Halong Bay
The Ultimate Guide For First Time Travelers

For a lot of people, Halong Bay is a place you need to visit at least once. 

For some, it’s a place that’s unheard of and an unfamiliar destination talked about because of its natural beauty or maybe because of its world heritage title.

If you are planning a trip to Halong Bay while feeling lost and overwhelmed with all the blog post and information that roam the vast internet world about Halong Bay and beyond, this ultimate travel guide will give you everything you need to know to plan your perfect trip to Ha Long Bay.

What Halong Bay Is Famous For?

You may know about Halong Bay because of its UNESCO World Heritage Site title or its amazing limestone mountains talked often on the Internet. 

Moreover, Halong Bay has so much more to offer. 

Before knowing why this destination is so famous among travelers and how to plan your own perfect Halong Bay trip in an easy way with our insider’s tips, let’s take a look at these amazing images of Halong Bay! 

Perhaps your imagination about the Bay is totally matched with the reality!

 

Where is Halong Bay, Vietnam?

Halong Bay is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site twice and a very popular tourist destination in the northeast part of Vietnam, under the management of both Quang Ninh and Hai Phong provinces.

The whole of Halong Bay or sometimes referred to as the Gulf of Tonkin has an area of around 1,500km2, which contains approximately 1,969 islands and islets made from karst limestone towering like skyscrapers throughout the bay, formed through millions of years.

A long history and tremendous values lie within Halong magnificent limestone mountains. 

Normal limestone mountains are usually found on the ground, however, the Halong Bay’s limestones are raised from above the water.

It’s taken 500 million years to form Halong Bay to 2000 limestone islands as today.

Human beings have inhabited the area for centuries but made no damage to the heritage. The appearance, indeed, added unique cultural values to Halong Bay.

Who has been to Halong Bay?

From world leaders, celebrities, fashion icons, to Hollywood directors, Halong Bay has probably welcomed the world’s most influential leaders. The list includes 

  • Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie, 
  • The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain,
  • Numerous presidents and prime ministers, 
  • Facebook’s Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, 
  • Hollywood directors and actors, and many others. 

It shows how the destination bringing so much importance to the representation of Vietnam to the rest of the world. 

How Is The Weather?

Halong is in the North of Vietnam and with a tropical monsoon climate. 

Four seasons deliver four distinct weather features, which make Halong an amazing place to enjoy your holiday.

The best time to visit Halong Bay

October to December

The most popular period of the year for western tourists and visitors, October to December for some people can be the best time to go to Halong Bay as the weather is not sweaty, the waters are still calm as during summers, and the sky can still be blue and clear, depending on which month you go with. 

The only cons during this period is the incredible number of tourists from all over the globe flocking Halong Bay usually all at the same time, especially during Christmas to New Year’s seasons.

Another disappointing factor during the high season for Halong Bay is that the weather can be mostly dull, grey, and quite chilly, as winter in the northern part of Vietnam starts around the end of November and can last until early April. 

Again, the best way to avoid disappointment is to double check all necessary information with your tour operator or cruise company before booking anything. It’s always best to be prepared before flying to your final destination rather than find out the worst is yet to come. 

Pros and cons of each month & how pick your best time to visit or what to do when your cruise is canceled due to storms are discussed in details here

What To Pack

Here are some recommendations what to bring with for a well-prepare trip ahead

  • Shoes
    Caves in Halong Bay are beautiful but sometimes steep and slippery. A good pair of shoes will ensure your safety and comfort.
  • A Jacket
    Halong Bay At Night is quite chill even in summer.
  • Swimming Clothes
    There are many small islands around Halong Bay that you can swim.

We have a dedicated article that give you more details on what you need to pack for Halong Bay Trip.

Accommodation in Halong Bay

If you are looking to spend your traveling in Halong City, many hotel options are offered to you, ranging from low-priced to high-end accommodation.

While going farther to the Bay, choosing a reputable cruise operator will add up to your lifetime experience. 

Hotel

Being one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country and in all of Southeast Asia, Halong City is absolutely NOT in lack of hotels. 

With accommodations ranging from 3-stars to 5-stars and unique experiences to offer, there are heaps of options to choose from if you’re the type of travelers who want to see the bay from afar and not having to worry about seasickness.

Cruise

With so many last-minute Halong Bay cruise deals available online, opting to cruise Halong Bay instead of staying in your typical hotel accommodation is a more interactive way of experiencing the World Heritage Site.

With hundreds of scattering islets and grottos around the Bay, cruising will give you a closer look and also the most convenient way to visit the attractions in Halong Bay.

Besides, saving time to move in between hotel and attractions, you won’t have to worry about transportation, food, and attraction fees because everything will be included in your cruise package.

Ranging from day cruises to over 5-day cruises, and 3-stars to a 5-star level of services, there are more than enough options for you to see Halong Bay for a more intimate and personalized experience.

How To Choose The Right Halong Bay Cruise?

This might be one of the most important parts of your plan in order to have an unforgettable Halong Bay trip.

You and your family will spend the majority of time staying on your cruise for couple of days.

The risk of getting food poison, poor facilities, safety, party people drinking all-day, and so many other horrendous things while in the middle of the sea and having noway to escape hesitates you to book.

We will list out the Best Cruise Operator in Halong Bay that have good reputation, service, facilities, and of course with license and allowance to cruise in Halong Bay by the Management Board of Halong Bay. (Yes, many junk cruises operate without a license)

The checklist below will clarify your confusion:

Pick a perfect Halong Bay Cruise in 6 steps

Step 1

How much time you want to spend on Halong Bay?

Because you will want to choose the cruise length according to your schedule

  • Day Cruise
  • 2 Day 1 Nights
  • 3 Days 2 Nights
  • 4+ Days 3 Nights
  • Customize Days Cruise
Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
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Step 2

What’s your budget?

 

  • High End & Private
  • Luxury
  • Middle-Range
  • Budget
Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
Success Pick The Perfect Cruise ! 33%
Step 3

Do you go with your children? 

Ha long cruise cabin usually can hold 2 people only.

If you are looking for a bigger room for 2 adults and 2 children, i.e., or a connecting room, narrow down your list to the middle range to luxury lines.  

The mid-range to luxury cruises is a better choice for travelers with a specific need like special diet or more facilities.

  • 2 Double Beds
  • 1 Double & 2 Single Beds
  • Connecting Room
  • Size: Above 28 m2
Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
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Step 4

The whole area of Halong Bay includes Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay.

Both Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha Bay have many similar geological characters as Halong Bay and less touristy.

However, you may miss famous attractions such as Surprise Cave (Sung Sot Cave), Luon Tunnel (Hang Luon, Titov islands…

So, “with many people around” or “fewer people around”? It’s your call.

 

  • Less Crowded
  • Famous Attractions (Famous Grottos, Tunnel..)

Not sure what cruise length is the best? We have an in-deep article that compare between these 3 Bays here

Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
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Step 5

After finishing the previous four checklists, you now have better ideas what kind of Halong cruise line you want. 

But how can you pick the best one? 

Make sure to look at these checking points below to expect the best Halong Cruise!

  • Trip Advisor Reviews
  • Fleet Size (How many boats do they have?)
  • Years in business
  • Permission Number (Do they have permits ro run Halong Bay Cruise?)
Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
Success Pick The Perfect Cruise ! 70%
Step 6

5 lists are checked, now is the last but not least Check 6.

These tips will help you finalize the decision:

Bonus Insider’s Tips: Booking Directly from Cruising Company Website

– Cruise Companies have to pay commissions for booking site agency Booking.com, Agoda, etc. so they can be listed.

– So, booking directly on their websites or sending an inquiry in case you still want to be clarified, you will find many great deals.

– Of course that only applies when they are reputable cruise lines & their sites are legitimate with security locks. 

Pick Your Perfect Halong Cruise
Success Pick The Perfect Cruise ! 90%

List the best Halong Bay cruise lines

Many cruise companies have operated in Halong Bay nowadays. Passengers have more freedom to chose the most suitable cruises for their exciting journey ahead.

You can easily find cruise line ranking of different categories and instructions from the best Halong Bay cruise lines post!

  • Top Halong Bay Cruise Lines 2019
    List of top Halong Bay cruise lines by reviews
  • Top Luxury Cruise Lines
    Top 10 luxury cruise companies in Halong Bay
  • Top Mid-Range Cruise Lines
    Top 10 Middle-Range Halong Bay Cruise Companies
  • Top Budget Cruise Lines
    List Cruise companies for budget or backpacker travelers.
  • Top Cultural Cruise Lines
    There are only a few cruises being able to provide passengers a complete experience of Vietnamese culture. Find out who they are!
  • Top Cruise Lines For Family
    Top Cruise Companies have big room for family vacation in Halong.
  • Top Cruise Lines Offering Bai Tu Long, Lan Ha Bay Tours
    Looking for tours to Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha Bay? Here is the list of companies that offers tours to those destinations.
  • Top Customized & Private Cruise Lines
    Private Cruise Lines for couple, family, group travel with personal butler and chef service and customized destinations of your choice.
  • Top Sustainable Cruise Lines
    List Halong Bay Cruise Companies that practice green travel, social responsibility, etc.

Transportation To Halong Bay

Covering such a wide area for tourism and economic purposes, Halong Bay is a place where you’ll never run out of things to do.

From outdoor and active activities to a more relaxed and food-focused itinerary, there’s always something to do for all kinds of travelers

By Land

The most common and the most time-consuming out of all the options. This option is also the most cost-efficient.

Most visitors get to Halong Bay by land, whether by shuttles service booked through a travel agent or a cruise company, a private car, or a limousine service for those who need utmost comfort and privacy.

Prices range from US$15 to US$200 depending on which service you want to use for yourself and for your family/friends.

By Flight

The next best option to reach Halong Bay is through air transfer. This could be anything from seaplane service to and from Halong Bay Cruise Company or by booking a private helicopter to Halong Bay (mostly booked by VVIPs).

With this option, you’ll be able to get a scenic bird’s eye view of the bay that only a few select have done.

seaplan to halong bay

By Water

The least common option for reaching world-renowned Halong Bay, arriving by water can only be done if you’re doing a trans-pacific cruise stopping in major areas such as Halong Bay, Da Nang/Hoi An, Nha Trang, Saigon, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

These are rare occasions and are mostly done by Chinese tourists coming from mainland China.

family cruise
More in-depth at possible transportation options, comparing price between each option and step-by-step instruction how to book each transportation will be explained in this article

Attractions

To go beyond the overcrowded Halong Bay area, Halong Bay Management will allow cruise companies to choose among 3 routes with different attractions. They mix-up can be customised depending how you work with the cruise operator. 

Route #1

tien-ong-cave
Tien Ong Cave

Recently launched for the public, Tien Ong still maintains its pristine beauty which will surely charms visitors.

cua-van-fishing-village
Cua Van Fishing Floating Village

Ranked among the world's most beautiful small villages by Huffington Post, visiting Cua Van is an opportunity for guests to explore more about local culture that has existed for centuries.

three-peach-beach
Three Peach Island

Humbly located in off the beaten path area, Three Peach Island offers beautiful sandy beach with crystal clear water, and is an ideal place to kayak or swim.

viet-hai-village
Viet Hai Village

Viet Hai is the best example of peace amidst the so-call "crowded Halong Bay". Viet Hai is on Cat Ba Island and rich with its own culture. The village is opens a whole new world to its guests.

coc-cheo-islet
Coc Cheo Islet

The place is within the area filmed Kong, Coc Cheo Islet is small and has interesting shape. The whole area is a treasure hunt for cine-lovers!

me-cung-cave
Maze Cave

As said in the name, Maze Cave has phenomenally complex structure and remnants of preliminary Halong culture (7,000 - 10,000 years ago). The cave is more stunning with light effects nowadays.

Route #2

vung-vieng
Vung Vieng Fishing Floating Village

The number one activity and must-do in Halong Bay, a visit in the World's wonder is never complete without doing even a short ride on a junk cruise across the limestone formations and emerald waters.

tung-sau-pearl-farm
Tung Sau Pearl Farm

Perfect for those who like to explore on their own and for those who have more active lifestyles, kayaking through Halong Bay is one of the best ways to experience the area.

hon-ngon-tay
Finger Islet

The islet is shaped as a finger, aiming to the sky. The surrounding around this islet will create very unique photo background for tourists.

kong-skull-island
Kong Skull Island

After seeing the movie on silver screen, perhaps lots of people wonder what the real Kong Skull Island looks like in reality. Why not coming to Halong Bay to figure out?

couple kayak in halong bay
Dau Be Island

The island is one of the most hidden gems of Halong Bay that will definitely offers fresh air to its visitors

thien-canh-son-cave
Thien Canh Son Cave

The wild cave has attracted both domestic and foreign visitors annually for its mysterious and gorgeous stalagmites and stalactites. It has 100 stone steps similarly to stairway to heaven.

Route #3

titov-island
Titov Beach

The beach is shaped like crescent moon that can be captured from above. Titov has been well known to many tourists all over the world.

couple kayak in halong bay
Ho Ba Ham Islet

Its water scene is perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming. Ho Ba Ham offers very peaceful and holy sense.

sung-sot-surprise-cave
Surprise Cave

The largest cave of all in Halong Bay, different departments of this cave will keep you "wow"-ing the whole time.

trinh-nu-cave
Trinh Nu Cave

The cave is often related to the faithfulness of love and absolutely a charm! Come and visit Trinh Nu Cave to listen to its beautiful story and sense the elegant surrounds created by the Nature.

luon-cave
Luon Cave

Guests will fall in love with the idyllic vibe as seeing stalagmites and stalactites up-close. The clear waterway is very relaxing as guests can surpass the cave via sailing.

cong-do-island
Cong Do Island

Located in Bai Tu Long Bay, Cong Do Island is less known to the world, but its ecosystem is thriving with diversity.

Things To Do In Halong Bay

Covering such a wide area for tourism and economic purposes, Halong Bay is a place where you’ll never run out of things to do.

From outdoor and active activities to a more relaxed and food-focused itinerary, there’s always something to do for all kinds of travelers

Join Agriculture Tour

Experiencing and learning to how traditional farmers plant organic foods served onboard, guests will find a variety of healthy and unique plants of Vietnam via this activity.

couple kayak in halong bay
Kayaking

Perfect for those who like to explore on their own and for those who have more active lifestyles, kayaking through Halong Bay is one of the best ways to experience the area.

beach
Sunbathing

Only appropriate and doable in specific times of the year, sunbathing in Halong Bay is most of the time overlooked by many visitors. But as far as we’re concerned, this is among the things you should definitely do in Halong Bay. And the best thing about it is no charge!

Cat-Ba-National-Park-trekking
Trekking

Trekking is very much doable in any part of Halong Bay, whether you’re staying in Tuan Chau Island near the fishing villages, Cat Ba Island, or by Hon Gai District, there are places where you could trek or hike.

Cycling

Same as trekking, cycling can be done in almost every major part of Halong Bay and Halong City, including Cat Ba Island and the city center.

Rock Climbing

With limited options and only provided by one company in Cat Ba Island for now, rock climbing is advisable for the sporty types of travelers, ranging from beginner to expert level. For a more adventurous option, visitors can also try Deep Water Soloing.

bhayacruises-responsiblecruising
Clean The Bay

Although passengers cannot directly join in our "cleaning the bay" activities, they can contribute in different ways that still return tremendous meaning to the environment and ecosystem.

Copy of Tai chi
Tai Chi

One of the most common early morning activities for those doing the overnight cruises in Halong Bay, Tai Chi is a great alternative to a morning workout onboard.

cooking-demonstration-in-halong-bay
Cooking Class

Also one of the most common activities onboard for overnight and 2-night cruises, cooking classes usually take place in the afternoons after all the off-board activities and right before everyone settling down for the dinner.

Copy of Spa 1
Spa & Wellness

Usually available in luxury cruises, spa and wellness services are readily available for those who want to maximize their relaxation time in Halong Bay, most ideally while cruising over the calm waters of the bay

squid fishing
Squid Fishing

The cruise activity that everyone looks forward to, squid fishing is the only thing you can do once night time is up on the cruise. It brings people together and creates lots of laughter at the same time.

outdoor-au-co-cinema
Outdoor Cinema

Enjoying a wide selection of classic move under the celestial night of Halong Bay, this experience will absolutely blow mind of cine-lovers!

Do You Need A Visa To Vietnam?

After doing all your research about Halong Bay: picking cruise, checking weather/attractions you want to visit, don’t forget to get your Vietnam Visa ready.

You don’t want to become this person:

– Help! I forgot to get my pre-approval letter online before flying from Thailand to Vietnam. Do I need a visa to enter Vietnam and how?!

Check if your country is on the waiver list that request a visa to visit Vietnam or not and the process to obtain a Vietnam Visa  here.

Currency

The official currency used in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong (VND) come mainly in polymerized notes, only a few small changes are in cotton notes. Cash in VND is preferably accepted everywhere in Vietnam, although credit card system is widely applied to tourism destinations and valuable services. 

Today, lots of cruises can happily do transaction online or via credit card offline. Sometimes, US$ dollars can be replacement (1 USD ~ 23, 233 VND). 

When coming to Vietnam, you are allowed to bring maximum US$5,000/person for the whole trip. 

If joining on a cruise, you don’t really have to pay for anything else, other than souvenirs or tipping. The tipping culture is not very popular in Vietnam, especially in the Northern region. However, it is more commonly accepted in Southern region, especially Saigon. So feel free to spend your change as you prefer. 

When traveling to cities in Vietnam, a daily spend is around 300,000 VND/person. To prepare the best for your trip, make sure to prepare some cash ahead of time, bring along your credit card, and check carefully with your chosen cruise operator.

We hope this guide showed you how to plan your perfect Halong Bay trip .

If you still have any question, don’t hesitate to comment below. We’d love to answer!