Naturally blessed with exquisite natural settings of limestone pillars and emerald waters, Ha Long Bay (also “Halong Bay”) is one of Vietnam’s most stunning attractions. This unique UNESCO World Heritage Site is often included in lists of natural wonders of the world.
Read on to learn all about when to go, and steps to choose the right boat for your Ha Long Bay cruise!
I. Ha Long Bay cruise Overview
Ha Long Bay was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site in 1994 and 2000 for its aesthetic and geomorphological value. It is a very popular travel destination in the northeast part of Vietnam, under the management of both Quang Ninh and Hai Phong provinces.
Ha Long, which means “descending dragon”, refers to legendary creatures sent down from the heavens to guard against invaders approaching from the sea. To protect the Vietnamese, the dragons belched out clusters of jewels to create an impenetrable barrier, which has since turned into over 2,000 beautiful limestone islets today dotting the bay.
With the increasing interest in exploring the wild nature, numerous fleets of Ha Long Bay Cruise have been established to enable travellers to get a deeper approach to the Bay. You will get the chance to explore every single corner of the Bay as well as getting involved in fascinating activities during your voyage.
1.How to get to Ha Long Bay
The most common option to travel between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay is by land. There is a brand new highway that has cut the travel time from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay down to about 2.5 hours. You can go by shuttle service booked through a travel agent or a cruise company, a private car, or a limousine service for those who need utmost comfort and privacy.
It’s also possible to travel directly between Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh which will save you some time if you’re planning on visiting both and don’t want to return to Hanoi in-between.
The most luxurious ways to reach Ha Long Bay is through air transfer. This could be by a seaplane or a helicopter service. Clients will get the opportunity to admire the aerial views over the Northern countryside.
With this option, you’ll be able to get a scenic bird’s eye view over the majestic limestone islands and emerald waters that only a few select have done.
Hai Au Aviation is now the one and only seaplane operator in Vietnam that offers flights to Ha Long Bay while Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company provides helicopter services.
Adventures Asia also does offer a combo package with seaplane/helicopter transfer and Ha Long Bay cruise at very affordable price.
The least common option for reaching the world-renowned Ha Long Bay is by water. This can only be done if you’re doing a trans-pacific cruise stopping in major ports and Ha Long Bay is one of the international seaports for cruise ship in Vietnam, the others are in Danang/Hoi An, Nha Trang, Saigon.
2.Weather and when to do Ha Long Bay cruise
October to December (Fall) is the best time to enjoy Ha Long Bay cruise and peak season thanks to the pleasant weather and low chance of rain, though you can expect the double crowds. June to September (Summer) is the low season and has a higher chance of storms and typhoon.
Winter (January – February):
The temperature of Ha Long Bay is around 13-20°C which is very pleasant and perfect for relaxing. There is sunlight during the day but mostly you will see fog and drizzle in the morning and late afternoon. However, during this time you can see a mystical Ha Long Bay, where the rock formations hide under cloudy fog, appear, disappear and then show up again.
TIP: Don’t forget to bring warm clothes to prevent possible cold. Some outside activities are not recommended for the elderly (above 70 years old), the handicapped and the kids. Furthermore, the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) frequently occurs in February, so many people will return home to visit their families for about a week.
Spring (March – May):
The weather is not hot yet and average temperature is around 24°C but it will be more likely to rain especially during March. Humidity will start to increase during this time. However, the weather is still pleasant and there is more sunlight for outdoor activities such as swimming and kayaking in the daytime. When you experience Ha Long Bay cruise during this time, you can avoid the peak season and still enjoy the nice weather.
Summer (June – September):
Ha Long Bay can be hot and humidity for westerners with the average temperature of 29-32°C. However, it is very charming with crystal, clear sky and emerald water during this time. There can be some light rain but overall, you can expect a lot of direct sunlight and a clear view of the bay. This results in more time for swimming, kayaking, and other water activities than in the fall and winter.
Starting from June to the end of September is the rainy season with a higher chance of storms and typhoon. During this period, your Ha Long Bay cruise can be cancelled or delayed due to storm; however, almost cruise companies/travel company will usually give you refund or reschedule your trip at your ease.
Fall (October – December):
This is a good time if you plan to visit Ha Long Bay thanks to its pleasant weather. The humidity level drops considerably and the temperature is around 13°C-21°C. There is less rainfall during this period of time.
December is also time for Christmas and New Year, however, you can expect rare light rain during this month. Overall, keep in mind that this is the peak season so Ha Long Bay cruise is expected to be more crowded with travellers.
II.How to choose your best Ha Long Bay Cruise
1. Step 1: Decide how long is your Ha Long Bay cruise
There are 02 main types of cruise operating in Ha Long: day trip cruises and overnight cruises. The decision to visit Ha Long Bay in one day, or take an overnight cruise, comes down to two factors: budget and time.
If you have limited time and a smaller budget and don’t mind long road trips, a day trip cruise may be for you. Generally, you’ll be picked up at around 8:00AM – 9:00AM from your hotel, drive about 2.5 hours to Ha Long (by highway) — with a 30 minute comfort stop — and arrive at Ha Long Bay at around noon. Lunch will be served on boat while you cruise the islands and islets, and there may be one or two excursions — for example kayaking or a cave visit — in the afternoon. You’ll depart Ha Long Bay for Hanoi at around 5:00 PM and arrive back in Hanoi at around 7:00PM or 8:00 PM, depending on different cruise boats.
Overnight cruises are more classic choices and allow some more time to relax and truly enjoy the scenery out in the water. You can enjoy a wide range of excursions, designed to give you a deeper insight into this UNESCO World Heritage site, and participate in a variety of onboard activities. Meals and accommodation are also well prepared for your overnight stay.
2D1N cruises last exactly 24 hours and will suit most travellers. Longer itineraries 3D2N or 4D3N are recommended for travellers looking to unwind and explore more remote areas of the bay.
2.Step 2: Decide where exactly your Ha Long Bay cruise is
Although the whole area is mostly known as Ha Long, there are in fact 3 different bays: Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. In general, the three areas mentioned above all share the same geographical and geomorphological features. They all have limestone pillars, karst caves and grottos, and turquoise water. However, the experience you might get when visiting the three bays is different.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is the most famous and crowded route. It’s almost as fascinating as the bay itself and exposes some of the inner workings of global tourism. Ever since it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Ha Long Bay has been promoted as one of Asia’s premier travel destinations.
You will visit the well-known islets, caves, and beaches that appear a lot on media such as Ti Top Island (Titov Island), Three Peaches Beach (Ba Trai Dao Beach), Tuan Chau Beach, Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave)… However, as it is the main route, Ha Long Bay is usually filled with hundreds of cruise boats and crowded with flocks of tourists. Also, most cruise boats in Ha Long Bay are on the same schedule so you’ll encounter crowds at every stop along your cruise.
Bai Tu Long
Located northeast of Ha Long Bay and stretching along the coast towards the border between Vietnam and China, Bai Tu Long Bay possesses a similar landscape to its famous neighbor. As a matter of fact, it is every bit as wonderful and has recently been in high demand among international travellers. Bai Tu Long offers clearer water and a range of attractions that will surely feel less touristy than their Ha Long Bay equivalents. These include kayaking in the peaceful Vung Vieng fishing village, swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Ban Chan beach as well as trekking and climbing at the Ang Du area and visiting Thien Canh Son Cave…
Lan Ha Bay
Located to the south of its famous neighbour, Lan Ha Bay belongs to a different province but is in fact a seamless extension of Ha Long Bay. Lan Ha Bay is still a little-known hidden gem with calm, pristine scenery and less boat traffic passing between its beautiful limestone islets.
Home to the majestic Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay falls mostly under the management of Cat Ba National Park. Therefore, Lan Ha Bay is recognized as the most adventurous of the three bays, bristling with activities in the water or on Cat Ba Island such as kayaking, rock climbing, trekking, cycling, swimming and diving. Lan Ha Bay is also known as “a kayaking paradise” – and you can even paddle through a cave!
3.Step 3: define your budget, travel style and research Ha Long Bay cruise boat
Depending on your budget, who you’re traveling with, different kinds of cruises offer different services. The below information will help you to choose the Ha Long Bay cruise that fits you most.
There’s a huge range of boat styles, sizes and quality standard to cater to all types of travellers. Narrow it down even further by checking the websites of Ha Long Bay cruise operators who interest you. If you are not comfortable using the internet, check with Adventures Asia for our recommendations, or you can check with your friends who have travelled to Ha Long Bay previously.
For honeymooners, we recommend choosing one of the luxury Ha Long Bay cruise lines for an idyllic trip.
If you have the spare cash, why not splash out a little and book a private charter boat with only 1 cabin for the ultimate privacy and romance. Or you might want to do join-in cruises that have fewer cabins. That way you still get the luxury experience but at a much lower price.
TIP: Be sure to let the ship’s crew know if it’s your honeymoon as they may go the extra mile to make the trip super special.
If you’re traveling with young children there are three important things to consider when looking for your Ha Long Bay cruise: safety, cabin suitability and a kid-friendly services. Many cruise lines provide cabins that are particularly suitable for families with young children. Parents should look for terrace suites with enough room for two adults and one or two children or deluxe cabins with connecting rooms.
Another option for families is to hire a private cruise. Booking a private cruise means that you have the whole boat to your family only and you can even make your own itinerary. Whichever option is right for your family, you should ensure that the activities offered on the cruise are suitable for your family.
On the whole, when you’re traveling with your loved ones, it’s very important to make sure you choose a reputable cruise company that has a stellar safety record.
III.About Adventures Asia
We are selective in partnerships, and only present to you the cruise trips that meet safety and security standard as well as offering clients the best and unique Ha Long Bay cruise. More than just organizing tours, we commit to bringing our beloved clients unforgettable experiences during your stay in Ha Long and other Indochina destinations.
If you are looking for a customized Ha Long Bay trip, let Adventures Asia lead your way.