Tips on Visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam

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Ha Long Bay has been a popular destination for travelers in Vietnam for decades. This breathtaking UNESCO world heritage site also recently received the honor of being named one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, so visiting its thousands of cliff islands is a must for any visitor to Vietnam.

Tips on Visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam
Tips on visting Halong Bay

There are a few options for visiting Ha Long Bay, but most will choose to take a cruise for either one or two nights. Picking the right trip is actually not as easy as it sounds due to a lot of travel agencies offering tours. Choosing a bad one would mean a terrible experience and a huge waste of money. So then, what should you consider when picking a tour?
visiting Halong Bay

  • Don’t take a one day trip from Hanoi. Getting to Ha Long Bay takes a bit over 4h, so going there for just a few hours is only going to make you wish you could stay longer.
  • Don’t try to go to Ha Long Bay by bus and catch the last-minute cruise. I heard a lot of stories from people trying to save some money and they all ended up in the same disastrous way.  These people not only spent more money than they would have by purchasing a package, they also had worse tours.
  • Don’t go for the cheapest option you can find. There are many travel agencies that will offer you 2-day tours for as low as $45. Don’t be fooled, I heard many terrible stories from both backpackers and luxury travelers who didn’t get any food on their cruise or had to share a room with other people because their agent overbooked the tour.
    What I’m trying to say is pay a bit more to be safe, but don’t overpay an agent that’s trying to convince you that their boat is the nicest or prettiest- they all look pretty much the same due to some new regulations that all boats have to be painted white, so many boats are not able to show off their intended colors.DSC00871

I chose to take a tour with APT Travel that I purchased from the travel agency at Hanoi Airport. I was a bit hesitant to book a tour right after I got off the plane. You know: scams. But the travel agent offered me a discount on a taxi if I bought a tour with her. My friend and I paid $120 each for a package including everything.DSC00838


What did we do on the tour?

We got picked up early in the morning by a bus for the long drive to Ha Long Bay. During the bus ride, our guide introduced himself and explained the tour, along with some brief history lessons and jokes. We stopped once for a bathroom and snack break and eventually reached Ha Long Bay around lunchtime.

When we boarded our boat, which was also our accommodation for the night, we almost immediately got lunch and started sailing. The food was absolutely great and everyone could find something they liked! Vegetarian, chicken, seafood, rice; it was more than enough for everyone on board.DSC00821DSC00896

After we got settled into our rooms, we were asked to jump onto another smaller speed boat to sail to some places where the bigger boats weren’t allowed to go. First, we got to go kayaking in a grotto where we saw monkeys scampering along the cliffs. After we all came back on board the boat, the tour guide took us to see a cave.

I’ve been to many caves in my life, so I didn’t expect much. But I have to say it was interesting to see a cave that was basically in the middle of the sea. Our guide was also excellent for the entire tour, explaining everything to us and constantly making jokes.DSC00855

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After we got back it was time to see the beach. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was already too chilly to swim so I played with some monkeys instead. In contrast to Balinese monkeys who decided to bite me, these monkeys turned out to be super friendly. One of them even exchanged my leftover coconut for some money she stole from someone earlier!DSC00887

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When we came back to our boat we had time to rest. We watched the sunset and took part in the preparation of our dinner appetizer: spring rolls. After dinner, we just hung out with the other tourists and drank and played cards.DSC00886

The second day of the tour was much less exciting. We only got to visit a pearl farm and sunbathe while we sailed back to the port. The weather was beautiful though, so I can’t really complain. We got to spend some time relaxing on lounge chairs in the sun.

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Arrange your travel insurance

Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Vietnam. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip, especially before a Halong Bay cruise, to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!


I think I was incredibly lucky to go to Ha Long Bay. The place was stunning! I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Southeast Asia!

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24 Comments

  1. Feb 28, 2015 / 10:21 am

    Thanks for your tips Anna! We’re planning a trip to Vietnam and this was just what I was looking for. The food looks delicious. 🙂

    • Mar 1, 2015 / 8:48 pm

      The food on the cruise was delicious. Wouldn’t say the same about food in Hanoi, but you should check it out on your own! 🙂

      • Marg Breuer
        Nov 25, 2015 / 10:28 pm

        I am amazed by your comment on food in Hanoi. We were in Hanoi in Nov 2014 and Febuary 2015, in total we spent 28 nights in Hanoi after planning to stay 3. We ate street food everyday, and it was superb. Mind we did not eat western food so cannot comment on that. We quickly had our favourite places, nothing beats the fruit salad served on the streets, yes we ate the crushed ice served with it and never had an issue. Nothing beats the raw egg and cheese coffee hot or iced. We booked our cruise direct in Hanoi, with the cruise company at their office. No agents at all and at less than a quarter of the price quoted in Australia for exactly the same cruise.

  2. Feb 28, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Sounds like you got an awesome trip love the story of the monkey great photos

  3. Feb 28, 2015 / 5:10 pm

    Ha Long Bay is definitely on the bucket list, looks like you had a fabulous time!

    • Mar 1, 2015 / 8:48 pm

      I did, it was a highlight of my trip to Vietnam 🙂

  4. Feb 28, 2015 / 8:10 pm

    My friends are going to halong bay in a few weeks and I am so sending them this article! So on my bucketlist now 🙂

    • Mar 1, 2015 / 7:00 pm

      I was super lucky with the weather! But the day I got back it started to rain like crazy 😛

  5. Mar 1, 2015 / 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! My friend and I have contemplated going to Vietnam at somepoint and this is something we’d love to do! I always think it’s best to pay a bit more for a tour and get more out of it rather than do the cheapest one – unless the cheaper ones have good reviews

  6. Mar 2, 2015 / 7:12 am

    Great tips, sweetie. I remember my stay in Halong, pretty much the same experience 🙂

  7. Mar 4, 2015 / 6:45 pm

    Vietnam and in particular Ha Long Bay have long been destinations on my radar that I have wanted to find out more about. Thanks for this awesome post and your images are really inviting and a great selling point for prospective visitors to this part of the world.

  8. Mar 12, 2015 / 3:49 am

    This made me book a flight to Vietnam. Amazing photos as always

  9. Jun 22, 2015 / 7:54 am

    Amazing experience you have got in Halong bay. I am eager to have those experience very soon.

  10. May 16, 2016 / 8:19 am

    Thank you so much for your review on Ha Long trip in Viet Nam, my country. I believe that if travellers find your useful tips here, they would all get the best of their trip. As you mentioned, we should not book a day trip because it is too short for exploring the beauty of Ha Long, so take 2 days or 3 days instead. I suggest taking tour via SUN LEGEND CRUISE, a professional cruise provider in Ha Long, based in Ha Noi, capital city of Viet Nam. Wish you have a great time in Viet Nam.

  11. Jun 10, 2016 / 8:09 am

    In Halong Bay, I like the most kayaking, a must try for anyone visiting halong bay

  12. Thai
    Jan 12, 2017 / 3:23 am

    Ninh Bình also one of the good choice if you have time to comeback Vietnam 🙂

  13. FayeLu
    Apr 17, 2017 / 8:56 am

    Thank you for your tips. Can’t wait until my trip to Vietnam. I’ve watched “Kong: Skull Island” and I’m so excited for my vacation in Halong and Ninh Binh. Wish you all the best!

  14. Travel Ben
    May 16, 2017 / 7:34 am

    Halong bay right now busy with too many boat so looking boat trip go Bai Tu Long bay that best now

  15. Jul 6, 2017 / 6:42 am

    Hey Anna! This is a great article and gives a realistic overview of what to expect. I went a few months ago and had a similar experience and participated in the same activities. Thanks for sharing! I’m about to publish an article about the mythology behind Ha Long Bay and the story of the dragons spitting jade. At the end of the article, I’ve suggested that my readers take a look at this for practical advice on visiting, I hope that’s OK. I’ll tweet the article link to you when it’s published 🙂

  16. Linda James
    Aug 6, 2017 / 5:10 pm

    I and my fiance went there last summer. The trip was a blast and there is some way you can save money instead of booking through travel agency. we did our search and listed down our top 3 operators and picked the one with the best price and good comments on tripadvisor. Then we booked directly from the website because it will be much cheaper than you book from agoda or booking.com. At that time, we got the offer 2 days cruise with a complimentary hanoi hotel for $250/person so it was quite a bargain for us. And the experience was beyond the expectation. Beautiful sights in Halong. The company names Bhaya and this is the website, you can check if they have any special deal https://www.bhayacruises.com/. We went to Hoi An after that, but it was raining for the whole 2 days though but the place is quite beautiful too

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