Thinking of booking a Halong Bay cruise from Hanoi? You’re in good company because Halong Bay is Vietnam’s third most popular destination, just behind the capital of Hanoi and the vibrant metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (also known as “Saigon”).

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its nearly 2,000 jungle-covered karst islands surrounded by emerald green water, Halong Bay is a true “bucket list” destination. And because the bay covers an area of more than 1,500 sq km, most visitors will book a cruise for a chance to see the highlights of Halong Bay.

Recent developments have made it easier to travel to Halong Bay, including the opening of the Ha Long – Hai Phong Expressway in September 2018, shaving 30 minutes or more off the travel time between Hanoi and Halong, as well as the Van Don International Airport in late 2018 allowing visitors to fly directly to Halong Bay.

However, the vast majority of travelers still travel to Halong Bay as an add-on to a visit to Hanoi. Here are our top tips for booking a Hanoi to Halong Bay tour.

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1) How long should your cruise be?

Day cruise option: For those on a limited schedule who still want to see the bay in 4-6 hours, there is a day cruise option. Day cruises can be booked on a private or join-in basis and typically leave just before noon and return to Tuan Chau Marina in the late afternoon.

If that’s all the time you can spare, day cruises offer a tantalizing glimpse of the majesty of Halong Bay, although day cruise boats tend to be more on the basic side compared to larger overnight ships.

One-night cruise: Overnight cruises are the most popular option, allowing you to spend a full 24 hours on the bay, taking in both sunset and sunrise.

The two-day, one-night cruise option also allows you to undertake a few shore excursions (typically a visit to one of the many caves in Halong Bay, a floating pearl farm, and an island, usually Titov) along with several activities, like kayaking around the pearl farm or swimming or hiking on one of the islands.

However, the popularity of this itinerary length combined with only five government-outlined routes in the bay means that most of the boats will be bunched together, stopping at the same places at roughly the same time.

Two-night cruises: If you can spare the time, two-night cruises allow you to see more of the sights, including lesser-visited caves and enjoy more activities with fewer people around.

As most of the boats make their way back to the marina, you’re left with some of the sites all to yourself which can be delightful, seeing as 10 million people visit Halong every year.

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2) When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?

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There is really no right or wrong answer to this question, as each season has its own pros and cons.

Spring: The weather tends to be best in spring with lots of temperate days with dry weather. The drawback is that spring is high season for domestic travel as it includes several major Vietnamese holidays, including Lunar New Year and Reunification Day.

Summer: Summer in Halong brings with it high temperatures and the beginning of the rainy season. However, if you enjoy water sports, it’s ideal for swimming and kayaking.

Autumn: Autumn is low season when it comes to travel in the bay, however, expect to deal with very rough weather, including rain and storms, leading to the possibility of cancelling smaller boats.

Winter: Colder temperatures, especially on the water. Winter usually brings early morning fog, but the payoff is that there are fewer tourists around and the morning mist can make for some dramatic photos.

3) What is your budget for your Halong Bay cruise?

On the very lowest end, budget overnight cruises can start from as little as USD 60-70 per person but it’s very much a case of you get what you pay for.

For that price, expect the ship to be “rustic” at best, with the savings reflected in the quality of the food and having to pay extra for certain activities which are typically included in most other mid-range cruises.

When it comes to mid-range and luxury cruises, prices can range from USD 100 up to USD 400 per person, depending on how luxurious the ship is, what amenities it has, and what’s included in the cruise.

While the cruise rates can seem expensive, you’ll also need to remember that they typically include the government-mandated entrance fee to Halong Bay which is USD 13 per person for a day cruise and USD 25 for an overnight cruise.

That fee allows you to visit multiple sites in the bay. Gone are the days where visitors purchased individual tickets for each attraction.

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4) What does your cruise rate include?

Because competition among companies offering Halong Bay cruises from Hanoi is fierce, some companies may try to make their prices appear low by not including certain components.

To find out the true cost of an itinerary to you, you should ask:

• Does the rate include transfers between Hanoi and Halong Bay? This is usually by shuttle van / bus or private car.
• Are meals included (especially aboard day-only cruises)?
• What drinks are included with meals, if any?
• What activities are included? Some common ones include fishing from the boat, kayaking, and other water sports.

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You should also carefully consider the itinerary. If it includes a lot of stops or activities you aren’t interested in, you’re actually paying for services you won’t be using.

It’s better to research itineraries that match your traveling style, whether that be something more adventurous, relaxing, family-friendly, or romantic.

Once you narrow your search down to a few ships and itineraries that meet your needs, it’s time to check prices using third-party websites, travel agencies, or booking directly.

Modeled after a turn-of-the-century paddle steamer, 4-star Emeraude Classic Cruises offer a unique Halong Bay experience in vintage style aboard our 1- or 2-night cruises.

With a maximum of only 80 passengers per sailing, the ship feels both intimate and spacious, and our itineraries are packed with things to do and see both on and off the ship, allowing you to do as much or as little as you like.

In addition to the regular shore excursions visiting caves, islands and attractions, the Emeraude also offers engaging cooking demonstrations, a refined afternoon break of freshly-made crepes on the sundeck, early morning yoga, and more. And of course, our seafood BBQs and gourmet buffet offerings are hands-down some of the best you’ll find anywhere on the bay.