise
You might be wondering how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise when there are so many different types of packages out there. When you walk in the streets of Hanoi there are a plethora of tour agencies selling Halong Bay cruise packages. Google “Halong Bay luxury cruise” and it will spit back thousands of different companies. It was important to us to find an experienced, boutique cruise company that wouldn’t break the bank, but we also didn’t want to get crammed onto an old, rickety junk boat just to save a buck.
So while my boyfriend diligently researched where to have coffee in Hanoi (a very important contribution lol), I set off to read hundreds of reviews and compared 8-10 different Halong Bay cruise companies before deciding to book our 3 day 2 night Halong Bay luxury cruise with Aphrodite Cruises.
The company has consistently high guest reviews across the board, and their luxury junks in Halong Bay are absolutely stunning – they preserve the traditional wooden junk boat design but they are equipped with the latest amenities, beautiful furnishings and some rooms even have their very own private balcony! Aphrodite Cruises is one of, if not the best, Halong Bay luxury cruise companies offering 1 day, overnight or multi-night sails in Halong Bay.
The rooms aboard the Aphrodite Cruise ship are spacious and elegant, and the toilets are clean and always had hot water. The boat features 17 cabins including luxury, luxury balcony, family suite, and terrace suite options. We stayed in a luxury balcony suite so that we could enjoy the panoramic view from the comfort of our own rooms, even though there are plenty of common areas aboard. The sweeping views and fresh sea air make the (slight) extra cost worth it!
The rooms also have A/C, a mini fridge and a TV (with on-demand movies). Though there is no wifi onboard, we had 3/4G 60-70% of the time, and it was actually nice to be disconnected from the rest of the world for a change!
Because there were only 4 couples on the boat and a handful of day trip passengers who didn’t stay overnight, we had full run of the ship and its beautiful top deck area as well as dining room. The upper deck is an amazing place to enjoy the sunset and make the most of the buy-one-get-one happy hour which runs from 5-6:45 PM!
One of the best things about Aphrodite Cruises is their staff: all of them are professional, warm, and accommodating to your every need. The staff take safety seriously and conduct an in-depth briefing at the beginning of your trip, and do everything they can to make sure that you have a good time.
I didn’t have high expectations for the food onboard, but it blew me away. The chef uses fresh produce and sources fish from the local markets every day to whip up the most incredible dishes. There are Asian as well as Western options, and the staff are more than happy to make changes if you have any dietary preferences or food allergies.
I mentioned once that I couldn’t eat mushrooms or shellfish, and never had to remind the staff for the remainder of the trip – they made alterations to my meals and I still managed to put on a pound or 2 over the 2 nights we were onboard!
With an increasing number of visitors every year, sustainable travel is becoming more and more important to protect the pristine landscape. Unfortunately, we saw a fair bit of trash floating in the bay and on the beaches. Aphrodite Cruises is mindful of the environmental impact and is trained in proper waste management. I also encourage you to pick up any trash that you spot on the coast during your excursions, and bring along a reusable bottle for water.
The best time to visit Halong Bay
The Halong Bay peak season runs from about October to April when the temperature is around 23-26 degrees Celsius and the nights are slightly cooler. Though the weather is much warmer during the summer months, there can be occasional monsoons and showers. If you want to avoid the crowds in Halong Bay but still want good weather during your visit, try to schedule your trip towards the beginning or end of the peak season.
We traveled to Halong Bay in March, and the days were warm, dry and sunny. There were also only 4 other couples on our boat which made the cruising experience extremely private and enjoyable. However, the water was still too cold for any swimming so if your heart is set on swimming I would recommend visiting in May or September, at the beginning/end of the summer season.
So, when is the “real” best time of year to visit Halong Bay? It depends – to avoid the crowds but still enjoy sunny weather with cooler evenings, go in October or March/April. If your heart is set on swimming in the open waters of Halong but you are willing to risk some humid and rainy days, visit during May to September.
What to see in Halong Bay
When you book a luxury Halong Bay cruise with Aphrodite Cruises, all of the excursions are included in the price. You don’t have to go on every single one, you just have to let the staff know so that the day boat doesn’t wait for you. We opted for a 3 day 2 night cruise and visited all of the following places in Halong Bay, the day cruise and 2 day 1 night itineraries are slightly different and you might not be able to see all of these places.
Sung Sot Cave: One of the most famous caves in Halong Bay, Sung Sot Cave (“surprised cave”) has 3 chambers with both stalactites and stalagmites from end to end. You’ll need to walk up 700 or so steps to get to the mouth of the cave, so wear appropriate footwear! The caves can be extremely busy, so watch your belongings.
Cua Van Floating Fishing Village: Cua Van is 1 of 4 fishing villages in Halong Bay. The community here lives on floating houses and make a living by fishing and selling their goods to the mainland cities and beyond. You can also check out the small museum that details the history and lifestyle of the village.
Tung Sau: If you’re a fan of kayaking, head to this area to hop in and make your way around the karst mountains. Your guide will also take you into a cave to go spelunking!
Ti Top Island: Ti Top Island is home to an incredible viewpoint overlooking the bay and its islands. You have to climb 423 steps to the top, but it’s 100% worth it.
Luon Cave: Luon cave is a small cave where you can go on a traditional bamboo boat ride – sometimes you’ll also see lots of monkeys!
In addition to the excursions around Halong Bay, Aphrodite Cruises also hosts daily tai chi classes in the mornings, cooking demonstrations and lessons in the afternoon as well as squid fishing in the evenings.
How many nights to spend in Halong Bay
Day trip to Halong Bay or overnight Halong Bay cruise? It really depends on how much time you have, but I would recommend spending an absolute minimum of 1 night in Halong Bay. If you only do a day trip, you waste tons of time traveling to and from Hanoi, and there isn’t much else to do on land in Halong Bay.
We spent 2 nights aboard the Aphrodite traditional junk boat and have 0 regrets – it wasn’t too long and gave us the perfect amount of time to unwind and settle in.
What to pack for Halong Bay
Bring a light jacket for the evenings (we were surprised by how cold it was at night), walking shoes for the excursions, swimwear if you’re visiting during the warmer months and dramamine if you’re very prone to motion sickness. Because the boat is so big and sturdy, you don’t actually feel too much movement. Each room has several plug outlets, so bring along your devices and charging cables.
I used my 70-300 mm lens and Canon 6D DSLR for the majority of my shots, but also took plenty of photos with my iPhone 7 Plus.
I hope this guide to Halong Bay in Vietnam helps you with what to expect when you’re looking into Halong Bay luxury cruises! Ready for a luxury cruise in Halong Bay? Click here to book your Halong Bay trip with Aphrodite Cruises, or click here to check out other highly rated cruise operators in Halong Bay!
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Just so you know, we were paying customers with Aphrodite Cruises. My focus is on providing the best hotel and travel recommendations to you based on my personal experiences, and as per usual, all opinions are my own. You can always expect candid and honest feedback from me (regardless of whether a trip was sponsored or not).
This post does contain affiliate links. If you choose to book using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links, I only recommend products or services that I have had positive personal experiences with and think you would love too.