What to expect from a 3 days cruise in Halong Bay and how to choose the best options for you
Find out what to expect of a 3 days cruise on a Junk Boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam I am here to share my experience. First of all let's make clear that the Junk Boats are these beautiful old wooden ships that really look more like a pirate ship than anything I could put into words.
Cruising the Halong Bay was the grand finale of my trip in Vietnam, and it was just perfect for 2 reasons: to get some rest from my 3 days trekking in Sapa, and also to recharge my batteries before I headed to 1 week in Cambodia.
I looked forward to having a hot shower and waking up with a view of limestone pillars rising from the calm bay waters.
I spent New Year’s Eve in Halong Bay, which made my experience even more special. I booked my boat tour in advance, and I decided to spoil myself with a room with a balcony. This is not something I normally book while I am exploring the world, but I decided to treat myself since it would be such an unique experience, and it was New Year (good excuse Paula!).
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HALONG BAY at a Glance
Halong Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is made up of more than 1,900 islands estimated to be 500 million years old. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous destinations in Vietnam, attracting thousand 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.
How to choose the right cruise
You can chose from over 500 licensed junk boats to cruise, 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 made a decision on what cruise to choose, and I booked with Victory Cruise Line . I made my choice by reading a lot of reviews and looking at photos of the rooms. Also, very important - I chose an option that offered a reputable and ethical tour.
In the end I picked a 4 star Junk Boat for 3 days and 2 nights, as it gave me the opportunity to see more of this beautiful place. You can choose from a 1 day cruise up to 3 days and 2 nights.
How to get to Halong Bay
I arrived in Hanoi from Sapa on the night train, it was very early, around 5AM. At around 8:00 AM the cruise shuttle picked us up from the travel agency, and took us to the pier in Halong Bay. The ride takes approx. 4 hours and the roads are safe and very scenic.
Upon arrival at the pier, the main cruise companies have facilities for check in. They take your luggage and have a waiting area for departure. There are 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.
The Junk Boat experience
We boarded the boat around 12PM. Once on the boat on the boat I was issued the room key and brought my hand bag to the room. Our luggage was delivered a short time later.
The view from my balcony was just outstanding. The bed was very comfortable, and the bathroom was a large size, even with a bath tube (which I never used, actually). I knew I would have a nice and relaxing 3 days cruising.
I made my way around the boat and found the dining room. They served a delicious lunch: entrée with soup and salad, the main course and dessert. They always had plenty of delicious seafood and fresh fruit.
The staff on my boat was very friendly and funny, and I very much enjoyed my experience with them.
When is the best time to visit HALONG BAY
I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve in Halong Bay, since it was not too crowded and the crew made our special night so much fun.
But if you cannot make it for New Year, the best time of the year to visit is between September to December, since you will have a greater chance to have clear skies, and it is not as hot as summer time, which can be as hot as 38C (100F).
New Year Eve on a Junk Boat in HALONG BAY
It was a fun and long night. First we had drinks, followed by a great dinner while listening to the whole ABBA play list again. Oh, have I mentioned that they played the same play list back to back during the 3 days? Since then, I cannot listen to ABBA, I think it created some sort of trauma.
When the party started, we enjoyed more drinks, more ABBA and after the countdown they (finally) changed the music play list and the restaurant became a dance floor. We all danced for hours and the whole crew also joined us, and I have to tell you, these guys like to drink!
At one point, when I saw the captain on the dance floor doing shot after shot, I got a little concerned who was really in charge of our boat. But hey, the boat was anchored and it was New Year Eve in Halong Bay, and everything was perfectly fine!
What actvities should I expect during a cruise in Halong Bay – Vietnam
Sailing among the majestic limestone kasks
I spent good amount of time on the boat, sailing, taking pictures, flying the drone or just relaxing on the roof deck while enjoying some very yummy (high alcohol content) cocktails. I felt that I was really on vacation, and sometimes is so important to just slow down and enjoy the magical view, especially if you are in Halong Bay.
Boating on the Floating Village
The cruise line took us to a harbor near some small floating fishing villages. We got picked up by locals with their row boats and they took us along the bay. Each boat held 6-8 people.
We could see the beauty of the mountains very close up. It was intriguing to see the floating villages, and be able to observe the families with their dogs living their normal lives in the same way, for so many generations. It was nice and relaxing, and I took many beautiful photos during the tour. The bay has many other boats with tourists doing the same thing I was doing.
Visiting a Cave in Halong Bay
Depending on the cruise company you choose, most likely you will visit one of several natural caves on an island (weather permitting). It is just amazing to think that some islands are hollow and there are wonderful formations inside.
If you are lucky to have a good tour guide, they will also give you an explanation of the history of the cave and an overview on the formations. The view from the top of the cliff side was outstanding, as we could overlook the whole bay and the junk boats.
Kayaking & swimming in Halong Bay
My cruise line offers kayaks and it was a highlight of my cruise, so I recommend to take advantage of it. They anchored the junk boat while we had the chance to explore the nearby area at your pace. It is an opportunity to see the limestone cliffs close up. In some instances you will be able to explore caves, which unfortunately didn’t happen to me in the area where our boat left us.
I was able go to different beaches and just admire the formations. It didn’t involve any swimming, since the water was too cold for me, although a few people from our boat took a dip.
But please, make sure you are safe and that you have a good conditional kayak, you are offered a life vest and that you are paddling your kayak on a safe area far from the big and fish boats.
Cooking Class & Fishing squid
The cruise line offered a “cooking class” that was basically making summer rolls. It was entertaining, but I never really used my new expertise in my own kitchen. Every night after dinner, if you are interested, they will provide you with fishing poles and you can catch squid. I passed on the fishing.
My Overal Overview of 3 days in Halong Bay
I think your experience will vary hugely based on the areas you visit, the time of the year you go, the number of days you visit for, the tour operator you choose and the type of tour you book.
Despite the high number of tourists and boats in Halong Bay, the time that I visited was not overcrowded with boats neither people.
Being honest, I was frustrated about not being able to do and explore more of Halong Bay. During my research on what boat to take, what to choose, where to go while in Halong Bay….I was so excited and looking forward to visit some of the amazing places I saw and read about in other blogs, such as kayaking inside the caves and to visit the Surprising Cave. When I asked our crew about visiting these places, they said because of the weather forecast we couldn’t make it, but I find it is hard to believe since it was not even raining.
As for many people, being part of a organized tour can be convenient, however I really do not like the idea to go on planned tours, having to follow a guide, having to share small areas with many other tourists and struggling to take a nice picture without heads in front of my camera.
If you really dream to visit Halong Bay, just book your Junk Boat tour and prepare your expectations and have fun!
Halong Bay is definetely one of the most fascinating places you can visit, and its unique limestone formations rising from the calm bay waters makes this place so magical. Here are my observations on My Ethical travel experience in Halong Bay.