Booking a cruise that you are going to enjoy is essential for having a great time in Halong Bay. Duh. This article is going to show you how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise by getting what you pay for.
How to Choose the Best Halong Bay Cruise
For some bizarre reason, when you look at the available cruises online, there are only about 3 which show up. Do not let this fool you into thinking you have limited options, because you don’t.
Unfortunately for us, we were unaware of this and after researching online believed that we only had 2 choices: either a very busy and loud looking party boat, or an elderly looking cruise.
As a travelling couple, we love to meet new people, go out and enjoy ourselves but we do have limits. We definitely don’t want to end up on a boat playing sex games as it would put ourselves into a rather awkward situation.
After having failed massively at this one, we spoke to a few companies and other people around to find out:
- Why the hell these cruises don’t advertise their services online
- Where someone can find an appropriate cruise
Number 1 is still unanswered and quite frankly baffles me. We are well-travelled and were under the impression that these were our only options. Imagine people who are less experienced, they’ll all be booking onto the 2 tours that have websites, while everyone else loses out on business. I don’t get it?
Anyway, more importantly, let’s focus on number 2 as that’s why you’re here.
How to Choose the Best Halong Bay Cruise
TIP! Do not book your tour online in advance
If there is one piece of advice I can give you about booking onto a cruise, it is to wait. Once you get to Vietnam there are SO many options, to suit all budgets. Most hotels and hostels around Hanoi and Cat Ba island offer tours around Halong Bay, both day trips and overnight cruises. If you wander down the street there are also tons of travel companies offering you the same deals. Each company is competing with the next meaning there is room for negotiation. Bonus!
We went with Flamingo Cruises as we opted for the ‘elderly’ tour. It was a luxurious cruise, with 5 course meals and the comfiest bed in the world! It turned out it was ridiculously overpriced however, but we didn’t realise just how much until we were in Vietnam itself.
Once you are there, it is way easier to compare prices, to speak to people, and figure out what it is that you want to see.
Do you want to sleep out on the water or are you okay with a day trip?
Although I hate to speak about it now (sore subject haha!) we paid around $200+ each for a night on a boat there, which is insane. We didn’t realise just how far $200 could get us in Vietnam, until we ate out one night for 87cent!!
We later found out we could have been on a similar cruise (probably one that would have suited us better too) for around $70. Speaking about this gets my blood boiling grrr!
My point is: SHOP AROUND. Do not book anything online, and bargain with travel companies once you are in Hanoi!
How to Choose the Best Halong Bay Cruise – Overnight Cruise or Day Trip?
Halong Bay is located 3 hours East of Hanoi City, and just one hour from Cat Ba Island meaning it is easily accessible.
Honestly in my opinion, the overnight boat is not worth the money. Companies can charge more than triple the amount of a day tour for you to stay the night. By the time you get on board and arrive in the bay, you end up being on the boat less than 24 hours.
Despite your quick stay, you are still charged for a 2 day/1-night trip, when realistically that’s not what you’re getting.
Each tour company is the same, as all the boats depart from the harbour at the same time: 12 noon and return at 11am the following day. That’s an allocated 23 hours on the boat.
After running through the safety procedures and welcome chat, we departed the harbour around 1pm. We already lost an hour before we even set off, so we’re now down to 22 hours.
Each overnight tour includes a sail through the bay, a visit to the caves and an optional kayak tour. I believe the day trips offer the same, meaning you won’t miss out on anything if you don’t stay the night.
Personally, I believe the day trips are the better option.
If you think about it this way; you have 22 hours on the boat. For 7-8 of those hours you are sleeping, so you are now left with 14 hours. Around 3 hours are spent eating your 5-course meals on board (there is A LOT of food!), meaning you aren’t taking in the views of Halong Bay. In total, you are left with around 11 hours of actual travel/exploring time.
The day trips are between 6-8 hours, and are A THIRD of the price of an overnight cruise.
You do the maths… 🙂
The Best Way to Do a Day Trip to Halong Bay!
Okay, so I’ve managed to convince you to do a day trip instead of an overnight cruise, but what’s the best way to do it?
Hanoi is a 3-hour drive away, meaning you’d have a 6-hour round-trip. Eww.
Luckily for you, Cat Ba Island is just a 1-hour boat ride away. And a beautiful one may I add.
One suggestion is to head to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi City the day before and spend the night there. Several tour companies in Hanoi City offer a return bus service to Cat Ba and back for a good price. The buses are run by individual companies so they are clean, and comfortable.
There are plenty of tours on Cat Ba Island offering day trips to Halong Bay on a cruise that departs from the island itself. Once you are back, you could head back on the bus to Hanoi City which you previously organised.
This way, it is less rushed, you get to see Cat Ba Island, and you also save yourself tons of pennies!
Visiting Halong Bay
At the end of the day, our tour was ruined by the fact that we were with people we had nothing in common with. We were the youngest people on the boat, and although we tried extremely hard, we just couldn’t make it work.
Despite the company, the tour itself was great. We had 5 course lunch, dinner, breakfast and brunch the following day. Literally, there was endless amount of food.
We sailed through breathtaking landscapes, kayaked out on the water while the sun went down. We ventured through caves, visited a beach and woke up to participate in Tai Chi at sunrise on the deck. Visiting Halong Bay is a must do if you are in the north of Vietnam, you’d be silly to miss it!
If you are going to the North of Vietnam, then you should check out this blog post: 5 Things to Do in Hanoi