How long should your Halong Bay Cruise be?
This guest post by Bradley from Dream Big Travel Far, takes you on a rundown of the various lengths of Halong Bay cruises.
It’s safe to say that Halong Bay is the crown jewel of Vietnam, and a Halong Bay cruise should not be missed when it comes to planning your route through the country. We spent a little over 3 weeks backpacking all the way through Vietnam, and absolutely fell in love with Halong Bay. And because we knew how special and extraordinary Halong Bay is, we made sure to do our research before embarking on our own cruise there.
If you are planning a trip to Halong Bay, then no doubt you have many of the same concerns we did. But there’s a good chance your biggest concern is simply, “how long should I spend in Halong Bay?”. There are 2 night Halong Bay cruises as well as 1 night Halong Bay cruises, and day trips. Well, using all of my research and experience of the bay, I hope I can help answer that question for you! Let’s get started …
First up, what is there to see on a Halong Bay cruise?
To help you with planning the length of your stay, it’s a good idea to know what there is to see around the Halong Bay. Well, here’s the sorts of things you can expect to get up to on a Halong Bay cruise:
- Going kayaking
- Visiting hidden caves
- Taking part in a cooking class
- Checking out the pearl farm (and possibly buying one or two!)
- Practising Tai Chi
- Swimming in the waters
- Enjoying freshly cooked meals on board
- Visiting local fishing villages
- Having a cocktail (or two) as the sun is setting
- Discovering Islands within the bay, including Cat Ba, Soi Sim, Lan Ha and many more.
- Simply relaxing and taking in the views (by far my favourite part!)
As you can see, there is plenty to do on your Halong Bay cruise boat, and plenty to do off it as well. If you are a fan of just lying around and relaxing, then you are more than welcome to do exactly this. However, if you want to be active on your cruise and take in as much of the experience as possible, then there is plenty to keep you busy.
What does a Halong Bay 1 day cruise look like?
The shortest Halong Bay cruise you can do is a straightforward 1-day cruise. Typically, the company will pick you up from your hostel or hotel in Hanoi early in the morning and drive straight to the bay. You can then experience a cruise length of somewhere between 4 and 8 hours.
The Halong Bay 1 day cruise is enough time to head out and sail around the Bai Tu Long bay area, but not too much else. Depending on your chosen cruise, you will also get fed lunch on board and have the chance to go kayaking. We had friends who were budget backpackers like us and chose this option as they wanted to experience the bay but save money.
Well, after hearing about our experience, they were pretty gutted they didn’t pay just a little more and book an overnight cruise. The Halong Bay 1 day cruise felt very rushed for them and they feel like they missed out on much of what the bay had to offer by not being able to sail out very far.
How about a 2 day, 1 night Halong Bay cruise?
A 2-day, 1 night Halong Bay cruise is what I believe to be the minimum amount of time you should look to spend in the bay. Having that overnight stop gives you so much more time to see the bay and partake in more activities. Plenty of tour operators offer 1 night Halong Bay cruises and they really do pack in as much enjoyment as possible.
For example, with our chosen cruise lines, Rosa Cruise, a 2 day, 1 night Halong Bay cruise includes:
- Pick up and drop off from Hanoi
- 4 meals
- A Vietnamese cooking class
- A visit to the pearl farm
- A stop at Sung Sot Cave
- Cocktails in the evening
- A few hours each day to relax on deck
Read more: find out more about Vietnamese food
What is on offer with a 3 day, 2 night Halong Bay cruise?
If you opt to spend 2 nights on board, then this opens up a whole new array of possibilities. Most significantly, Halong Bay cruises of 2 nights or more will allow you the chance to spend a day on one of the islands in the bay, such as Cat Ba. Here, it is very common to relax on the beach for most of the day.
In the meantime, the cruise you are on heads back to the mainland to drop off any guests who have finished their stay and then welcome onboard new arrivals, before sailing back to pick you up. In my opinion, this isn’t something I would be too fond of doing as, if I am looking to pay more to spend time in Halong Bay I would rather spend that time on the ship exploring.
Well, this option is possible as well. Plenty of tour operators operate 2-night Halong Bay cruises where you spend all the time on the boat and that extra day allows you the chance to visit a fishing village and meet locals who spend their lives living out on the bay.
Is it possible to spend 3 nights or more?
Simply put … yes! It is up to you how long you spend in the bay, it is just important to be aware that you may end up seeing and doing many of the same activities. If you are someone who enjoys just relaxing on a sunbed, with a cocktail in hand, then feel free to journey out for 3 nights or more.
So, how long should your Halong Bay cruise be?
As you can tell from the above, I would not really recommend you spend just 1 day in Halong Bay. It is not enough time to fully appreciate the bay and, for the small added cost of staying the night and returning the next day, you can leave feeling like you experience the bay. As such, if you are on a budget, then a one night Halong Bay cruise is a good option and there are plenty of budget providers.
That being said, a 1-night cruise in Halong Bay tends to have a very packed schedule, as the cruise operators fit in a lot of activities. If you would prefer your cruise to have a slower pace, then I would recommend stopping for at least 2 nights, possibly 3. If you check the itineraries of various 2 night or 3-night cruise providers, you find that they tend to have a similar number of activities to the 1-day cruises, but space them out a bit better.
So ultimately, there is no one answer to the question of “How long should I spend in Halong Bay?” It really is a personal choice and requires you to look at what you wish to get from it. Compared to the rest of Vietnam, Halong Bay is by far the most expensive place to stay but is somewhere you should definitely choose in your route. So take a look at your budget and see how frivolous you can be, and let loose and enjoy the wondrous beauty on offer.
You can find more from Bradley and Cazzy on their blog, where they also have lots of useful tips for traveling with Type 1 diabetes.
Alternatives to a Halong Bay Boat Trip
Kris and I lived in the north of Vietnam for a year, while teaching English there. We lived in Haiphong, which is not far from Halong Bay, and recommend another way to visit instead of a Halong Bay cruise. Haiphong is close to the ferry for Cat Ba Island, one of the biggest islands in Halong Bay and a popular stop-off. You can get a bus from Haiphong.
This bus takes you to the port, you go across on a short ferry ride, and then get on a bus to Cat Ba town. The journey is beautiful and it’s cheap too. More information is in this post.
From Cat Ba town, you can book 1 day or 2-night cruises of Halong Bay, day trips of the island, kayaking, rock climbing and many other activities. There are several hotels to stay in with views over the bay, from $20 a night. We stayed in the Sunrise Resort, which is on its own beach, a few years ago which was really nice. It might have changed now, but it had great outdoor jacuzzis and beautiful rooms.
Whether you choose to visit Halong Bay independently, as a 1-night cruise or a 2-night cruise, we hope you have fun. If this post has helped you decide how long your Halong Bay cruise should be, let us know in the comments.
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We are in Vietnam in February but we won’t have time to visit Halong Bay. You convinced me to return. #FeetDoTravel