How to choose the best Halong Bay cruise tour 2023

How to choose the best Halong Bay cruise

Here is some tips written by Hanoi Eco Tour how to choose best Halong bay cruise tour for your Halong Bay tour

Halong Bay tour is a must-do in Vietnam, known as New Seven Natural Wonder of the World as well as World Heritage Site..

Introduction to Halong Bay



1 day cruise tour: blue colour

2 days 1 night cruise : Orange colour

Halong Bay is the World Heritage site, one of the top travel destination in Northern Vietnam with incredible natural beauty of 1969 limestone islands. It’s located about 150 kilometres  (94 miles) on the Northeast of Hanoi within 2.5 hours drive on New Expressway. Crusing among towering limestone cliffs is a truly amazing experience that you shouldn’t miss when travelling Vietnam.

What does the name “Halong bay” come from?

In the late 19th century, Halong Bay appeared on a French marine map. A French captain had seen a giant sea snake coming from the water, but it disappeared later, and no one saw him again. He said that it looked a dragon so Halong means “Dragon”
According to a legend, Chinese people invaded Vietnam long ago. The Jade Emperor sent a group of dragons, including a Mother and their children to help to fight against Chinese invaders. When the Dragon descended, he spat out many pearls, forming islands.

Because the Chinese vessels went very fast, they couldn’t stop, hit the rock, and sank in the bay. Admiring the beauty of Halong Bay, the Dragon didn’t want to return the Heaven so the place where the Mother Dragon descended, called Halong Bay, the place where the child dragon descended, we called Bai Tu Long Bay

When is the best time to go on a Halong bay cruise?


Halong Bay cruise is available all year round. In my opinion, from September to early November is the best time to go on a Halong cruise tour because it’s cool, not too sunny which is ideal weather for outdoor activities

February to April which is considered as spring in Vietnam, it is sometimes foggy so you can enjoy the amazing beauty of limestone islands in Halong Bay

May to August is the hottest time of the year in Halong Bay but you’ll get a lot of promotions and a good deal for a Halong bay cruise. The trip is sometimes canceled due to bad weather conditions (July, August) because of storms and typhoons. 

November to January is the coldest time in Halong Bay. If you want to enjoy its services onboard or joining the activities without going on a swim, then it should be fine.

Why going on a Halong bay cruise? 

As a popular destination for worldwide travellers, Halong Bay is affordable and give you some ways to travel more enjoyably, cheaper, longer if you take a seat in coach tour depart from Hanoi

Since Halong Bay can’t be done if you travel on your own, Going on a guided cruise tour in Halong Bay is an awesome experience helps you reach the places you cannot do it on your own. On the other hand, there are lots of fun things to do such as kayaking, cooking, swimming, bamboo boat ride. 

Before picking up a cruise, people have the same questions about travel on your own or booking in advance with a travel agent or cruise company in Hanoi

This article is written to help you pick a Halong bay tour like a pro with the best things to do as possible with 3 main option

Option 1 : Travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay (DIY Option)

Halong Bay transport

Limousine Bus to Halong Bay

There are 4 options to choose from (one way) 

Private car From $95 per car Reservations here
Limousine van From $20 per person Buy tickets here
Local bus From $7- $11 per person Buy tickets here
Train From $4 per person Buy tickets here

If you are travelling on a budget, I still recommend to take a tourist bus or sharing Dcar limousine for a comfort ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay area.

I recommend Halong Excursion which offers pick up service from Hanoi Old Quarter

There are three main harbours : Tuan Chau tourist wharf for Halong Bay, New Sun group port in Bai Chay and Vinashin port for Bai Tu Long Bay area.

It takes around 2.5 hours for New Expressway and 3.5 hours for the old one to get to Halong Bay. It costs around $12 for a ride.

At Tuan Chau Wharf, you can only take the option of day cruise for 4 hours at ticket booth.

If you are looking for an overnight stay in a cruise, there are only choice from some vendors who might be scammers.

Read more : How to get to Halong from Hanoi

How much does it cost for a DIY Halong day cruise?

Halong Bay ticket

Halong Bay ticket – Day trip ticket

Entrance fee for Halong Bay : 290.000VND ($14), buy it at ticket booth on your own

Boat fee: 400.000VND per person ($16)

Around trip transfer from Hanoi : $20 

Total cost : $16 + $14 + $20 = $50 (with no lunch included)

A typical seafood lunch is usually charged $10 to $14 depending on the menu. You also need to pay for your own transfer ($20 round trip)

Option 2 : Taking a seat in coach Halong Bay day tour from Hanoi

Sit in coach day tour option from Hanoi

Halong bay day tour

Halong Bay day tour @Nguyen Quynh Trang

If you have limited time, just one day, then a Halong Bay day trip from Hanoi is a good choice, still can see the New Seven Wonders of Nature

In my opinion, it takes 5 hours round trip by New Express Way or 7.5 hours by the old way; you will be spending 3.5 hours (Route 1) on board to see its highlights, includes taking a sampan or kayaking in the floating village, visiting the Thien Cung cave

There is an option of 6 hours cruise (Route 2) that includes a visit to Surprising cave, swimming or hiking in Titov island or kayaking through Luon cave.

Most of the group tour from Hanoi offers route 2 which makes it busier than route 1 but more activities. 

Please note that the bus do not drop you off at either Bai Chay or Halong city

How to book a day tour?

You can book directly with the cruise operator or a travel agent in Hanoi with various rates. But I do recommend booking online directly either with cruise operators or online booking platforms like Get Your Guide, Viator, Withlocals

Doing well-reached before making a reservation is an advantage of booking online. 2 weeks in advance in enough for an online booking 

A group guided tour for Halong Bay day tour ranges from $55 to $70 per person, includes pick up and drop off at the hotel, English speaking guide, lunch (vegetarian option available), entrance fee, boat in Halong Bay sharing with others.

The decision between DIY or taking a seat in coach tour is up to you.

These simple things help you to find a right cruise for your Halong Bay day tour

Cruise option for Halong Bay day tour

  • Wonderbay cruise
  • Alova day cruise
  • Queen cruise (max 99 people on board) – Luxury day cruise
  • Lacasta day cruise (Deluxe Halong Bay day cruise) 

Option 3 : Taking an overnight cruise from Hanoi

Halong bay cruise route :  Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay

In terms of condition

Halong Bay is the most touristy bay with thousands of tourists every day. When it comes to high seasons, it is super crowded

Bai Tu Long bay is off the beaten track destination with also limestone karts mountains but less than Halong Bay

Lan Ha Bay : The bay itself is much smaller than Halong Bay but less touristy and there is no cave to explore

Which activities included on an overnight cruise tour?

Tourist taking photos in front of the cruise

Halong bay : Typical activities such as visiting Suprising cave, hiking Titov island, swimming on Titov or Soi Sim island, cooking class…..

Bai Tu Long bay : Almost the same as Halong Bay but no swimming

Lan Ha Bay : It is a great choice for active travellers : snorkeling, swimming, fishing, cooking class, biking in Cat Ba island or Viet Hai vilage..etc but no cave to explore. Only if you are taking 3 days trip, there is a visit to Three Peach beach

In my opinion, you are a fan of taking cool photos, love the natural beauty, and check in at famous spots. Halong bay is your choice. If you are active travelers, Lan Ha Bay is a great choice. If you like less touristy and off the beaten track, Bai Tu Long Bay is a perfect choice

7 steps for choosing the best Halong bay cruise tour 

1.Reputation for a Halong Bay cruise

Halong cruise on Trip Advisor

Halong cruise and Bai Tu Long cruise on Trip Advisor

Please read reviews on Trip Advisor, travel blog and comments or ask your friends who has been there or other tourists who stay in the same hotel with you.

Talking about Trip Advisor, I think it’s a good place to search information as a reference. The make-up reviews which many businesses have made by themselves might make you decide wrong thing. Not all reviews are fake but read them carefully, you’ll find down which is real or not

In my opinion, friend recommendation or anyone that you met in the same hotel, restaurant or somewhere in Vietnam is a good resource to hear honest reviews about the cruise. Without a doubt, it is so important to see what a company reputation is before booking with them. The cheap cruises may not be a good ones. The small one but good reputation can be your choice. Let’s choose ones suitable your budget.

2.Halong Bay cruise price – Choose the budget suits you

Oasis Bay cruise

Oasis Bay cruise – The best party cruise in Halong Bay

Here is some tips to help you find out the best one but affordable one on your budget. Suppose you like to have fun and party. In that case, there is a tour called Halong Hideaway tour organized by Backpacker hotels valued at $120 for 2 days 1 night tour or Oasis Bay cruise valued from $140 with good facilities such as Outdoor Jacuzzi, Water Trampoline. Please note that those tours aren’t for those who like to be quite and peaceful

  • 3-star cruise In Halong: USD 125 – USD 130
  • 4-star cruise in Halong: USD 135 – USD 145
  • 5-star cruise in Halong: USD 150 – USD 250

These cruises are mentioned below in Bai Tu Long and Halong Bay area only. There is other activities in term of picking a good cruise for Lan Ha bay tour, click here for details

Best Standard Halong cruise

Garden Bay cruise

Garden Bay cruise – Standard cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay area

From US$109 to US$129/ per person for 2 days 1 night, you can get good ones such as Garden Bay cruise, Halong Apricot cruise, Sunlight boutique cruise, Cozy Bay cruise, Swan cruise, Syrena cruise, Halong Glory Cruise. In addition, please check what’s included in the tour price. For some travel agents, as you check on their website, the price is lower but round-trip transportation  may not be included. You may pay extra for a total bill.

Best Mid-range Halong cruise

Huong Hai Sealife cruise

Huong Hai sealife – Deluxe cruise Halong Bay

If you prefer premium cruises, I can recommend 

  • Signature cruise
  • Bhaya cruise
  • Oriental Sail

. The rate is range from US$180 to US $245

Best Luxury cruise in Halong Bay

Emperor cruise

Emperor cruise – Luxury cruise halong Bay

If you are looking for a luxury cruise, my recommendation is

  • Ambassador cruise
  • Paradise Peak cruise
  • Athena luxury cruise
  • Hermes cruise
  • Victory Cruise

The rate is different from each other. The most expensive ones are Emperor Cruise.

If you traveling during the summer from May to September, there’s a big deal for most cruises from 20% to 40% discount.

All cruises mentioned above offer to join a group tour. It means that you will share the boat with others.

If you are going for a small group of 2 to 10 expecting a private cruise, I do recommend to book a private charter cruise. You might book the boat range from 1 to 5 cabins based on your group size. The rate ranges from $180 to $250

Private Charter cruise in Halong Bay

  • Bhaya Legend
  • Melody cruise

3.Facilities and Services for a Halong Bay cruise

Jacuzzi on Halong Bay

Jacuzzi on a Halong Bay cruise

Most of cruises have same facilities and services. It is just different for 4 stars and 5 stars cruise which offer other additional facilities such as safety deposit box, closet, lamp, complimentary drinks, and services and fishing equipment , jacuzzi and spa and kayaking. The services are mentioned to be exclusives.

Most of 5 stars cruise offer door to ceiling windows with great view and private bathtubs whilst it’s unavailable on 4 stars cruise

4.Safety first

Life jacket in Halong Bay

Tourists is wearing life vests in Halong Bay

Please check boat age, I know it’s hard but don’t take the old one. The newer boat, the more safe you get. You should also check all facilities on board via their websites for safety and security such as life vests, alarm clock, hammer and safety deposit box.

5.Itinerary or route for a Halong Bay tour

Where to cruise : Halong bay or Bai Tu Long bay

Indochina Junk cruising route

Indochina Junk cruising Bai Tu Long bay route

My first recommendation is Bai Tu Long Bay where you can cruise off the beaten path, away from the crowd. You can get the most enjoyable moment and travel in your styles. My top choice is Indochina Junk. The second choice is Halong Bay. Most of the activities is almost the same : kayaking, caving, swimming, cooking class, squid fishing,  karaoke on board …. but some of them offer extra special activities such as dinning in the cave, fishing with locals, collecting  rubbish and wastes on the bay

Duration of your stay and activities

Depending on your schedule, you will decide how long to stay.

Halong bay day tour

You will spend  4  hours cruising on Halong Bay, joining these activities such as : kayaking or visiting a fishing village on a sampan rowed by locals and visiting Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace cave) . It’s good for visitors who only have a short time.

Or take 6 hours cruise as mentioned above . Most of the cruises offer the same itinerary, just choose a good tour company

If you would like to travel off the beaten track, then taking a day tour to Bai Tu Long is a choice

2 days with 1 night overnight on a sleeping boat

Surprising cave Halong Bay

You will be spending almost 24 hours from noon to noon of the following days. The tour includes: cave visit, kayaking or sampan boat ride, cooking class, night squid fishing and more

3 days 2 nights with 2 nights sleeping on boat.

All activities are pretty much the same as 2 days 1-night trip. 

 On the 2nd day, you will take a day boat and spend your day for kayaking in the area of TUng Sau as well as a visit to Me Cung cave and Pearl Farm

6. Choose the best Halong Bay cruise by category

Amira Cruise

Amira Cruise – private charter cruise in Bai Tu Long bay (No longer operated)

Private Halong charter cruise

If you join a private one, you can custom itinerary, do your own activities follow instruction of the crews. There is also a plenty of choices such as 1 cabin, 2 cabins to 6 cabins. If you want something private, it will be a good choice for you. You may pay a bit extra than joining a group tour, but you have your own boat. It’s good for couples, family, the old.

Recommend boutique cruise 

Bhaya Legend (Bhaya group) for both Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long whist Princess, Prince cruise (belongs to Indochina Junk), only for Bai Tu Long Bay

Honeymoon cruise in Halong Bay

  • Paradise Elegancy cruise
  • Athena luxury cruise
  • Ambassador cruise 
  • Hermes cruise

The best Family-friendly cruise in Halong

  • Glory Legend cruise
  • Signature cruise
  • Stellar of The sea (Lan Ha bay)
  • Emperor cruise

The best Halong Bay cruise for solo traveller

Do 1 day cruise to save your money. Some overnight cruise options for solo travellers

  • Sunlights cruise
  • Cozy bay cruise

Cruise for Halah food lovers

  • Mon Cheri cruise (Lan Ha bay)
  • Era cruise (Lan Ha bay)
  • Orchid cruise (Lan Ha bay)

7.Responsible travel in Halong Bay

Responsible travel Halong bay

Collecting Rubbish Halong Bay

What the cruise does to to respect and benefit local people and  minimize environmental impact.  Here is things to do for responsible travel in Halong Bay :

  • Take a sampan to visit the fishing village rowed by locals
  • Collecting rubbish and wastes in Halong.
  • Offering life vests to the local fishermen
  • Re-planting mangroves forests in Halong bay
  • Repainting and building floating school for local children
  • Taking a fishing trip with locals.

The best Halong Bay cruises: hand-picked by us for 2023

  • Sunlight cruise
  • Paradise cruise
  • Singature cruise
  • Stellar of the Sea
  • Emperror cruise
  • Hermes cruise

What to pack for a Halong Bay cruise tour

  • Suncream
  • Sung Glasses
  • Rain Poncho
  • Water Proof bag
  • Swimsuit
  • Cash
  • Mosquito net 

Pro tips for pick the Halong Bay cruise

You need to check if the transfer from Hanoi included

If you purchase a Halong bay tour on Booking or Agoda, there are options of cruise without transfer included. So double check carefully. If not, contact the cruise operator.

Bring extra cash to pay for drinks on board.

I would say $30 to $40 is enough for 2 days 1 night cruise for drinks onboard. The drinks can be a bit pricy on 5 stars cruise.

Choose a cruise that has less than 15 cabins

Want to have your own privacy to chill out and enjoy a drink not a big boat with many people Pick a cruise with thirty-something passengers maximum. 

The review of Halong Bay 

Top view at Surprising cave Halong

It is a must-see place in Vietnam which you should see. A trip to Vietnam won’t be completed without a trip to Halong Bay. The stunning beauty of the limestone islands, the rich history, the calm of the bay and fun outdoor activities 

Because of popular tourist attractions, Halong bay now becomes a mass tourism spot so the bay is overcrowded with tons of Chinese tourists. 

But it is still a nice place to relax and unwind even travelling in the wintertime, connect with beautiful nature and choose the less crowded one. For sure, Halong bay is worth the price. 

Alternatively, you can choose to go to Ninh Binh which is known as Halong Bay on land with pretty much similar limestone mountains but rises on a river instead of the ocean. 

Common Questions for choosing a Halong bay cruise

Which cruise is best for Halong Bay?

It depends on your interest, budget. What you should do is to know how much you are willing to spend and choose the one with star rating, read the reviews and you’ll know which one to pick

How long should I stay on the cruise?

Depending on you, if you have a limited time, then 2 days 1 night is enough to see its highlights. If you want to relax, unwind and enjoy Halong at its best, I recommend taking 3 days 2 nights tour

What to do after the cruise?

If you have a bit more free time, then staying in Halong and explore the city on your own or on a guided tour is a good ideal too. 

What is the nearest airport to Halong?

Van Don airport within 1-hour drive from Halong

Is Halong Bay cruise worth it?

Of course, it is 100% worth it since it is a must-see for all travellers in Vietnam with unique, outstanding beauty

Can I get seasick when cruising the bay?

No, you can’t. The seawater is so calm because the bay is surrounded by thousands of limestone islands

Should I book Halong Bay cruise in advance?

Generally, if you are dealing with a travel agent, who offers a package tour including Halong Bay. You can also book it when you are in Vietnam. 

If you are travelling in the peak season such as Christmas, January. You’d better book in advance to avoid fully booked 

I hope my suggestion above helps you pick the best Halong Bay cruise tour and have an enjoyable Halong Bay tour.

Note :

As a reader of this website, I would like to offer you 10% discount for all bookings of Best Halong Bay cruise tour via this website with the code “10%OFFHALONG”. It helps you save a hundred of dollars. Book now, save time & money and have an amazing trip. This offer expires December 30th, 2023.
Please note that every booking with us, you have donate $5 USD for HYNAM FOUNDATION to help poor kids living in the floating villages in Halong Bay

Hanoi Eco Tours has offer a wide ranges of Halong bay tour, Lan Ha bay tour and Bai Tu Long bay tour . We are expert in organizing off-the-beaten track and local experience tour.

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