Ha Long Bay, which is literally translated as “Bay of the Descending Dragons” has mesmerised millions of tourists all over the world with its magical landscapes formed by thousands of picturesque limestone pillars covered in jungle vegetation, enormous caves, secluded beaches, floating villages and natural beauty.
There are over 1900 islands and islets in Ha Long Bay, most of which are uninhabited. Sure, Ha Long Bay is full of tourists, but we’re all there for a reason, it’s simply magnificent.
I wonder how many photos we can take of rocks? A lot apparently…
Our Experience in Halong Bay
What makes a good friendship? When you can leave one another for an extended period of time, reunite and pick right back up where you left off. That’s the beauty of a solid friendship.
Every so often we get the opportunity to travel with friends and this time around we were so excited to have 2 of our best friends from NYC joining us in Halong Bay. It had been a long time apart but from the moment we got together, it was as if no time had passed. Not to mention we were reunited at one of the most incredible sights in the world, it didn’t feel real.
We left Hanoi in our “luxury vehicle” and spent the entire 4 hours To Ha Long Bay catching up over many stories, laughs and memories. We knew we were in for a treat when we booked Signature Cruise but we had no idea how luxurious it would really be.
We were shown to our cabins and were immediately taken back by the beauty of these rooms. How amazing is this? Floor to ceiling windows, a comfortable bed, a jacuzzi, a warming toilet seat (with 3 different touches of warmth!), a private balcony, mini bar, fresh fruit, slippers, dressing gowns, a king chair and did we mention the size of the room? Huge! I think we can deal with this…
The rest of the ship was just as beautiful and the attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed. It’s great to go fancy every so often!
Activities on Halong Bay
Each boat has a planned schedule to follow, but it was made very clear at the beginning you didn’t have to do anything should you wish to just relax on board. We felt there was plenty of free time in between the planned activities and actually liked doing what was offered.
During the course of the 3 days, we visited the Vung Vieng Fishing Village (located in Bai Tu Long Bay) to see the how the local people of Ha Long Bay live, as well as their floating houses. This idyllic scene really shows the traditional character of the locals living here. Their houses perched upon wooden beams was simply fascinating. There is only one elementary school in the area so children at Vung Vieng only attend school in the first few years and then it is up to the parent’s discretion if they join a school on the mainland or continue living in the village without the use of higher education.
We stopped by the oyster pearl farm, we took part in a cooking demonstration to make spring rolls, relaxed on the boat deck, swam and kayaked in the Cong Dam Area and explored the Thien Canh Son Cave: a wild and mysterious beauty in the middle of the World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the only activity we couldn’t do was the Tai Chi at sunrise. I wish we could have done it but unfortunately, the weather gods had other ideas.
Apart from a rainy homecoming day on day 3, we wouldn’t change a thing about our cruise and I’m so thankful we could do it alongside two of the most incredible friends.
Tasty Food on Board
On board Signature Cruise, you won’t go hungry. 5-course meals 2x a day, plus a buffet breakfast. There’s definitely no need to pack any snacks aboard this ship. Just when you think your meal is over, another plate is brought out. Noodles, rice, chicken, seafood, salads, cakes, fruits, you name it and they most likely had it… except ice cream, there was no ice cream for 3 days and I’m almost positive we were having withdrawals. If that’s even possible?
Nevertheless, by the evening we were distracted by the happy hour. 2 for 1 drinks (including bottles of wine!) from 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm. Drinking champagne on the roof deck, with this company, during sunset was gorgeous, surreal and downright perfect. We’ll take that over no ice cream any day.
How To Choose The Best Halong Bay Cruise
There are hundreds of boat companies running these trips and they range from exceptionally budget to luxurious.
If there is one piece of advice we can give you, don’t skimp out on this experience. You get what you pay for. The budget boats are a budget cost for a reason and whilst 9/10 they are ok, is it really worth the risk? Safety regulations, poor sleeping conditions, terrible food hygiene. This doesn’t sound like a great vacation does it? We promise it’ll be worth the extra $$.
Here are some recommended companies that we narrowed our selection down to:
- Signature Cruise (who we went with) $300 USD p.p for 3 days/2 nights and private transfers to and from Hanoi in a luxury van.
- Viola Cruise
- Paradise Luxury Cruise
- Bhaya Cruise
- Castaway Tour (backpacker party cruise)
When to go to Halong Bay?
Whilst Halong Bay can be visited year round, there are certainly busier times than others. Here is a brief breakdown of the 4 seasons.
- Spring (March, April) and Fall (September, October) are considered the best times to visit Halong bay due to the calm seas, moderate to cool temperatures and dry atmosphere.
- Winter (December, January, February ) is busy due to the Christmas & New Year although this is the coldest time of the year and water temperatures can be chilly for swimming, however, the weather is dry.
- Summer (May – September) – The hottest time of the year with temperatures hitting high 30’s. During this time, there are fewer international tourists but a lot of domestic tourists. We took our cruise in June and fortunately had fairly decent weather. Be prepared that during these months, trips can be cancelled or shortened due to storms and heavy rain.
How Long to Cruise For?
There are three types of cruise tours operating in Halong Bay and this (obviously) depends on your schedule and how much time you can allow in your itinerary.
- Day trip cruises
- 2 Day 1 Night Cruise
- 3 Day 2 Nights Cruise
- Day trips (in our opinion) are a waste of time. 8 hours round trip in a car (if you’re coming from Hanoi). No thanks. These trips are provided just to give you a taste of Ha Long Bay but are just a tease! Once you get there, you won’t want to leave. Ultimately, these trips will be rushed and you won’t get to experience Ha Long Bay-like you should.
- 2/3 Day Cruises gives you more than just a taste. Extending to at least one overnight allows more time to really enjoy the scenery, take full advantage of the activities, kayak to small secluded beaches, and most importantly, wake up to one hell of a sight!
- 3-Day Cruises are recommended for people looking to really unwind and explore more remote areas of the bay. If you do the 3D/2N cruises (which you should FYI), please note that one of your days is spent on a day boat which is simply a smaller version of your main boat. You return to the main boat by early afternoon after you spend some time kayaking, swimming and exploring bays further out of the way.
So what are your priorities? Just tick the box or really experience Ha Long Bay? The longer you stay, the more chance you have of taking in the incredible scenery before you. You’ve made it this far! Come on 🙂
Top Tips for Halong Bay
- Make sure to read the whole itinerary to ensure you have what you want to include is there, such as transfers from Hanoi, included food, cooking demonstrations, use of kayaks etc.
- If you visit in the off-season (May to September), keep a lookout for deals.
- Try and take a cruise that visits Bai Tu Long Bay. It’s a little further away from the all the other boats, especially in high season.
- Take the 3D/2N trip. That extra day is so worth it.
- Don’t take the cheapest boat you can find. We all like to save money at times but sometimes it’s worth the little extra cost.
- Avoid taking a day trip from Hanoi. It isn’t worth your time.
- Bring a good book and plenty of sunscreen.
Where to next?
If you have the chance after your cruise, it is absolutely worth checking out Ninh Binh which is just 2 hours south of Hanoi. This was one of our favourite places to visit out of the whole month we spent in Vietnam. Want to hear more about it? Read our Ninh Binh guide and see how awesome this place is for yourself!
Married Days Survived: 842