The beautiful, island-strewn waters of Halong Bay are a major inspiration to experience on the Vietnam holiday.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the Gulf of Tonkin and approx 90 miles east of Hanoi and rich in karst limestone scenery and calm emerald waters. Halong Bay is easily reached by road travelling from the capital, Hanoi. The journey time is in the region of 3-4 hours – depends on the traffic and road conditions.
Here is a handy guide for choosing the perfect Halong Bay cruise for you.
How best to explore the bay
Even though it is possible to admire the beauty of the bay from the shore of Halong City, you really want to get a first hand appreciation of its splendour by organising a trip on a traditional junk-style boat or similar vessel. A relaxing cruise is the traditional choice and there are enough options to match virtually all tastes:
For the travellers on the Vietnam private tour that are short on time, a single day cruise is likely to be the most appealing cruise option. A cruise can be booked for half-day or full-day and really gives a great taste of what Halong Bay has without needing to stay on-board overnight.
A singe day-trip from Hanoi is an option with 3-4 hour cruise on the bay, but after the long drive from the city, this isn’t the best option. However, a more relaxed option is to book an overnight stay in a Halong City hotel, and rise early to fit in a full-day cruise on the delightful waters.
The overnight cruise is the most popular way to explore the emerald waters of Halong Bay. The one-night option is the most favoured choice. But, there is also the option to go with the longer cruise itineraries that last two or three nights. This gives more access to the bay and includes reaching the less visited and remote regions of the bay.
What is the preferred cruise length? Here is a more detailed look at the different cruise lengths
Most of the tours organized for Halong Bay start with a day-trip from Hanoi. The trips start early in the day with a 4 hour journey to reach the bay. This leaves enough time for a half-day cruise to explore the fascinating scenery. The return trip to the city will take place in the evening. The day cruise is a practical choice for the travellers on the Vietnam family tour with limited time, but it doesn’t give the leisurely and relaxed pace that most would prefer.
For most travellers, the one-night cruise is the most popular option. It gives more time to explore the bay without feeling rushed, but still won’t take up too much of your travel time for exploring other regions of Vietnam. Most of the overnight cruises start midday, this leaves more time for the leisurely travel from Hanoi. The atmosphere on board is relaxed and lunch is served shortly after starting the trip. The cruise on a traditional junk-style boat includes regular stops in the afternoon to see floating villages, beaches, and caves out in the bay. The trip finishes about 11am the next day.
The two-night cruise is a nice choice if time allows on the travel itinerary. It gives the time to explore further into the bay, while also leaving the crowds behind. The longer travel time is great to appreciate the full beauty of the bay while giving more time to explore the quiet coves, as well as more free time for swimming and kayaking. This type of cruise can include transferring to a small day boat to explore the less-visited corners of the bay, and return to the main ship in the evening.
The three-night cruise is intended to explore the distant corners of Halong Bay and practical for the most enthusiastic cruise connoisseur.
What is the best time?
A cruise on the beautiful waters of Halong Bay is possible throughout the year.
In the winter (Dec-Jan) there isn’t likely to be much rainfall, but the temperature is quite cool at 15° to 20° C, so warm clothes is advised and activities like swimming aren’t practical. But, it does have the positives of fewer visitors and low risk of cancellation.
A great time to be on the water is the spring (Feb-Apr). The weather is warming up nicely with lots of sun to give time on the sundeck to relax or go for a swim. But, this is a very busy time with plenty of other tourists and boats around.
The summer months (May-Aug) can start to get quite stifling weather wise in this part of Vietnam, but you do get to benefit from a gentle sea breeze out on the bay. This time of year is the rainiest and has the risk of the occasional heavy, short showers. The warm temperature is great for relaxing, kayaking and swimming.
Later in the year when autumn arrives (Sept-Nov) the temperature is quite pleasant with low rainfall – but there is still a risk of storms. A great positive at this time is the bay being relatively uncrowded (Halong is never completely quiet).
Types of cruise ships
The ships out on Halong Bay differ widely in relation to standards, sizes and styles. The cruising options organized by the Vietnam travel agents are based on budgets and tastes. Most cruise ships include meals and drinks, but the quality of the package varies by boat.
The traditional junk-style boat is the most popular on Halong Bay. This type of boat can range in size from a large boat with 20+ cabins to the more private and romantic one-cabin vessels. Also, the range of amenities can range from the exclusive and luxurious to the more basic or mid-range. The high-end vessels are better equipped with larger cabins, en-suite bathrooms and private balconies.
Beyond the junk-style boat, the other options include the traditional paddle steamers and modern luxury vessels.
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