15 Essential Tips Before You Go On a Cruise in Halong Bay

If you’re planning that Dream Vacation and wondering if you should add a cruise in Halong Bay to your Vietnam itinerary you’ve come to the right place! Here you will find 15 tips you must know before you go cruising in Halong Bay.

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous destinations in Vietnam, attracting thousands of visitors every year. The beauty of the placid waters and the vegetation-covered limestone karsts make this a unique experience of nature at its best. The opportunity to sail on a junk ship through hundreds of dramatic limestone mountains sticking up from a deep turquoise sea. And there is only one way to visit this World Wonder, by a cruise ship!

This guide is packed with insider tips that will help you to make your experience as memorable as mine. Plus, here you will find all the helpful information you should know before going on a Halong Bay cruise, including whether a Halong Bay cruise is ethical. So, without any further ado, let’s dive into this guide.

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Halong Bay Cruises Overnight

15 Tips Before You Go Cruise in Halong Bay

1. Is it worth it to go to Halong Bay?

Halong Bay is the most visited place in Vietnam and every year millions of people come here, and for a reason. The opportunity to sail on a junk ship through hundreds of dramatic limestone mountains isn’t something to be missed. There are so many karst islands and rocks rising from the water in every direction that it looks mystic. There are caves, secret lagoons, sea gypsies, and approximately 1,900 islands and islets that will just take your breath away. For this reason, the only way to visit Halong Bay is by boat.

The views are stunning and this place is really unique with all the limestone formations coming out of the calm turquoise water. It’s definitely a worthwhile place to visit, especially if you’re visiting at a low season time of the year. Halong Bay is one of the most fascinating places you can visit in Vietnam, and its unique limestone formations rising from the waters makes this place so magical.

I think your experience will vary tremendously based on the areas you visit, the time of the year you go, the number of days you have, and the type of tour you book. This guide will help to answer all the questions you may have, so you can make the most of your Halong Bay cruise!

Halong Bay breathtaking view

2. How to choose the best Halong Bay Cruise for you?

You can choose from over 500 licensed junk boats to cruise on, and there are options for every pocket. The junk boats can be very simple to super luxurious, and don’t forget the simple rule just like anything else: you get what you pay for. The higher the price, the better quality and experience you will have. 

I did extensive research before I decided on which cruise to choose, and I booked the Le Journey Cruise. I made my choice by reading a lot of reviews and looking at photos of the rooms. Also, as a smaller boat with only 16 cabins, I wouldn’t have to deal with the crowds, and they are a reputable and ethical tour company.

The staff does a phenomenal job of taking care of the hosts, as they are fun and extremely helpful. Cruising at Halong Bay was certainly the highlight of my trip to Vietnam.

I chose the 3 days 2 nights overnight cruise, and it allowed me to see more of the magnificent Halong Bay.

You can choose from a 1-day cruise up to 5 days and 4 nights. I think your experience will vary tremendously based on the areas you visit and the type of tour you book, so choose your cruise company wisely.

Junk Boat on Halong Bay

3. What is the difference between Halong Bay Overnight Cruise vs. a Day Cruise?

There are two different ways to explore Halong Bay – you can either head out on a day cruise or stay in the bay overnight. For the best experience, I recommend the latter as you’ll get more time to appreciate the epic scenery!

However, let’s take a look at both so you’ve got a good idea. First of all, you’ll find plenty of Halong Bay day trips on offer and they are a great option if you’re short of time. Not only that, but they’re a much more affordable way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You’ll typically spend 10 to 12 hours cruising the bay and seeing some of the highlights. If you visit this way, you also won’t need to stay in Ha Long itself. This deluxe cruise full-day tour runs from Hanoi and visits some of the area’s most popular spots including Sung Sot Cave, Luon Cave, and Titov Island. You’ll also have a 45-minute kayaking or bamboo boat excursion included too!

If you have the time (and money) though you’ll definitely what to explore via an overnight cruise. Whether you opt for a 1, 2, or 3-night package is completely up to you, but you won’t be disappointed.

First of all overnight packages usually include all your meals, entrance fees, insurance, and shuttle transport (if needed). However, they offer so much more than that. Not only will you have more time in Halong Bay itself, but there will be a variety of awesome activities too.

The Ha Long Bay cruise I chose included a cooking class, Kayaking or a bamboo boat ride, and squid fishing (more on this below).

Row boat tour of Halong Bay

4. What to Expect from the Cruise Ship (or Junk Boat)?

There are plenty of cruise ships that you can choose from in Halong Bay. I opted for La Pinta Cruise as it’s a smaller boat with only 16 cabins, so I knew that I wouldn’t have to fight the crowds whilst trying to get around the ship. Not only that, but each cabin features its own private balcony!

There are four types of cabins to choose from at Le Journey Cruise; Deluxe Ocean View, Executive Ocean View, Suite, and Premium Family Connecting. The Deluxe Ocean View and Premium Family cabins are located on the first deck whilst the Executive Ocean View and La Pinta Suites are located on the second deck.

You’ve then got the upper deck which is the perfect place to relax and admire the views. Here, you’ll find sun loungers and a bar, so you can easily grab a drink and watch the sunset. La Pinta also has an onboard restaurant which is where all your meals will be served from! You’ll benefit from a shared lounge area too where you can just kick back and chill out.

As I touched upon in the last tip, overnight cruises like La Pinta often have a variety of activities on offer. This means you’ll never be bored as there’s always something to do!

Here is a list of activities you will find while you are on a cruise ship:

  • Enjoy the stunning views from your balcony
  • Cooking Class
  • Nighttime Squid Fishing
  • Sunrise Tai Chi at the deck
  • Bamboo Boat excursion
  • Kayaking
  • Swimming
Balcony in Junk Boat

5. What to Expect from the Cabin?

I boarded the boat around noon, and once on the junk boat in Vietnam, I was issued the room key and brought my handbag to the room. My luggage was delivered a short time later.

I really recommend you choose a cabin with a balcony. This was definitely the highlight of my 2-day overnight cruise in Halong Bay. Sit on your balcony to have an early morning coffee while you catch the incredible views. Or, watching the sunset while sipping my wine was priceless – well, it had a price..haha..but it was totally worth it!

I was in fact surprised with the size of the cabins, as it was more spacious than I expected. The cabin was very cozy, the bed was very comfortable, and the bathroom was actually huge, with a full shower and a jacuzzi with views!

The breathtaking view from my cabin balcony

6. What is the itinerary of the Halong Bay Cruise?

It depends if you choose a 1 or 2-day overnight on a Halong Bay Cruise. You can read what to do when you go on an overnight cruise in Halong Bay for more details of the itinerary. But basically, the cruises in Halong Bay follow a similar itinerary, and they offer pretty much the same activities on board.

The most popular route is visiting the floating villages, pearl farm, the Sung Sot Cave (or Surprise Cave), and Titop Island on the first day. On the second day of Halong Bay, the overnight cruises tend to visit the Luon Cave, where you will disembark the cruise, and go kayaking to visit some of the beaches in the area. But as you can imagine, these are also the most crowded areas to visit, and in some areas, the water is not as clear.

Here is a list of activities you will find that most of the Halong Bay Cruises offer:

  • Kayaking
  • Go swimming on the Halong Bay Beaches
  • Visit Halong Bay Beaches
  • Visit Halong Bay Caves
  • Visit floating fishing villages
  • Visit pearl farms
Cruise Tour
Passing by the floating fishing villages in Halong Bay
You will take a boat and visit the Surprise Cave in Halong Bay

7. How Much is the Halong Bay Cruise?

As far as price goes, it was the most expensive part of my trip to Vietnam, since I paid the price for a 4-star boat with a room with a balcony during the New Year. Prices vary from $50 to $2,000 per night. But you can find something that suits your budget since there are so many options. One caveat is that you will need to book well in advance if you want to spend a night on a boat.


8. How to Get to Halong Bay?

Halong Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, about 100 miles east of Hanoi. The transportation to and from the bay is included in your Halong Bay cruise ship package, and they will pick you up from your hotel at around 8:00 am. The ride takes approx. 4 hours and the roads are safe and very scenic.

Upon arrival at the Halong Bay pier, the main cruise companies have check-in facilities. They take your luggage and have a waiting area for departure. There are also a few options for buying food or drinks at the pier. If you want to bring some bottles on the cruise, you will need to buy them before getting to the pier.

9. When is the Best Time to go on a cruise in Halong Bay?

The peak season to visit Halong Bay tends to be between December and January. This tends to coincide with Christmas and New Year and is a popular time for holiday goers. The weather is also extremely pleasant as it’s not too hot and you won’t suffer from humidity at this time of year either.

However, during the high season, Halong can have more than 300 boats in the water. Of course with this high number of boats sharing the same location, it can be not only an environmental disaster but also, a safety concern.

The off-season in Halong Bay runs from May to September and is the best option for those on a budget. During this time, cruise companies offer huge sales on their cabins and you can sometimes save up to 40%. The area won’t be very crowded either which is always a bonus.

However, if you’re thinking of taking advantage of these low prices then avoid July and August if you can. During this time, Halong Bay can encounter sporadic hurricanes and storms and these can last between 3-4 days. If that’s the case, unfortunately, your trip may be delayed or canceled which just isn’t suitable for those on a tight timeframe.

The overall best time of the year to visit is between September to December, since you will have a greater chance of having clear skies, and it’s not as warm as the summertime, which can be as hot as 38°C (100F). If you head to Halong Bay at this time of year, you’ll benefit from decreased humidity, plenty of sunshine, and pleasant sea breezes.

Halong Bay Junk Boat Vietnam

10. The staff at the cruise ship is awesome!

One of the main reasons I chose La Pinta was because they’re known to be an ethical and reputable tour company. This is one of the key things you’ll want to think about choosing your cruise!

The staff on La Pinta were an absolute highlight of my cruise as they were lovely and willing to do anything for you! They’re all local and have been offered training to make them not only beneficial to the cruise itself but also more employable in terms of any other future opportunities.

Not only are the staff incredible, but you know you’re doing your part by choosing a tour that works to help the local community and area. I knew this by researching the company and reading through reviews, however, that’s not always so clear-cut.

If you’re not 100% sure about whether your company is ethical or sustainable, then there’s a surefire way to know! Although eco-tourism in this area is still developing, there are a couple of organizations that you can keep an eye out for. These include:

  • Travelife Sustainability System
  • The Responsible Travel Club of Vietnam (RTC) 
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

If a cruise company is associated or partnered with any of these organizations then you know they’re committed to sustainable travel.

11. The food at the Halong Bay cruise ship

If you’ve been to Vietnam before or you’re currently traveling through the country then you’ll know the cuisine is mouth-watering. Luckily, you won’t have to substitute this when you opt for an overnight tour as the onboard restaurants are often incredible.

The benefit to choosing an overnight trip is that generally your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are all included in the package. That means you won’t be subjected to any hidden or extra charges when it comes to food.

I chose the 3 days, 2 nights with Le Journey Cruise and you can take a look at the meal breakdown on their detailed itinerary. Throughout the trip, you’ll be treated to a fresh seafood lunch, traditional Vietnamese dishes, and some other favorites so you’ll never go hungry!

Although this will differ with every cruise company, there are a few things you can expect when it comes to the food onboard. Lunches are typically served buffet style so there will be plenty of dishes to choose from (including both Vietnamese and Western).

When it comes to dinner, the options will depend on which cruise company you choose. Some companies offer a set menu whereas others stick to the buffet-style setup. Select cruises will even offer a BBQ grill option which you’ll want to take advantage of!

Lastly, in terms of breakfast, you’ll often have traditional dishes on offer like Pho and Western-style options too. This can include a continental breakfast and fresh fruits, or more luxury options like smoked salmon and ham.

12. What are the other alternatives for Halong Bay?

There’s no denying that Halong Bay is beautiful and a must-visit. However, you’ll want to consider that the bay can be very overcrowded depending on the time of year you’re visiting.

For those heading here during the peak season, you’ll be sharing the area with plenty of other ships. This doesn’t exactly offer a peaceful and relaxing getaway.

If you’re looking for a less touristy area, Halong Bay is not the place to go! There are a couple of less crowded bays that I’d recommend instead:

Cat ba Island: Being the largest island in Halong Bay, this is a great place to start with. Due to its rugged beauty and largely untouched area, this place is starting to increase in popularity when it comes to tourism. However, it’s not as popular as Halong Bay and is more of a ‘wild location’. One of the main draws to this place is Cat Ba National Park which covers nearly 50% of the island.
Lan Ha Bay: For a less-touristy alternative then head to Lan Ha Bay. Like Halong, it’s made up of hundreds of emerald islands and still offers the same dramatic beauty. This bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin and is smaller and much less famous than its iconic neighbor. As well as a unique ecosystem, Lan Ha Bay offers a much quieter experience and is home to plenty of undisturbed beaches and fun hiking routes.
Bai To Long: This is one of the largest bays in Halong Bay and it’s home to hundreds of beautiful islands. Some of these are completely unfrequented by visitors making it a great option if you’d prefer somewhere a bit quieter. The bay is relatively undeveloped when it comes to tourists, and as it doesn’t receive the same amount of visitors – the pollution here is very low too!
Kayak view ethical tour in Halong Bay

13. What to pack when you go cruise in Halong Bay?

  • Comfortable clothes: gym attire can be a good choice
  • Clothes for the evening: Jeans and t-shirts for men and a cute summer dress and sandals for women
  • Swimsuit and cover-up: If you will go on a kayak, swim and visit the islands
  • Rain Jacket: Depending on the time of the year, you can get rainy weather in Vietnam
  • Tennis Shoes: I recommend wearing sturdy shoes if you are planning to visit all the caves and climb up to the top of the hills in Halong Bay
  • Water bottle: It is always handy to bring your own, especially with a filter
Junk Boat Vietnam

14. Is Halong Bay Cruise safe?

During the high season, Halong can have more than 300 boats in the water. Of course with this high number of boats sharing the same location, it can be not only an environmental disaster but also, a safety concern. Unfortunately, the local government doesn’t have the proper Regulations and Safety Standards.

Due to the lack of regulations, Halong Bay suffers from environmental and safety issues. Again, that is the reason it’s so important to do your research and choose a safe Halong Bay cruise.

over-tourism on Halong Bay

15. Is cruising in Halong Bay ethical?

This is such a dilemma and hard question to answer – and since I went, even knowing the problem of over-tourism in Halong Bay, who am I to tell anyone to not go? It would be so wrong for me to dissuade anyone since I had a beautiful experience and memories that I will carry with me for a lifetime. But there are a few things we can do from our side:

Do your part to be an ethical traveler:

Because being a responsible traveler is the most important part of travel! Avoid using single-use plastic bottles, and straws, and help to reduce the amount of trash generated during your tour. Ethical operators will have a fully functional waste disposal system, but if you aren’t sure, keep it with you until you can directly dispose of it yourself back on land. I’m not even going to mention avoiding throwing your rubbish into the water…because you know that already.

Choose a reputable and ethical tour operator:

As always, do your research before your trip. Before I book a tour, I always try to learn as much as I can about how ethical the tours really are, and how the local tour companies care and help to protect the environment. During my research, I read good and bad things about Halong Bay tours, and after my research, I have no regrets about my choice. It may cost a little more, but you know you’re not supporting unethical businesses.

Choose to go on cruise Halong Bay during the low season:

May and June are the quieter months to visit Halong Bay, as May is the start of the wet season and northern Vietnam sees about triple the amount of rain than the previous month. The bay usually feels more open, where hours can go past without a view of another cruise ship.

My recommendations for responsible tour operators:

  • Indochina Junk – This tour operator is renowned for being a trustworthy ethical operator. They are committed to sustainability, local employment and empowerment, and minimizing their negative impact.
  • Le Journey Cruise – This was my choice to cruise Halong Bay. They employ local people, providing the opportunity for jobs. They also use eco-friendly diesel and respect preserved areas of the bay, only allowing tourists to go on rowboats or kayaks.
Ethical Row boat tour Halong Bay

Cruise in Halong Bay Conclusion

If you’re exploring Vietnam then you just HAVE to take a Cruise in Halong Bay. It’s almost like a rite of passage and will leave you with memories to last a lifetime! Not to mention you’ll be visiting one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature.

For the best experience, you’ll want to ensure that you choose the cruise that’s right for you. To make that decision take into account the company’s itinerary, what’s included in their package, and the price of course. There are plenty of companies to choose from so you won’t have a shortage of options either!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide and that these tips have given you a good idea of what to expect on a Halong Bay cruise. Trust me, you’re in for the experience of a lifetime.

If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, make sure you check out my other posts:

Pinterest Halong Bay Cruise

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5 thoughts on “15 Essential Tips Before You Go On a Cruise in Halong Bay”

  1. Stunning views Paula. We did not make it to Halong Bay, but did see equally gorgeous Ninh Binh with its HUGE karsts. Plus almost zero tourists hahaha….Excellent post.

  2. Hi Ryan, Thank you and I am glad you liked it. Next time I will visit the other places on the Bay, I heard they are great places to visit that are less touristy.

  3. Vietnam is heaven for those who wants to travel on boat. Boating is quite famous in Vietnam and sailing through beautiful green mountains makes us wonder us the beauty of this wonderful places. Island boat trip of Dubrovnik is something you would like to check out as well.

  4. Halong Bay was such a great experience and I read a lot of reviews before settling on my cruise company. They were focused on environmental concerns, recycling, and sustainable practices. I can see how Halong Bay can get out of hand quickly with over tourism. These are some great tips so that more people can continue to enjoy it too

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