How to Choose Which Halong Bay Cruise Is Right For You!
Choosing the best Halong Bay cruise to take can be a long and tedious process. There are hundreds of different ships, several departure points, and even different routes. This page will break down a few of the most important things to consider before booking your cruise and help guide you to the best option possible.
How to get to Halong Bay
The first thing to consider is how you are wanting to get to the departure point.
Pretty much every cruise company will offer a shuttle bus that can take you and up to 50 others to the port. This is the best option if you are on a budget or don't care about starting off your journey with others. This option is usually built into the price as 80% of people will get to the ocean this way. The biggest downside is that the bus will stop a ton of times to pick people up in Hanoi and will do a stop on the way so it will be the longest option.
Limo Bus/ VIP Vans
Next up you can take a limo bus. There is a more luxurious option and fits about 20 people meaning it will get you to the bay quicker and with fewer headaches. The travel agency you book through will happily book this option for you.
There are also smaller VIP vans that will take you and 8 or so other people. The vehicle may be a similar size to the limo bus but it will have half the amount of people and include luxurious seating, TVs, wifi, and more.
The final option is to take a private vehicle to the bay. They will likely cost about 60USD/way (for up to 4 people) but will be the best option if you are wanting to go on your own schedule. As the cruises leave at about noon, the other options will leave anywhere from 7-8:30 AM while you can probably get away with leaving Hanoi at 9 AM if you take the private vehicle option.
Halong Bay VS Lan Ha Bay VS Bai Tu Long Bay
Halong Bay is technically comprised of 3 different bays that all make up the amazing UNESCO site that has become world-famous. Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay are the three bays each leading to different advantages and disadvantages. Halong Bay is by far the most popular but is also the easiest to access and likely the cheapest option. It is also suitable for people going for just the day trip (highly suggest to avoid) and overnight cruises. The top sites you visit are pretty cool but busy season will mean hundreds of boats passing by somewhat limiting the beauty of the spot.
Lan Ha Bay is the next most popular option and can be accessed from 2 ways. The first is to make the trip out to Cat Ba Island and either do a day trip or overnight cruise from Cat Ba Town. The 3-hour journey on to the island is easy and Cat Ba, in general, is highly highly recommended. You can also do a 2-night cruise through Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay but it can become a little more challenging and less relaxing. Rules dictate that you cannot sleep on the boat in both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay so the majority of cruises will follow the normal Halong Bay route for the first night. Then you will have to change to a smaller boat which will take you to a private island with bungalows or hotels set up. This option is a lot less relaxing than all the others but allows you to see the top sites in both bays.
Bai Tu Long Bay is the least popular and is just developing its routes. This means that the scenery is unspoiled allowing you to truly take in your surroundings. As it is more unique and way less commercial, it is the most expensive option and you should have 2 nights/3 days to explore the bay. Because of these reasons, its exclusivity is its major draw.
How to book a Halong Bay Cruise
There are 2 main ways for you to book your Halong Bay cruise. If you are in Hanoi already then pop into several different travel agencies and see what they have to offer. They are there to help you and can guide you through the different boats. Each company will have its preferred companies (likely the one that offers the best commission) so check out a couple and take a look at their online reviews before booking. Bargaining is also really important as you can probably bring the price down about 15% by not taking their word. If you cant get the price down, see if you can get any extras like a second-floor room with balcony, corner suite, or even wine and fruit in the room. It's these little things that make your cruise just a bit better!
If you are not in Hanoi yet and want to book your cruise, you can do so on Agoda or Booking.com as well as many other OTA's. The problem with these is that you have no ability to bargain or request extras. You also have no one to contact if something goes wrong like getting sick, missing your flight into Hanoi, or even if weather cancels your cruise. Many of the travel agencies will happily move your reservation to a day or two later if you can give them a few days' notice. Also, be very careful about what they include. I often see them being offered for a lower price on Agoda but not having the transfer to the port included. This will almost undoubtedly make the final price higher and cause more issues as there are more moving parts.
How much does a cruise cost?
There is no set cost for a Halong Bay cruise as there are hundreds of different companies offering every level of service quality. The chart below helps to break down the basics of what each star will provide. It is not a guaranteed breakdown and the season does cause the price to fluctuate but it will give you an idea of what you are in for. The pricing is also for the most basic rooms meaning if you go for the best room on a 2.5* cruise it may be higher then the worst room on a 4*
2.5⭐ - 90USD/person
- Accommodations will likely have just a window and no balcony. It may even have the walkway in front of your window
3⭐ - 100USD/person
- Average Food, Decent accommodations, midlevel bus, May have floor-to-ceiling windows.
3.5⭐ - 120USD/person
- Better food, more seafood, and likely a private balcony
4⭐ - 135USD/person
- Good Food, rooms may have a bathtub and likely has a balcony
4.5⭐ - 170USD/person
- Great Food, lots of seafood, wine included, bathtubs in a standard room, and likely has a large balcony. Luxury minibus to get you to Halong Bay.
5⭐ - 220USD/person
- Excellent food, fresh seafood, wine included, bathtubs/ or glass-fronted showers, balcony, private vehicle transfer