Ha-Long Bay cruises are the highlight of any trip to Vietnam. Ha-long Bay and nearby Bai-Tu Long Bay are a UNESCO World Heritage site that cannot be missed if you’re visiting the north of Vietnam. It features towering limestone cliffs, hidden coves and caves, floating fishing villages of loals who have made the bay their home and impressive sunsets. What’s more, the weather is pretty good year-round so you can visit at any time.
The meaning of ‘Halong Bay’ is ‘descending dragon’ and as its name suggests, it’s a mysterious but enchanting place that has seen hundreds of years of occupation, invasions and transitions. Today, it welcomes over 6 million tourists a year!
In our opinion, the best way to see Ha-long Bay is on a traditional Chinese Junker boat. Sail the calm bay and explore hidden caves during the day, before enjoying dinner under the stars on an evening and sleep in a quiet spot of the bay.
With over 100 cruises to choose from in the area, it can be tough to make a decision! We’ve put together a recommendation guide for every budget, showing the best cruises based on traveller reviews and our own experience. The good news is that most cruise itineraries are very similar depending on how many nights you choose to sail, meaning your only consideration is budget, level of luxury you want and ship reviews.
Sample cruise itineraries:
2 days 1 night
- Pickup from your hotel in Hanoi and transfer to Halong docks
- On-boarding and sailing the bay whilst having lunch
- Cave exploration
- Dinner on deck, socialising and drinks
- Early morning Tai Chi
- Breakfast on deck
- Fishing Village visit
- Lunch and a slow sail back to the mainland
- Water puppet show stop off on the way back to Hanoi
3 days 2 nights:
The longer, 2-night cruise is the same as above but with an additional day of exploring the bay. This could include more adventurous cave visits, swimming in hidden lagoons, snorkelling and a beach BBQ. The specifics all depend on the cruise itinerary you pick but all are very similar.
What type of experience are you looking for? Our recommendations:
Dragon Legend by Indochina Junk
Price (per person): ~£170 on average for 1 night, 2 days
The Dragon Legend is one of the newer cruise boats in the Halong area and is visually stunning. This large ship is operated by Indochina Junk, one of the most popular and reputable cruise companies on the bay. They have lots of other boats but the Dragon Legend is their newest and most impressive. On board you’ll find spacious, luxurious cabins, traditional Chinese décor and detail, a hot tub, spa, fitness centre and fine dining restaurant where you’ll enjoy multiple course meals throughout the day. In our opinion, one of the best things about this cruise was the friendliness and attentiveness of the crew. The Legend’s itinerary spans Bai Tu Long Bay, a less populated route to Ha Long Bay but just as nice and definitely less touristy.
If you’re looking for a cheaper luxury cruise with a similar itinerary but just as good service and organisation, Indochina have a number of other smaller boats. We found the Dragon Pearl to be excellent. View all of their cruises here.
Price (per person): ~£150 on average for 1 night, 2 days
Just like the Dragon Legend the Bhaya Classic boats radiate luxury. The boats are smaller and accommodate less people, however the rooms, restaurant and on-board relaxation areas are finely furnished with excellent attention to detail and the crew are there to ensure that you enjoy your trip. The Bhaya Classic suits those who want a smaller and more intimate cruise with added benefits such as fine dining, a spa and on and off-deck activities. It’s excellent for couples of all ages and families. The Bhaya’s main route is to the southwest region of Halong Bay, however it also offers more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ Bai Tu Long Bay and Cat Ba Island routes.
Price (per person): ~£160 on average for 1 night, 2 days
The Orchid is another cruise Junker in which the staff go out of their way to make sure you have a great trip. Aboard the Orchid you’ll find an ornate Indo-china themed interior, comfortable rooms where you can enjoy a bath whilst looking out at Halong Bay and an abundance of food to enjoy throughout your trip. The Orchid has 1 night and 2 night itineraries, or there’s a day trip for those who aren’t staying in the area for long. The cruise takes you to caves, beaches and between the towering limestone cliffs Halong is famous for, however you’ll also enjoy kayaking, squid fishing, Tai Chi, a cooking class and swimming alongside the boat. A spa is also on-board if you’d prefer to relax and look out at the bay whilst sipping on a cocktail.
Price (per person): ~£80 on average for 1 night, 2 days
At the $100 mark, the oriental sails cruise is excellent value. It’s significantly lower priced than many of the luxury cruise options but has excellent service and you get to see all of the same sights and excursions. Rooms are small but clean and comfortable and the range of food on offer is delicious. One of the best things about this boat is the small size. Having a less crowded vessel to explore the bay means that you can relax and meet new people as you go on excursions together. Oriental Sails tends to attract a younger crowd of 20 – 30 due to the good value for money; however you’ll also find older couples and families/friends. The ‘mid-range’ price bracket has plenty of cruises to choose from but Oriental Sails definitely rises out from the competition – see the reviews for yourself!
Oasis Bay Party Cruise
Price (per person): ~£100 on average for 1 night, 2 days
Oasis Bay Party Cruise is the best party Halong cruise by far and its reviews reflect that. Unlike many of the other party boats that cater to young travellers, the Oasis Bay has a touch of luxury. It’s a large, quality furnished boat. Its itineraries focus on being fun, giving its guests a full day of water sports and swimming in the bay, followed by a lavish on-deck party on the evening until the late hours and then returning to the harbour the next day (if you opt for the 1-night cruise). Longer 2 night and 5 night cruises are also available, where you’ll see more of the bay, including islands and sports, a cooking class and plenty of parties.
There are many other booze boats and party cruises at cheaper prices but check the reviews before you book. A lot of them aren’t rated very highly and we’d definitely recommend splashing out on a better-quality cruise to see this amazing bay.
Cheap but excellent
Price (per person): ~£35 on average for a 1 day cruise (no overnight stay)
If you’re on a budget but want to see Halong Bay in all its beauty, a one day cruise is a perfect option. Vspirit is the way to go! This cruise boat picks you up late morning after you arrive in Halong marina from Hanoi. You’ll enjoy lunch on deck whilst sailing away between the gigantic rock faces that Halong is famous for, with great views of the bay. The afternoon itinerary takes you to a fishing village to see how the locals of the bay live and work and you’ll stop by one of the many caves of Halong before heading back to the marina.
Although we do recommend staying overnight on boat if you can, Halong Bay is a must-see and if you’re short on time or on a shoe-string budget, a one-day trip is ideal. You may even want to combine your one day cruise with a trip to the nearby island of Cat Ba if you prefer beach relaxation over sailing the seas.
The prices listed above are all averages and can vary a lot depending on how busy the cruise is; demand will peak at certain points in the summer, notably the summer and September to November. As spaces are very limited and the above cruises are very popular, make sure you book as far in advance as possible to secure a place. Many of the cruise operators we’ve mentioned also offer promotional discounts for booking in advance. Speak directly to the operator to see what type of deal you can negotiate.
Top tips for booking your Ha-long Bay cruise:
- In our experience, the best place to book your Halong Bay cruise is directly through the cruise company. You can do this directly on their website or via email. Booking directly you can negotiate prices, request room upgrades among other things to make your trip extra special.
- Book as far in advance as possible. The highly rated and popular cruises sell out fast so you’ll pay more if you leave it until the last minute. Booking further in advance gives you access to special promotional rates and more room for negotiating a package with the tour operator.
- Many people book Halong cruises as special occasions. Newlyweds and anniversary celebrations are common. If you have any special occasion on the horizon, be sure to mention this to the tour operator before you arrive for extra special treatment.
- Many of the tours include transfers from Hanoi within the price. Rather than booking your own transfer, take advantage of this to save money.
- If you’re debating whether to do a 1 night or 2 night cruise and money or time isn’t an issue, definitely go for the 2 night! The full 3 days will allow you to get a better appreciation of the beauty of the bay.