How many days should you spend on Halong Bay?First of all, you need to decide how many days of your Vietnam itinerary to allocate to a Halong Bay trip. Most travellers choose between a 3-day, 2-night tour, or a shorter 2-day, 1-night tour. Some travellers, on a super-tight schedule, opt for a whistle-stop “1-day” Halong Bay day trip! So which is the best way to do it?
Getting from Hanoi to Halong BayFrom the capital, Hanoi, it takes about 2-3 hours by bus (depending on traffic), to reach Hai Phong Harbour, which is where most of the Halong Bay cruises set off. Once you have organised yourself onto a boat and set sail from the harbour into Ha Long Bay, you’re looking at another few hours until you really start to see anything special. In my opinion, taking a 2-day overnight cruise from Hanoi means that you will spend half of your time in transit. The trip could be more stressful and rushed than you would like! What’s more, the best bits of Halong Bay take a while to reach by boat and on the 2-day tours, you will completely miss out on these more impressive landscapes! As you can probably tell, I’m also not an advocate of a Halong Bay day tour (there and back in one day!) – a bit of a waste of time I’d say! So… our advice? Remember to factor in the travel time back and to from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Allocate at least 3 days to a Halong Bay experience so that you have more time to explore, relax and see an authentic side to the bay that isn’t just tourist boats in a harbour scrambling to set off!
How much is a Halong Bay Cruise?Prices for a 3-day, 2-night trip to Halong Bay range between $150 – $300 US. The cheapest we’ve found is $135 US and some of the more expensive luxury cruises or private tours can cost up to $500 US or more! The average is around $250 US from our experience.
Top 5 Halong Bay Tours – Something For Everyone!Panicking about which company to choose for your Halong Bay Cruise? Let us help you! Here are five of the best Halong Bay Boat Trips (in our humble opinion) that each offer a very different experience to voyagers… Grab a tea/coffee/beer, have a relaxing read and decide which one is the best Halong Bay cruise for you!
1. Castaways Island – The Backpacker Fave!Perfect for you if… You want to experience Halong Bay with a fun-loving crew of backpackers, make new friends, do adventurous activities like wake-boarding, high-speed tubing and rock climbing. Oh, and enjoy wild beach parties by night. Not your cuppa tea if… You’d actually prefer a cup of tea than partying with a load of 20-something backpackers!
Castaways: The Best Bits
- The private island setting – Travellers on the Castaways Halong Bay Tour will get to spend the night at an exclusive private island in the heart of Halong Bay. Now this island is something pretty special – surrounded by limestone cliffs with a gorgeous 150-metre sandy beach. By day, you can sunbathe on your private stretch of sand and by night you can swim amidst bioluminescent plankton in the ocean! It’s an experience you won’t easily forget.
- The accommodation – During this trip, you won’t spend any time sleeping on a boat, you will sleep only on Castaways Island. The accommodation on Castaways is pretty awesome – a purpose-built bamboo style open-air bungalow with individual dorm beds. Spacious, cosy and stylish.
- The activities – This tour is crammed with full activities like rock climbing, wake boarding, kayaking and high speed tubing! You will never be bored and a group of fun-loving travel buddies every day is guaranteed.
- The parties – For travellers who like to party, there’s basically a Full Moon Party EVERY night on Castaways Island with great DJs and new people arriving every night to shake up the action!
About the Tour OrganiserVietnam Backpackers are a large hostel chain that have popular hostels up and down the country. Founded by a couple of Aussie Backpackers, their motto is fun, more fun and beer! Their hugely popular Castaways Island trip runs every day from both of their backpacker hostels in Hanoi. They also have several other popular tours in other locations in Vietnam.
What’s Included on the Trip?Included in the price of this tour is transport to and from Hanoi, accommodation on Castaways Island, all meals, plus all activities. The hostel have organised a unique wrist-band payment system for Castaways where travellers load money onto a wrist band before leaving Hanoi and use it to buy drinks on the island. The hostel recommend that you load 2 million VND (approx. $85 US) on your wristband, which equals to 66 beers! Think that’s enough for you?
How much does it cost?The price of the Castaways Island trip is $229 USD per person. While certainly not the cheapest Halong Bay Tour out there, it’s good value for what you get. Castaways Island enjoys an unarguably gorgeous setting and the activities are great fun! All in all, this is probably the best Halong Bay tour for backpackers! Book Castaways Island Tour here.
WARNING: Beware Fake Castaways Tours!You will see several tour companies in Hanoi posing as Vietnam Backpackers’ Hostel claiming to sell the ‘one and only’ Castaways Island Tour! After a recent Google search we discovered a website that claimed: “This is the original Halong Bay Castaway Tour RUN since 2011 by Vietnam Backpacker Tour Company and it can only be purchased on this website or in our booking office.” Unsurprisingly, the tour is conveniently discounted with a ‘special offer’ of only $169 US today! The truth – it’s a completely different tour. (As we don’t want to add a link to the dodgy website to give them Google juice, we’ll just tell you to avoid a site called ‘Halong Bay Castaways Tour.’)
2. The Real Lan Ha Experience – The Off the Beaten Track!Perfect for you if… You’re looking for a completely different kind of Halong Bay experience. You want to get off the beaten track into the heart of nature and be as far away from the Full Moon Parties as possible! Not your cuppa tea if… You’re young, party-hardy and you want to get laid.
The Real Lan Ha Bay Experience: Best Bits
- The alternative area – On this one-of-a-kind Halong Bay Trip, you will head out into the more remote region of Lan Ha Bay – an alternative region that is not as well known by tourists. (Vietnam’s best-kept secret!) Lan Ha Bay is just as beautiful, if not more beautiful than Halong Bay, with tiny white beaches dotted amidst the limestone karsts. The one huge advantage of Lan Ha Bay is the lack of tourist boats, due to it being a little further to reach from Hai Phong Harbour! So, while others will hear karaoke booming from tourist boats at night as they try to sleep, you will hear the silence of nature in a completely untouched zone of the bay…
- Viet Hai village homestay – One of the best parts of this trip is that you get to spend the night at an eco-friendly self-sustaining village in the heart of Lan Ha Bay. This is a side of Northern Vietnam that few tourists get to see and the village of Viet Hai is a little paradise on earth! Explore the traditional houses of the village, see farmers with their water buffaloes, go for a hike up an amazing viewpoint for views all over Lan Ha Bay, eat authentic Vietnamese meals with local families and sleep in a traditional Vietnamese home in the heart of nature.
- The nature – This trip is certainly one for nature lovers with amazing land and seascapes galore. On this trip, you’ll visit the mysterious “Dark and Bright Cave”, go trekking to an indigenous forest on an island in Lan Ha Bay and go kayaking by night to see bio-luminescent plankton.
- The boat – Unlike some of the other Halong Bay tourist junks, the “Sapphire” (the name of your boat for this trip!) really is a top-notch vessel. Rooms have balconies and bath tubs and there’s a gorgeous sundeck for lounging and sipping cocktails. This is luxury on a budget and its worth taking advantage of for a day or two!
About the Tour OrganiserFriends Travel Vietnam are an excellent Vietnamese-Dutch company run out of Hanoi. They have a series of trips they call their ‘Real’ Tours, designed to take you away from the tourist crowds and experience authentic Vietnam. Their Real Sapa Trek is one of the best sellers on this website and they really do what they say when it comes to taking you to the places that the other tour companies don’t go! They come highly recommended.
What’s Included on the Trip?Transport to and from Hanoi is included, as well as one night’s accommodation on the boat, one night in the homestay at Viet Hai Village, all meals (delicious Vietnamese food) and all activities, such as a kayaking trip to the cave and a guided trek from Viet Hai Village.
How Much?The cost of the Real Lan Hay Bay Experience is $285 USD per person. While the tour is a bit more expensive than some of the other tours to Halong Bay – you really do get what you pay for! If you want to experience the real nature of this extraordinary part of the world and get a glimpse of the way that real local people live their lives in this area, away from the tourist hoards, then we have to tell you – this alternative tour is the best one out there!
3. Halong Hideaway – The Cheap & Cheerful!Perfect for you if… You’re a backpacker on a tight budget. You want to make new friends, explore Halong Bay, do activities like kayaking, trekking and cycling and you’re not fussy about having fancy accommodation and luxury facilities. Not your cuppa tea if… You’re a bit of a “flashpacker” and you’re put off by basic rooms, toilets and meals.
Halong Hideaway: The Best Bits
- The price – This is one of the cheapest Halong tours that you can find and despite this being a no-frills experience, you really can’t knock the trip when it comes to value for money! If you want to experience Halong Bay on a budget, this is the best tour for you – hands down. You can read a full review of the Halong Hideaway tour here.
- The activities – The Halong Hideaway crew really go out to make sure that you get involved in a variety of fun activities during the three days. On day 2, you will land on one of the inhabited islands of Halong Bay and take a cycle tour through a local village. There’s the option of a jungle trek to a peak with amazing views and visiting an eerie ‘Bat Cave’. On day 3, you will go kayaking amidst the cliffs, islets and floating villages of Halong Bay – which is one of the best experiences on this trip. Again, great value for money for the variety of excellent activities offered.
- The private island setting – On this tour, you will spend the night at ‘Hideaway Island’, which is a private island in the heart of Halong Bay with rugged accommodation and a real remote-island feel.
- The fun factor – For backpackers wanting to have a good time, there are plenty of activities available on and off the island to help you bond with your new amigos, from volleyball to ping pong and, as well as beach BBQs, sunset parties and even high speed tubing!
About the Tour OrganiserHideaway Hostels are a cheap and fun hostel with locations in Hanoi and Cat Ba Island. Their budget tours are aimed at young backpackers looking for a good time and their fun-loving friendly staff do all they can to help you to feel safe and have a good time! For the budget backpacker – they’re a great option.
What’s Included on the Trip?Transport to and from Hanoi is included in the price, as well as one night’s accommodation on the boat, and for those who opt for a 2-night trip, accommodation on Hideaway island. All meals are included, as well as all activities; trekking, kayaking, cycling, boat jumping and all the parties etc.
How Much?At $135 US for a 3-day, 2-night trip, this is the absolute cheapest tour that we’ve found. Despite the warnings that you’ve heard about cheapo tours, the Halong Hideaway Tour is actually very decent in terms of activities, the staff, facilities and the places that you visit on the tour! And for those of you who are short on time, their 2-day, 1-night Halong bay overnight cruise is just $93 US – bargain!
4. Oasis Party Cruise – The Flashpacker Choice!Perfect for you if… You like the idea of sipping cocktails from a Jacuzzi on the boat deck of a luxury cruise! You also want to see the best bits of Halong Bay, as well as meet other people, but you don’t want to compromise on comfort. Not your cuppa tea if… You don’t like cheesy music! More info on the Oasis Party Cruise here.
Oasis Party Cruise: The Best Bits
- The boat and facilities – The ‘Oasis Bay Party Cruiser’ is a 5-star luxury boat with three Jacuzzis, a water trampoline, a well-stocked bar and a large dance floor. The rooms are pretty swish and comfortable with double beds, bath tubs and private balconies overlooking the water. The top deck has sun loungers perfect for sipping cocktails and watching sunsets! This is a Ha Long Bay Cruise created with flashpackers in mind!
- The private island setting – As you’ve probably realised by now, many of the Ha Long Bay Tours include spending a night on an exclusive ‘private island’ in Halong Bay… The Oasis Party Cruise is no different! Their island is called ‘Freedom Island’ – a tiny island with a sandy beach positioned between two huge rocks. This creates a paradisiacal setting! The island kitted out with everything a traveller could need to have a good time. There are 2 beaches, modern accommodation, hammocks and a volleyball court!
- The activities – The trip includes a two-hour kayaking tour through Halong Bay’s caves and tunnels to explore the unusual ‘frog pond’ area of Halong Bay. There’s also the opportunity for cliff jumping, swimming and relaxing on a ‘floating mattress’ – typical watery-based fun! There are also yoga classes on the boat in the morning if you fancy an energetic start to the day, and lots of other ‘bonding’ games to get involved in. On the last day, you’ll also learn how to cook a typical Vietnamese dish with the chefs – and eat it!
- Fun guides – The staff go all out to make this trip a fun experience and help travellers to meet and mingle! The tour attracts people of all ages and from all different backgrounds, so there’s a real change from the typical ‘where have you travelled, where are you from’ kind of conversation.
About the Tour OrganiserOasis Bay Cruises are the boat company who run this tour, a branch of Viland Travel, are one of the leading travel agencies in Vietnam. They offer a variety of good value for money trips all across the country, from Sapa treks to Easy Rider tours.
What’s Included on the Trip?Like the other tours in this guide, transport to and from Hanoi is included, as well as accommodation (one night on the boat and one night on “Freedom Island”. All activities are included, from the kayaking to cave tours, the cooking class and morning yoga.
How Much?The cost for a 3-day, 2-night tour is a very reasonable $199 US. If you’re a couple and you want to treat yourself to a king-size cabin on the boat, it’s just $20 US more, at $418 for two people ($209 each) – bargain! All of the accommodation on Freedom Island is dorm-based. The 2-day, 1-night tour costs just $139 US for those travellers who are short on time. This includes one night on the boat. Book the Oasis Party Cruise here.
5. Halong Legend Legacy Cruise – The Classic!Perfect for you if… You’re looking for a traditional Halong cruise on a luxury boat with great facilities and comfortable beds. You want to try out several activities and meet people, but you’re not looking for a backpacker booze cruise! Not your cuppa tea if… You don’t want to spend two nights on the boat and you’d prefer to spend one of them on a private island. (Unlike the other trips on this page, this tour does not include one night on land.) More info on the Legend Legacy Cruise here.
Ha Long Bay Legend Legacy Cruise: The Best Bits
- The boat – A luxury boat with excellent facilities means that your trip to Halong Bay will be super comfortable. The boat has a lovely sundeck for lounging, luxury rooms and a nice dinner/bar area.
- Visit Lan Ha Bay – The boat will take you to the more remote area of Lan Ha Bay, which is not as touristy as Halong Bay. You will also go kayaking in Lan Ha Bay and check out interesting caves and tunnels by yourself.
- The activities – On this trip, you will visit Titop island, and have the chance to climb up to the top of the mountain for incredible panoramic views of Halong Bay. You will also do a spot of cycling and visit the splendid ‘Surprise Cave’ – one of the most beautiful grottos in Halong Bay. Night kayaking and fishing is also available to see bio-luminescent plankton. And, there’s a cooking class on the last day before lunch where you’ll get to cook up some Vietnamese specialties.
- Vietnamese style fun – This trip is infused with quirky Vietnamese hospitality which will make you smile. Take part in karaoke with the crew on the boat or take part in a morning Tai Chi session – find out more about Vietnamese culture and make new friends.
About the Tour OrganiserTonkin Travel are a local family-run Vietnamese travel company who run a variety of Halong cruises and tours in Vietnam to suit different tastes. Their Legend Legacy cruise gets great reviews.
What’s Included on the Trip?Transport to and from Hanoi is included, as well as accommodation (two nights’ on the boat). All meals are included, as well as all the activities; trekking, cycling ,cave tour and cooking class.
How Much?At $270 US per person this is a mid-range trip with everything included. You could definitely find cheaper options, but the trip is good value for money for what you get. Book the Halong Legend Legacy Cruise here.
The Alternative: A DIY Halong Bay Trip?If you’re looking for more of a DIY experience and you want to explore Cat Ba Island and National Park at your own pace, check out our article on this alternative trip to Halong Bay. Our friend and writer, Franck, tells us his experience of getting a transfer from Hanoi directly to Cat Ba Island and then booking a tour of Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay from there. This option can be a cheap way to do things if you have more time and you are also keen to check out more of what Cat Ba Island has to offer!
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