One of the most iconic images of Vietnam is one with a bunch of lush green limestone karst islands in the middle of the sea – this is none other than the Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies in the northern coast of Vietnam. It is roughly a 2-hour drive from Hanoi and is a must-visit when in Vietnam. We plugged in this visit as the first leg of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here).
Planning your trip to Ha Long
There are two ways in which you can plan this excursion:
- Approach a travel agency who will arrange the whole trip for you. This can be done online or even a day in advance in Hanoi – there are dozens of agencies in the Old Quarter who can link you up.
- Look up various cruise options online through sites like booking.com for a DIY solution. Keep your eye on the inclusions and exclusions so that you can plan your day and make transfer arrangements if needed.
How many days to spend at Ha Long Bay
The are 3 popular options – a day-cruise, 2D 1N or 3D 2N. Breaking it down into Pros and Cons so that you can make a simple choice:
One day cruise: This would be a super-hectic option if you add in the transfers from Hanoi. We feel 4 hours on the bay is too less time to take in the beauty. And you do not get to experience sunrise or sunset here. Another downside is that in this time, they can only take you to the crowded parts of the bay. You can opt for this only if you are super crunched for time.
2D 1N: This is an optimal amount of time to spend as you get to explore more of the bay and also indulge in some water activities like swimming and kayaking. We went for this option and had an amazing time. Our van picked us up from Hanoi Old Quarter early in the morning and dropped us at the jetty where we transferred to a smaller boat – this took us to our cruise.
After lunch on board, we spent time enjoying the scenery from our balcony. Around 4 in the evening, we anchored close to one of the islands where we were taken to a floating cabin and given kayaks to go around and explore the bay. This was one of the best parts of the experience as we got to paddle around the gentle water weaving in and out of the islands. After about an hour here, there was more time for a swim. We were then taken back and served dinner.
We welcomed the sun the next morning with a round of Tai Chi on the boat’s deck followed by breakfast.
We were then taken to one of the floating villages where we boarded a rowing boat and explored some caves.
After this little adventure, we headed back for a cooking class where we made traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and also had a heavy brunch (to fall in love with Vietnamese food, click right here).
Our van was waiting at the jetty which took us back to Hanoi by evening.
3D 2N: This is the option you go for if you have no time constraints. If you are going for this, make sure you choose a cruise which goes to the Bai Tu Long Bay and also has more excursions. It will include everything we’ve mentioned above in the 2D 1N option and some more, like bicycle tour in a nearby village, fishing trips, hike trails.
Which cruise to pick?
There are a few factors you need to consider while picking the perfect cruise.
Budget: There are quite a lot of luxury options available (most of them are pretty good). We went for the mid-range as it suited our overall budget. Try to avoid the absolute low range as the quality of the boats will not be great.
Inclusions/Exclusions: Most cruises have the above-mentioned activities and food included in the price – but do check out the fine print to make sure there are no last-minute hiccups/surprises.
Transfers: It is always convenient to have transfers included along with the cruise. They will ensure that you are always on time and don’t end up missing your boat. Public transport is an option – but we feel it is best to spend a few extra VND and forget about the hassle. They provide an option of hotel pick up too if you are staying in the Old Quarter.
Reviews: The more the reviews, the more reliable and predictable the service. It always helps to look at the most recent reviews – so keep your eye for those!
We chose to go for the Halong Sapphire Cruise which combined everything we were looking for.
The Vietnam experience is incomplete without a trip to the beautiful Ha Long Bay. We headed back to Hanoi after our cruise – check out how you can make the most of your days in Hanoi here!
Hope this helps you plan your trip better – do let us know in the comments below. For all our other blogs on Vietnam, click right here! Check out our latest travels on Instagram at @fridgemagnet.tales