There’s a magic about Halong Bay Vietnam that is difficult to describe in words. Prepare to be in awe of nearly two thousand towering limestone islets reaching up to the heavens from the emerald waters, many topped by rainforests. A Halong Bay Cruise is the best way to explore this natural wonder.
Despite hearing about hundreds of boats vying for position and caves filled with tourists, we found the opposite. We spent the day on a Halong Bay luxury cruise, visited a Halong Bay cave alongside only one other small group, and were the only group at a fishing village.
Perhaps it was the luck of the draw. I attribute it to research. This page outlines how and why we carefully chose Amazing Sails for our Halong Bay day cruise.
Things to think about before you choose a Halong Bay cruise
There are hundreds of Halong Bay boat cruise options, and many factors to consider when making a selection. Each one affects the budget and your day.
Starting city: either Halong Bay or Hanoi
The drive from Halong Bay to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, takes a bit more than 2 hours. Most tours either start locally or include transportation from Hanoi to Halong Bay. If your tour doesn’t include transport, you can take a bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Be sure to read the tour details carefully.
For us, we arrived via a small cruise ship that docked at the Halong International Cruise Port (Bãi Cháy). It’s also a popular tour starting point.
Choosing the length of your cruise
The most popular boat tours are either half-day, full-day, or an overnight cruise in Halong Bay. Typically, the longer the cruise, the higher the cost.
Half-day tour: Not optimal unless you have extremely limited time. The advantage is that it does get you out to the beautiful bay. The disadvantages are that you usually don’t have time to get out of the crowded areas and you will give up some of the added activities.
Full-day cruise: Generally affordable options, a full-day tour usually has the time and ability to get farther out into the bay. As you travel, you move away from the crowds, allowing a better appreciation of the natural beauty. The disadvantage is not getting to see the sunrise from the bay.
Overnight cruise: Perfect for people who want the full experience, including both sunset and sunrise over the towering islets. Overnight cruises have time to go farther. As a result, they often visit exclusive areas and those considered the most beautiful. The disadvantage to some is that these cruises are more expensive, and the accommodation is often only moderate.
Type of Halong Bay boat
All boats cruising Halong bay are not equal. We opted for a recently refurbished luxury boat. Be advised that the definition of luxury is slightly lower here than in western cultures. Despite this, our boat was lovely, with two decks, sun shades, an indoor area, and plenty of benches and loungers.
Activities included with the cruise
Aside from enjoying the natural wonders, the typical Halong Bay cruise includes activities like cave visits, bamboo boat or kayaking, visits to a fishing village, or swimming at a beach.
Halong Bay cave visits
Sung Sot, commonly called Suprise, is the largest and most popular cave. Frequently crowded, visitors move through rather quickly. If you want a more intimate cave experience, choose a tour that goes to a different cave.
Fishing village visit
There are four floating fishing villages in Halong Bay and many of the cruises include a visit to one as a feature of their day.
Kayaking or bamboo boats
Kayaking in Halong Bay is often a self-guided activity at one of the stops on your cruise, and most often on two-person kayaks. Kayaks are a great option for people who like to be in control of the boat, or who want a bit of exercise.
Bamboo boats: traditional crafts steered by a local. We chose bamboo boats as they were culturally different. Another possible advantage is that the bamboo boat allows for a guide in the vessel with you.
Beaches and swimming
Some of the Halong Bay boat tours stop at a beach, allowing participants time for a swim.
Independent booking in advance, booking on the spot, or a Halong Bay tour from a cruise ship?
The final choice you have to make is how you want to book your trip.
Cruise Excursion: This option only applies if you are arriving into Halong Bay via cruise ship. There will be at least one option for a Halong Bay boat tour. If you are in port for a limited amount of time, this may be the best option, as you don’t want to miss your cruise ship if your Halong Bay day tour runs late. The big advantage is that someone else does the research and planning. In contrast, if you have a window of time, you can usually save substantial money by booking independently (like we did).
Independent Booking: We opted to book independently and in advance, so we knew we wouldn’t miss out or overpay through our cruise ship. We read reviews and chose exactly what we wanted. Some consider having to do the work a negative. For me, it’s just what I do. A disadvantage is that if something went wrong and our cruise ship didn’t dock, we would have lost out.
Booking on the spot: While there appeared to be plenty of people at the Halong International Cruise Port building wanting to take our money for a tour, we would have no idea what we were really getting. While this is a fine option in some cities, Halong Bay was too important for me to take the gamble or risk that there were no available options on the day we arrive.
Our choice: Amazing Sails Halong Bay cruise
Amazing Sails was our choice and our top recommendation.
⇒ Check price and reviews for Amazing Sails
If you are like us, you will read the above options and choose a full-day Halong Bay cruise that visits an alternate cave to Surprise, includes a meal, offers additional activities, and does it all with a touch of class.
Because Amazing Sails offers two starting options, either pick up from Hanoi or joining in Halong Bay, we didn’t start our sail at 8 am with the majority of boats. This meant that right from the beginning we were not with the crowds.
We were welcomed with a refreshing watermelon juice (and each given two bottles of water). A quick safety briefing and a review of our route, and we were off.
Amazing lunch onboard
Our seven hours with Amazing Sails included a five-course lunch of seafood soup, green mango salad with prawns, fresh spring roll with Vietnamese dressing, grilled sea bass with tamarind sauce (or pork rib with BBQ sauce), and strawberry cake with fresh fruit. I am pleased to report, mine was perfectly adapted to gluten and lactose-free. Also, both Jeff’s and mine were delicious.
⇒ Click here to book your Amazing Sails adventure
Relaxing or staring out from our Halong Bay cruise
After lunch, we had time to view nature from the decks, to relax and nap, or to use the onboard gym (although I can’t imagine not spending my time staring in wonder at this magical bay).
Tien Ong Cave
Our ship dropped anchor and a tender took us to Tien Ong cave. The initial room had interpretive signs and boardwalks. As we walked further into the cave, it became more natural. We saw only one other small group while we were in this cave, and were glad we hadn’t gone to the crowded Surprise cave.
Cua Van fishing village
There were once more fishing villages in this region; today, only four remain. The largest is Cua Van, populated by generations of fishing families. It’s also called a floating village as the fishermen live in floating (but well anchored) homes with their families. There is a village school for the children, most who learnt to swim before they walked.
When we visited, we had the option of exploring the village on our own in a two-person kayak or in a traditional bamboo boat steered by a local woman. We nearly always make the cultural choice and therefore opted for the bamboo boat. Besides, we own kayaks and can use them anytime when at home.
Another advantage of the bamboo boat was our guide, who could tell us interesting information as we moved through the village. Each family is allocated 200 sq metres for their farm. Many of the fishermen go out daily in a variety of different boats.
Vegetable carving, afternoon tea, and sunset to end our Halong Bay cruise
As the afternoon wound down, Amazing Sails brought out a beautiful afternoon tea, loaded with fresh fruit. Freshly carved flowers made from vegetables decorated the table. As a bonus, one of the staff demonstrated the art of flower carving. Next, I gave it a try. I quickly discovered this is both a talent and a skill. However, I don’t think I did too bad for my first try.
And then, we sailed back as the sun set. This was a perfect day.
Small group on our Amazing Sails Halong Bay cruise
Amazing Sails always has small groups, although our group was smaller than average. However, the maximum is only 26 guests.
We loved our day with Amazing Sails and couldn’t imagine any day trip being better. Sailing from Halong Bay a bit later than most of the other boats, we avoided the crowds. The option of starting from Hanoi made our group more diverse. Plus, the cruise met all our requirements: a luxury day yacht, lunch, Halong Bay, a less crowded cave, a bamboo boat through a fishing village, and a sunset.
⇒ Check price and availability for your Amazing Sails adventure
If we had more time, we would have probably opted for an overnight boat. With no personal experience, we rely on reviews and therefore would have chosen this 2-Day & 1-Night Halong Bay & Lan Ha Bay Luxury Cruise
⇒Check price and reviews
For those whose time is extremely limited, click here for the best four-hour tour we can find.
Save on your trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or VRBO (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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We visited Vietnam as part of a 15-night cruise that sailed from Hong Kong to Singapore.
How will you choose a Halong Bay cruise?
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Disclaimer: We had a media discount for our Amazing Sails cruise to aid in the writing of this page. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
Halong Bay is one of my favorite places in Vietnam and for some absolute reasons. I remember I took one of those cruises when I was traveling in Vietnam, and it was so much of fun especially the food you get onboard. I always recommend taking a cruise to anyone who wishes to travel to Vietnam.
Halong Bay is one of those places where people seem to have the time of their lives! I always knew about their junkboat cruises but never really found out about the other options and this posts encapsulates the myriad of options out there! Looks amazing too!
Incredible! I have bookmarked this for next year when I turn 50! Going to go big or go home on adventure!
I missed out on going on a Halong Bay cruise when I was in Hanoi last year. After reading your post I realize I need to make another trip. Amazing Sails sounds like the way to go for the special cave.
I have not traveled to Vietnam yet even though I have been to most of the surrounding countries. Posts like your have made me visit this beautiful destination and one I am looking to travel to next year. I would not want to see it any other way then by taking the cruise along the river as you have shown us. Always good to start a bit late and avoid the crazy rush early in the morning when all leave together. It would be a day trip for me too and would like to soak in as much as i could. Would be difficult to do an overnight with kids I presume. The beaches are just fantastic and one which draw my attention . Great for the entire family so thanks for sharing
Vietnam is high on my travel destination list and this travel plan and details for tour to Halong Bay cruise is so helpful. That cave makes me curious, I might add that to my list. Another unique activity I liked is that of vegetable carving. Definitely my choice but sad that it may not last long. Did you eat it after it was carved?
I probably could have eaten it, but there was so much delicious food around that I didn’t.
Halong Bay is on my bucket list. I want to experience the overnight cruise so I won’t feel rushed and have a lot of activities too and the best part is to see both sunrise and sunset which is amazing. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
Linda (LD Holland)
A cruise on Halong Bay is something that I have always waned to do. I did not know you could do an overnight cruise. I would love to get that sunrise and sunset view. Getting out on the water on a kayak or bamboo boat sounds like fun. I am glad that Amazing Sails was a good option for you. So cool that they served afternoon tea. I will definitely remember this if we visit Vietnam.
I have earmarked your post as I am considering visiting Vietnam this year.
I am like you, do all the hard work in advance and book it. And to be honest, you done the hard work for me here. I have made a note of Amazing Sails as I am yet to visit Halong Bay but fingers crossed it’s on the cards this year.
Navigating the minefield of Halong Bay cruise options sounds like a nightmare given there are so many variables! It’s such a magical spot it’d be a bummer to make the wrong choices and spoil the experience. If time and cost weren’t factors, I’d take the overnight cruise, but your option sounds just as good with the variety of activities, delectable-looking food, the bonus of the small group and luxury of fewer crowds. But what’s the gym all about? I wouldn’t have any problem staying away from it 😀
Wow I didn’t even know there were so many options!
That’s a lot of great information – thanks for sharing!
Hello, looks like an amazing place to visit. I love the scenery,cave and the food looks delicious!
Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!
Wow, this looks like a great tour. And your Guide comes very handy when planning a tour.
What a lovely way to experience Halong Bay. It looks like a beautiful cruise. Thanks for the great guide!
sarah de gheselle
wow, a cruise on Halong Bay definitely needs to be on my bucket list. This looks like an epic experience!
Awesome guide, I didn’t know that choosing the cruise can be so difficult, thanks for the info, I’ll save it for my journey to Vietnam
Wow, this place looks amazing! We haven’t been there yet but we plan to go to Asia after our year in Australia, might be able to squeeze this in!
We love Vietnam and we’re just back from the central part where we have visited Hoi An and Hue, but next on the list is Ha Long Bay for sure! I think a full-day experience is the greatest and found this really useful and will use it as a starting point for our escape.
I’d love to go here – it’s definitely on my travel list. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
Ah such fond memories! Though I made the mistake of going just for a day trip and would do anything to have stayed a little longer. This is a very useful guide!
It has been on my bucket list for so long and you have only convined me more.
Great adventure with a great smile!
OMG the food looks amazing. And what a beautiful area it is. Definitely want to go back.
I’m going to Ha Long Bay on my trip to Vietnam in March! This is beyond helpful! Thank you!
How fun. I would have enjoyed this. I’m hungry and the food looks amazing.
Have a fabulous day and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. ♥