Halong Bay Tours – Which is the Best Tour For You?

Halong Bay, Vietnam

There are literally hundreds of Halong Bay tours to choose from – and it’s no wonder! After earning UNESCO World Heritage status in 1994, the destination has appeared on social media more than anywhere else in Vietnam.

Visiting Halong Bay independently is practically impossible so if you want to visit, you’ll have to choose a cruise company.  The important thing to know is that companies vary greatly. Halong Bay cruises differ when it comes to boat quality, facilities, itinerary and the general tour vibe e.g. party/relaxation/luxury. 

Basically, the boat company that you choose for your Halong Bay voyage will make or break your experience so choose wisely! 

Don’t worry if you’re freaking out – we’re here to help! We’ve singled out five recommendations based on our 15+ years of travel experience in Vietnam, plus the broad knowledge of our Facebook community of over 20,000 travellers! You’re in safe hands here! 

Wondering how much to spend on a Halong Bay cruise, how many days to tour the bay and the best time of year to visit? Check out our FAQ section below

Halong Bay Map & Resources

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Halong Bay vs. Lan Ha Bay 🛳️ 🤔

In recent years, Halong Bay has suffered the effects of overtourism. As such, cruise companies began to take people away from the crowds to a more distant part of the bay, called “Lan Ha Bay”. Today, Lan Ha Bay is touted as ‘off the beaten track’ and tour companies tell you that it offers a more tranquil, authentic experience. The truth is that the vast majority of cruise ships visit Lan Ha Bay these days! While it is undoubtedly beautiful, it certainly isn’t ‘undiscovered’ and you’ll definitely see other cruise ships during a trip there. From the main harbour, you have to sail through Halong Bay to reach Lan Ha Bay so if the cruise that you choose visits Lan Ha Bay as part of the itinerary, then you’ll end up seeing both bays regardless!

Which Halong Bay Tour is Best? 

Top Halong Bay Cruises – Quick Answers!

Top Tip! Choose a Longer Tour 💡

If you are eager to visit some lesser-known parts of both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, then we definitely recommend choosing a 3-day, 2-night cruise over a 2-day, 1-night cruise. With more time, your boat will have more opportunity to sail away from the main harbour and into quieter areas of the bay. On a 2-day cruise (with a return trip from Hanoi, which takes over 3 hours!), you won’t sail very far from the harbour at all and you will miss many of the best spots (in our humble opinion!) in the bay. You’ll also overnight in a much noisier part of the bay (think karaoke blasting from nearby boats!).

Top Halong Bay Cruises 🛳️

1. Halong Hideaway Cruise 🎉

Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!

Perfect for you if… You’re a young budget backpacker. You want to see Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, make new friends and take part in fun activities like kayaking, hiking and cycling. You’re not looking for luxury, only a good time!

Best Pick for Budget Backpackers!
Halong Hideaway Cruise
  • Perfect for young budget backpackers 18-35.
  • Make new friends and party. 
  • Enjoy a huge variety of activities such as kayaking, hiking and cycling.
  • One of the cheapest, most popular and longest-running Halong Bay tours!

This is one of the cheapest Halong tours out there and despite it offering a no-frills experience, you really can’t knock it when it comes to value for money! If you want to experience Halong Bay (and Lan Ha Bay!) on a budget, this is the best tour for you – hands down. 

The itinerary is varied and the Halong Hideaway crew make sure that you get involved in a variety of fun activities during the trip. On day two, you’ll explore one of Halong Bay’s inhabited islands and cycle through a local village. There’s also the option to do a jungle trek up to a peak with panoramic views and visit an eerie ‘Bat Cave’. 

Trekking to the peak!

On day three (if you choose the longer 3-day tour, which we highly recommend!), you’ll go kayaking amidst the cliffs, islets and floating villages of Halong Bay – one of the best experiences on this trip! Again, it’s great value for money for the variety of excellent activities offered.

The Halong Hideaway Cruise is organized by Central Backpackers Hostels, a cheap and cheerful hostel chain with locations in Hanoi and Cat Ba Island. Their budget tours (such as this cruise and their Ha Giang Buffalo Tour) are aimed at young backpackers looking for a good time and their fun-loving friendly staff do all they can to help you feel safe and make amazing memories! For the budget backpacker, they’re the best option. 

Looks like a good time to us!

What’s Included: Transport to and from Hanoi is included in the price, as well as boat accommodation. All meals are included, as well as a range of activities; trekking, kayaking, cycling, boat jumping, oh and all the partying! (Beer not included.)

“Just got back from the 3d2n tour with Halong Hideaway. It was great. The guides were helpful, made tons of new friends and the food was plentiful and tasty with enough variety to satisfy everyone. The bike ride and hike on the second day provide a nice view into the lives of the local people and scenery. The boat ride to the island was great with a nice time to go swimming and jump off the boat. Great tour and worth every penny!”

Shawn, South East Asia Backpacker Community Memeber

2. Oasis Bay Party Cruise 🔥

Good vibes are aplenty on Oasis Bay!

Perfect for you if… You want to party with people from all over the world on a 5* luxury cruise boat! You like the idea of sipping cocktails in a jacuzzi (who doesn’t?!) and spending the night on an uninhabited private island in Lan Ha Bay, where you can party the night away…

Best 5* Party Cruise With Private Island Stay!
Oasis Bay Party Cruise
  • The ONLY cruise which includes an overnight stay on a private island in Lan Ha Bay!
  • Three on-board jacuzzis, water trampolines, sun deck and a huge dance floor.
  • Each room has a private balcony and bathtub.
  • Beach party bonfire island experience.

The ‘Oasis Bay Party Cruiser’ is a 5* luxury boat with three jacuzzis, a water trampoline, a well-stocked bar and a large dance floor. The rooms are swish and comfortable with double beds, bathtubs and private balconies overlooking the water. The top deck has sun loungers – perfect for sipping cocktails and watching sunsets! 

Since the pandemic, the Oasis Bay Party Cruise is the ONLY cruise to offer the opportunity to spend a night on an exclusive ‘private island’ in Halong Bay… Guests who choose the 3-day, 2-night tour (highly recommended) will spend the night on the incredible ‘Paradise Island’, a tiny islet in the middle of nowhere in Lan Ha Bay with a beautiful sandy beach positioned between two huge rocks. 

Fancy spending the night here?!

The island is kitted out with everything a traveller could need to have a good time. There’s not one, but two beaches, modern, clean and comfortable accommodation, hammocks and a volleyball court! And, at night, the island is transformed into the perfect setting for a spectacular beach party, with beach bonfires, music and barbecues. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

In terms of activities, the trip includes kayaking, hiking, boat jumping, swimming, volleyball, frisbee, oh and relaxing on a ‘floating mattress’ – typical watery-based fun! This tour is all about partying and having a good time, and the staff go all out to make this trip a fun experience while helping travellers meet and mingle! 

When you’re not partying, there’s still plenty to do!

What’s Included: Transport to and from Hanoi, as well as accommodation on the boat and on the island if you choose the three-day, two-night option. All meals are included during the tour, as well as all the activities and entrance fees. 

3. Real Lan Ha Bay 🏞️

This tour is designed to pull travellers away from the most populated areas!

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 karaoke and party cruises as possible! 

Best Off the Beaten Track Cruise
Real Lan Ha Bay
  • Escape the crowds of Halong Bay, away from the party cruises!
  • Perfect for nature lovers seeking dramatic landscapes.
  • Stay overnight in an eco-friendly homestay. 
  • Search for bioluminescent plankton by kayak.

On this one-of-a-kind Halong Bay trip, you’ll cruise away from Halong Bay and spend the majority of your voyage in Lan Ha Bay, a more tranquil area of the bay, perfect for kayaking, swimming and immersing yourself in nature.

The unique part of this trip is the chance to spend the night at an eco-friendly, self-sustaining village, in the heart of Lan Ha Bay, called Viet Hai Village. During the village stay, you’ll explore traditional houses, glimpse farmers with their water buffaloes, hike to a viewpoint for amazing views over Lan Ha Bay, eat home-cooked meals with local families and sleep in a traditional Vietnamese homestay in the heart of nature.

Just look at those bedroom views!

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’, trek through an indigenous forest and go kayaking at night to (hopefully) see bioluminescent plankton.

The Real Lan Ha Bay Tour is organised by Friends Travel Vietnam, a local family-run business based out of Hanoi with a keen eye for off-the-beaten-track travel. They have a series of trips they call ‘Real’ Tours, designed to take you away from the tourist crowds and experience authentic Vietnam. 

The cruise ship itself is operated by Venezia Cruises, a 3-star vessel offering very comfortable rooms with panoramic ocean views and private bathrooms. 

While the tour is a bit more expensive than some other tours to Halong Bay ($269USD per person) it’s well worth it for a unique experience that allows you to see a completely different side of Halong and Lan Ha Bay, away from the party tours…

The views from the sun deck aren’t half bad!

What’s Included: Transport to and from Hanoi, as well as one night’s accommodation on the boat and one night in the homestay at Viet Hai Village. All meals (local Vietnamese food) and all activities, such as a kayaking trip to the cave and a guided trek from Viet Hai Village, are included. 

“The Lan Ha Bay tour was amazing!! Both the cruise and the village were unique experiences, supreme beauty. I guess the best moment was watching the incredible panorama passing by while lying in a comfy bed, the moment to remember for a lifetime 🙂 The tour was packed with exciting activities, while none of them were mandatory, so the pace was relaxing. Canoeing, cycling, and hiking up to the hill with breathtaking views were my favourites. I appreciated time in the village – nice local people, and staying overnight allowed me to feel the real vibe of it (much better than just passing through would be). Logistics well organized, comfy and at some moments individual transportation, small group, non-touristic places, clean nature.”

Kristine, Member of the South East Asia Backpacker Community

4. Dora Cruise 🥂

The beautiful Dora Cruise boat sailing through the bay.

Perfect for you if… You’re looking for a 5* luxury cruise on an incredible boat with top-class facilities. With a swimming pool, jacuzzi, onboard fitness centre and spa, this cruise ship is one of the best-equipped in the bay – and you might be pleasantly surprised by the price tag.

Best Value for Money Luxury
Dora Cruise
  • Amazing value for money – get luxury for less!
  • Top-class facilities include a swimming pool, sundeck jacuzzi, gymnasium and spa. 
  • High-end gastronomical experience. 
  • Each room has a bathtub and private balcony for relaxing. 

With the Dora Cruise, we are starting to get into the real luxury cruise experiences that many people crave for their Halong Bay adventure. The Dora Cruise is a five-star vessel equipped with everything anyone could want for an indulgent few days on the sea. On board, you’ll find a swimming pool, sundeck jacuzzi, gymnasium and spa, complete with spectacular views of the bay. 

When it comes to accommodation, there are a variety of stunning rooms, from the no-expenses-spared ‘honeymoon suite’ to the ‘executive suite’ with its private sea-view terrace. However, the standard junior suite (the cheapest) is hard to beat in terms of value for money. Whatever room you choose, all of them have large comfortable beds, AC, flat-screen TV, WiFi,  private bathrooms with bathtubs and private balconies for relaxing. 

The food during the tour is prepared by top-class Vietnamese chefs and you can gorge on delicious seafood dishes, fresh vegetables and a variety of Western or local dishes, paired with a huge selection of international wines (at extra cost). There’s also a varied cocktail menu for a before or after-dinner treat!  

If you’re looking for plush comfort – you’ve found it!

Aside from the luxury on-board, there are plenty of fun activities to get involved in and the cruise takes you to some lesser-known areas of Halong and Lan Ha Bay, which is a nice bonus. You’ll visit Viet-Hai village for some cycling (optional), visit the ‘Dark and Bright Cave’ and also explore some hidden beaches of Lan Ha Bay where you’ll get the chance to go kayaking, swim or just relax and sunbathe on the sands. 

On the boat, you can participate in an early morning tai chi class as the sun rises over the limestone karsts of Lan Ha Bay and by night you can go squid fishing with a local fisherman. Both are highly recommended activities! 

When it comes to the vibe of the cruise, the atmosphere is sociable, without being too party-focused. You’ll get couples, families, friends and solo travellers who want to treat themselves by choosing Dora Cruise so the clientele is a very mixed bag. 

All in all, if you’re looking for a luxury Halong and Lan Ha Bay experience at a very affordable price, then look no further than the Dora Cruise. 

What would make those world-class views better?! A jacuzzi of course!

What’s Included: All accommodation on the boat, as well as all meals (buffet-style), all activities, entrance fees and use of fitness facilities, swimming pool, jacuzzi etc. Massages and spa treatments cost extra and transport to/from Hanoi is not included. (VIP transfer in a limousine bus is $18USD one way and $35USD return.)

5. Genesis Regal Cruise 🍾

When it comes to luxury, it doesn’t get much better than this…

Perfect for you if… You’re seeking a luxurious cruise with high-end facilities. The plush rooms, jacuzzi, swimming pool and huge sundeck offer a relaxing experience while the available activities allow you to explore Lan Ha Bay and learn about Vietnamese culture. Pamper yourself and feel like royalty!

Best Luxury Cruise
Genesis Regal Cruise
  • All-out luxury cruise with first-class service!
  • Enjoy gourmet dining on demand.
  • The largest sundeck in the bay!
  • A choice of plush suites, complete with a private balcony and sweeping sea vistas. 

If you’re looking for an all-out luxury cruise then you can’t really go wrong with the spectacularly opulent Genesis Regal Cruise. Whatever room you choose, from the regal suite (most expensive) to the junior suite (cheapest), you’ll experience total comfort with WiFi, flat-screen TV, AC, standing and lying bathtubs and a private balcony with uninterrupted sea views.

The food on board is extremely varied with a diverse buffet of over 100 dishes prepared by top-class Vietnamese chefs. Unlike other cruises, where you have to wait for designated mealtimes, on the Genesis Regal Cruise, you can enjoy lunch, dinner or snacks whenever you feel hungry! Basically, you’ll be spoiled rotten!

Are you feeling hungry yet?!

The boat itself is equipped with an indoor and outdoor bar, swimming pool, jacuzzi and the largest sundeck of any cruise ship in the bay! As you sail away from Tuan Chau Harbour, you will head to more tranquil parts of Lan Ha Bay and discover hidden beaches amidst the limestone cliffs, where you’ll get the chance to swim, kayak or just relax on the sand.

During the tour, there’s the chance to get involved in a variety of activities from kayaking around the interesting Tra Bau Floating House to nighttime squid fishing, an on-board cooking class, cycling in Viet Hai village and exploring the ‘Dark and Bright Cave’ (all activities are optional). Like on the Dora Cruise, you can also take part in a tai chi class on deck as you watch the sunrise over the bay – a truly unique experience.

If you want to treat yourself and feel like royalty for a few days, then choose the Genesis Regal Cruise!

We don’t think you’ll be forgetting this cruise for a while..!

What’s Included: All accommodation, all meals (buffet-style), all activities, entrance fees and use of a swimming pool and jacuzzi etc. Massages and spa treatments are extra and transport to/from Hanoi is not included. (VIP transfer in a limousine bus is $20USD one way and $30USD return from Hanoi.)

Halong Bay and Pollution 😷

You may have heard reports about Halong Bay being polluted and ‘ruined’. We’re sorry to say that Halong Bay is a victim of its own natural beauty, and like many other beauty spots in Southeast Asia, over-tourism has sadly taken its toll. The area around Tuan Chau Harbour and Halong Bay are the worst hit in terms of pollution and you’ll find that the waters get clearer and less littered the further you get out into Lan Ha Bay and the connected Bai Tu Long Bay. Conservation efforts are currently underway, though there is still a long way to go.

Halong Bay FAQs

What is Halong Bay?

Halong Bay, located in Quang Ninh Province, in the North of Vietnam, is the country’s number one tourist attraction. The entire area (of over 1500 square kilometres) became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.  Historically (500 million years ago), the landscape was part of an ancient coral reef that was slowly uncovered as the waters evaporated. 

What does the name ‘Halong Bay’ mean?

The name ‘Halong’ means ‘descending dragon’ in Vietnamese.

What is special about Halong Bay?

Halong Bay is home to thousands of limestone karsts and tiny islets of different shapes and sizes creating a unique seascape, reminiscent of Krabi in Southern Thailand and Guilin in China (actually once part of the same enormous coral reef). The environment is unique in terms of biodiversity, with 14 endemic flora and 60 endemic fauna. 

How much is a Halong Bay cruise?

Prices for a Halong Bay tour vary greatly. For a 2-day, 1-night tour, the cheapest (Halong Hideaway Tour) comes in at just under $125USD while the most expensive can be upward of $200USD. For a 3-day, 2-night tour, the prices start at just over $200USD (again, it’s the Halong Hideaway Tour) and can rise to $1000+USD, depending on the type of cruise ship and the type of room.

Can you visit Halong Bay independently?

While it’s difficult to explore Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay independently (unless you have a pal with a boat!), it is possible to do a day trip from Cat Ba Island, which is what some budget backpackers prefer. 

How long should you spend in Halong Bay?

The most common tour durations are either 3-day, 2-night, or 2-day, 1-night, including a round trip from Hanoi. We recommend doing a longer trip if your itinerary and budget allow. The best areas in Halong and Lan Ha Bay take a while to reach by boat and on the 2-day tours, you’ll completely miss out on these more impressive landscapes! Remember to factor in the return travel time from Hanoi to Halong Bay, (which can take several hours with traffic). Allocate at least three days so that you have more time to explore, relax and see an authentic side of the bay that isn’t just tourist boats in a harbour scrambling to set off!

How do you get from Hanoi to Halong Bay?

From the capital Hanoi, it takes about 2-3 hours by bus (depending on traffic) to reach Tuan Chau Harbour which is where most of the Halong Bay cruises set off. Most of the tour packages will include return transport to Halong Bay by bus (be sure to check before booking).

Halong Bay – a bucket-list activity for good reason!

Is Halong Bay Really Worth It?

Yes! A tour of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While the area has suffered from overtourism in recent years, huge conservation efforts are underway and improvements are already being seen. 

The landscape is totally unique and to cut Halong Bay from your itinerary would be to miss one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. However, be sure to pick the right Halong Bay cruise or you could end up disappointed. Choose wisely and your visit to Halong Bay will be one of the highlights of your Vietnamese adventure!

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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