Need to know information about Halong Bay cruises - review by Rusty Compass
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Need to know information about Halong Bay cruises

| 04 Oct 2018


Need to know information about Halong Bay cruises

04 Oct 2018

This Halong Bay guide runs through the practical stuff you should know before booking a cruise. It's independent of any of the cruise operators and intended to do help you make your decision. Read on!

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

1. Question: A Halong Bay day trip vs. overnighting on the bay? What's best?


The day trip’s much much cheaper of course. Reasonable quality day trips start from around 40US per person from Halong. But you’ll need to get there from Hanoi - an extra cost.

New expressway openings in September 2018 make the day trip easier than ever. And day trips now operate in three parts of the bay - Halong Bay (Tuan Chau), Bai Tu Long (Hon Gai) and Lan Ha Bay (Haiphong)

If you want to splash out, it’s worth noting that a seaplane service operates to the bay as well. An aerial view of Halong in the right conditions will be very memorable.

If you have a small group - even as few as four people, chartering a boat from one of the companies we list is also an option.

Halong Bay day trip - Bai Tu Long
Photo: Mark Bowyer Halong Bay day trip - Bai Tu Long


The experience

There are some important differences in the experience of the bay on a day trip vs. an overnight stay.

The day trip from Hanoi involves 5 - 6 hours on the road - which is much better than in previous years. You still get around 4 - 5 hours on the bay - which is enough time to get a sense of it. It’s a long day.

Even the overnight cruises feel a tad rushed. You’ll likely be aboard your boat for around 22 hours. It rushes past.

The big upside from overnighting is sunrise and sunset on the bay. They’re both very memorable - especially for photographers.


2. Question: How’s the quality of Halong Bay cruises


We’ve experienced the range - though we only list some of the mid - high-end operators. All the cruises we list offer a good standard - a comfortable experience with professional crews. These are not luxury cruises - though some offer luxurious suites that are pretty fancy.

The different companies we list are quite similar. And nobody is trying to  do anything special in terms of information, natural history and the like - which is a shame.

Food’s fine too - a 3 - 4 star hotel standard - usually buffet style. What you’d expect for the price and good for a short stay.

The Au Co was the best cruise I've taken. But there isn't a lot in it between Au Co, Bhaya and the Paradise boats - though each have some unique features.

Photo: Mark Bowyer


3. Question: Should I spend up big on the luxury boats?


We'd suggest you avoid the cheapest boats. There are loads of horror stories out there. There are quite a few mid-priced overnight cruises (just over 100USD per person) that get good reviews that we haven’t tried or listed.

If you’re checking out the boats we’ve listed, it’s worth noting you won’t be spending a lot of time in your cabin so you won’t get a whole lot of benefit from a vast palace. It’s also worth noting that all boats are well supplied with common viewing decks - everyone has plenty of viewing space.

The rest of the cruise experience is the same or similar across different boat categories.

So unless you’re feeling especially extravagant, or celebrating something, the return on a big spend may not make sense. But if you are thinking of spending up, it’s also worth considering the suites on ships like the Au Co. Chartering your own boat is also an option of you're feeling extravagant.

Halong Bay day trip - Bai Tu Long
Photo: Mark Bowyer Halong Bay day trip - Bai Tu Long


4. Question: How about the weather on Halong Bay


Weather is a big variable. During monsoon season, cruises are sometimes cancelled by government order.

During winter - December till February, conditions on the bay are often grey. It’s still impressive in misty conditions - but a day trip may suffice in winter.

We prefer Halong Bay in spring, summer or autumn, (March to November) where the conditions are usually warmer and more clear - though there can also be some serious storms and heavy rain during these months. There are some big seasonal variations in prices during these months - especially during local summer holidays.


5. Question: How is Halong Bay changing?


This requires a thesis more than a short answer.

The number of cruises operating on Halong Bay has multiplied in recent years. Halong Bay is booming.

As a result the experience of the bay is changing as well. There are more cruise choices than ever. But the available activities and the quality of the experience is being reduced to meet demand. The local government is putting some pretty rigid controls in place. Though some of their energy seems misdirected if the purpose is to protect the bay.

Some of the changes are inevitable.

On my most recent visit in May 2017, there was no swimming, no visits to floating villages (most of these have been relocated) and no kayaking. The only excursions offered were a cave visit and a visit to Titop Island. Both were crowded.

Things are changing quickly so check with your operator for clear sense of excursions for your planned visits - the excursions are an enjoyable part of the experience.

The local government has announced that overnight cruises will be banned in the decades ahead. Any ban is a long way off though.

6. Question: Can I experience Halong Bay from Haiphong and Cat Ba


Yes - though the offerings are more limited and of a lower standard for now. Keep an eye out though. There are lots of changes happening in this area and new boats and cruises are likely to come online from Haiphong and Cat Ba soon.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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