A recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay’s 1600 craggy islands and caves scatter across the Gulf of Tonkin creating a playground of formations for visitors to explore. Most of these limestone pillars and masses remain uninhabited, capped in vegetation and truly unspoilt. Residents of the area live within small fishing communities and in floating houses, with only two of the Bay’s islands big enough to house permanent inhabitants or host hotels.
As North Vietnam’s number one tourist spot, visiting the bay via cruise is a popular choice. There is no shortage of options on tours from hotels and agencies, making it difficult to filter through the options available. Here are five of the best that will suit travellers on varying budgets and itinerary.
HALONG BAY OVERNIGHT JUNK BOAT CRUISE
FROM: €279,87/per person
A popular choice for many is a two day overnight stay on Halong Bay. Beginning with an early morning pick up from your hotel in Hanoi and four hour drive to the Bay, where you will get your first glimpse at of the encapsulating masses. Aboard the traditional junk boat a seafood lunch is served and guests can relax on the upper deck, marvelling at the passing peaks and caves. The tour offers the opportunity to head out onto the emerald waters and explore these limestone wonders by kayak – safety vests are provided. The evening includes a traditional Vietnamese dinner including fresh seafood and the option to try your hand at night fishing. The final day is spent exploring Sung Sôt – the Cave of Surprises – with a guided tour to ensure you don’t miss its interesting forms and natural beauty. The cruise finishes with lunch aboard the boat bound for the harbour, where you will be collected and dropped off at your hotel in Hanoi.
ULTIMATE HALONG BAY: SEAPLANE AND OVERNIGHT JUNK BOAT CRUISE
From €549,17/ per person
Cut journey time and travel in style: take the seaplane to Halong Bay. Board the 12 seat plane at Noi Bai International Airport, put on your headset and enjoy the 45 minute journey with a bird’s eye view of the north of Vietnam. The professional pilot will provide commentary during the journey as the scenery changes from the bustling Hanoi city to the tranquil bay and Gulf of Tonkin. Landing at the Tuan Chau Marina, head to your traditional Junk Boat to start your cruise. Over lunch, enjoy the views; guided tours by kayak will be offered in the afternoon for those wanting to get closer to the natural forms and marine life. Guests are also able to fish, swim or snorkel and visit the floating villages’ fish farms. With a similar itinerary to most 2 day tours, the following day features a guided tour through the lit paths of the Cave of Surprises. Return to your boat for lunch as it cruises back to the harbour and you embark on the 4 hour drive back to your hotel in Hanoi.
Cat-Ba Island is filled with some of Halong Bay’s top sights; this tour follows a similar structure as the rest but with additional highlight of an extra day and night on island. Following an early morning pick up and drive to Halong Bay, board your cruise and enjoy a welcome drink and lunch as the boat cruises through the small distinctive islets. The boat stops at Soi Sim Island for guests to enjoy the activities they wish: swimming, sunbathing or climbing to the island’s peak for a panoramic view of the bay. The afternoon includes a visit to the popular cave, Sung Sôt, to marvel at the millions of natural forms before returning to the boat for an evening of local tastes: wine, fruit and cooking session with the boat’s chef. The following day visit a pearl farm before stopping off at Viet Hai Harbour to embark on a 5 kilometre cycle through the jungle to the local village. The next stop is Monkey Island where, true to name, you will see wild monkeys and glimpse endangered white-headed langurs. The final island for the day is Cat-Ba where you will spend the evening in a local hotel. Enjoy everything the small town has to offer before cruising back to Halong Bay and returning to Hanoi the next day.
3-DAY CRUISE WITH KAYAKING AND COOKING CLASS ON HALONG BAY
From €222,20 / per person
After an early morning pick up from Hanoi and enjoying lunch aboard your boat, the afternoon will include a visit to one of the floating villages and time spent swimming and enjoying the serene water. The following day features a morning of visits which include: a guided tour of Sung Sôt, the Cave of Surprises; a trip through Day & Night Cave via small boat; explore the lagoons and other caves via kayak. In the afternoon guests will visit Ba Trai Dao and Ti Top Island, where you will take a short trek to its peak for vistas of Halong Bay and the city. The evening activities offer the opportunity to participate in cooking classes and relax with wine and fresh fruit as the sun sets across the Bay. On the final day, head to the Cave of Surprises to explore its hidden wonders with your guide before lunch on your boat as it returns to the harbour. From here your guide will organise travel arrangements back to Hanoi.
This eight day cruise lets you explore beyond Halong Bay’s panoramas: the route following Vietnam’s northern coastline to Danang. The cruise hosts between 30-50 guests, who are transferred to Halong Bay following a night in Hanoi. The two days spent cruising Halong Bay will include cave visits, island hopping and swimming with the option of kayaking too. From here, head South to Lan Ha Bay and Hon La to discover the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where limestone caves stretch 30 km and scenery is relatively unknown compared to Halong Bay. Visit war sites and tunnels in Vinh Moc and Khe Sang, docking in Chan May to visit Hue: the former imperial capital. Sights here include the Thien Mu Pagoda, the Buddhist Monastery, which, still active, dates back to 1601 and the tomb of Emperor Tu. The last night will be spent aboard the boat, enjoying a final dinner before arriving in Da Nang the following morning.