Ha Long Bay is Vietnam’s premiere geologic attraction and a true wonder to behold. Off the coast in the northern portion of the country emerges hundreds of steep limestone islands, warped and shaped by the sea for ages. The popularity of Ha Long Bay has exploded in recent years, making the number of tour options quite overwhelming (over 6,000!) and a less crowded experience harder to find. Here are our tips for finding the perfect Ha Long Bay tour for your trip.
How long to visit
Cruise lengths vary from half day up to 3 day/2 night options. As with many natural wonders, those taking simple day tours can expect larger crowds because of the convenience provided. Longer cruises, while more expensive, allow visitors to experience more of the area and free from most other boats. Because this was one of our most anticipated stops in Vietnam, we opted for a 3 day/2 night ‘luxury cruise’ with transportation provided to/from our place in Hanoi. It also included multiple kayaking stops, a pearl farm tour, cave tour, beach lunch, and all meals on board for $286 per person.
What kind of boat
While there are a variety of options, most cruise companies use the region’s traditional craft called a ‘junk’. Day trips will obviously not worry about accommodations, but those cruising overnight can expect smaller cruise ships and that offer between 10-20 rooms for guests. Our cruise held 20 guests with roughly 8 crew onboard looking after us. There were deck chairs on top, an outdoor and indoor dining area, and a small bar. The rooms were small, but very well kept and clean.
Where they go
Our biggest concern was being jammed between dozens of other boats while we tried to appreciate the natural beauty of the cliffs. From other pictures we had seen, this seems to be the reality of many of the day tours. Thankfully, our cruise stayed away from the busiest areas and traveled through both Ha Long Bay and neighboring Bai Tu Long Bay. We rarely even saw other boats as we made our way around the area. It was wonderful. At night, the boat would anchor in protected coves within view, but not close to, about a half dozen other ships from the same company. By morning, we were off cruising away from the others long before most woke up.