3 Easy Step to Choose The Best Halong Bay Cruises
As the Halong cruise tour is a must-do on many travelers’ lists, picking a good boat makes a big difference to whether you come back raving about your trip or warning others not to make the mistakes you did. Here is our comprehensive guide to choosing the best cruise in Halong Bay.
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Decide on the best Halong Bay cruise itinerary
- Step 2: Estimate your budget and pick the best Halong Cruise style
- Step 3: Find the best travel agent to book your Halong Bay cruise
- How to pack for the best Halong Bay cruise trip
Halong Bay is well-known as a stunningly gorgeous seascape that attracts a large number of tourists to admire the UNESCO World Heritage every year. Possessing an area of 1,500 sq. km in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is home to some 1,600 lush islands and rugged islets rising up from the turquoise waters.
As cruising is the best way to explore the charm of towering limestone rock formations, the junk boat is widely popular among travelers to Vietnam. Furthermore, a cruise tour offers a great deal of itinerary, transportation, accommodation, food, activities, and other worth-trying services. Set location in northern Vietnam, most travelers choose to take the cruise tour from Hanoi, which includes a shuttle bus transferring and a boat tour to discover the bay. Have you ever wondered how to choose the best Halong cruise? Learn our tips to pick the best company to enjoy your excursion.
When it comes to choosing the best boat, it must be struggling and overwhelming as there is plenty of cruise names, ranges, sizes, itineraries, reviews, and other criteria to consider. You have to compare a bunch of junk tours together and research cruise ratings before your trip.
To avoid unexpected experiences and disappointments of the Halong tour in Vietnam, follow our guide on deciding the best one for you. Having worked as a Halong Bay cruise agency for 10 years, we will share our handy tips on how to choose the best cruise and other essential guides on cruising for first-time travelers.
Step 1: Decide on the best Halong Bay cruise itinerary
1.1 Duration of your cruise trip
While considering the duration of your tour, it is required to answer a few questions on how to choose the best cruises for you. Are you seeking true relaxation? Is this your once-in-a-blue-moon trip to Halong Bay or Vietnam? Have you come back to Halong Bay after a very long time? Or do you travel to Halong Bay for the first time? If all the answers are YES, don’t hesitate to pick an overnight Halong Bay cruise instead of a day cruise.
Choose an overnight Halong Bay cruise to get more chilling time
There are two main options of 3-day/2-night and 2-day/1-night for the best junk boat. Actually, the 2-day cruise option only takes a 24-hour experience since you board around noon on the first day and disembark around 11:30 a.m. on the second day. Meanwhile, the 3-day tour offers a half-day on the first day, a full day on the second day, and a half-day on the last day. As a result, if you are not on a tight budget or time constraint, you should be wise to decide on a 3-day/2-night tour which allows you not to feel rushed and more relaxing with an extra night compared with a 2-day/1-night option.
In fact, a 2-day/1-night Ha Long Bay cruise is more popular among tourists reasonably due to the scant time and limited budget. If you look for a 3-day junk boat, opt for a balcony room to put your feet up with more chilling activities on board.
Recommended cruises for 1 night or 2 nights program:
|1 night||2 nights|
If you still wonder how many days you should spend on the junk boat, let's read our article "Halong Bay Itinerary: 1 Night or 2 Nights On Cruise Is Better?".
1.2 Decide your cruise route
There are quite many options of travel routes while picking a good boat cruise. When the majority of boats sail the same routes to the most popular sights, some others take alternative routes to less touristic destinations. In general, there are 3 zones you can choose to visit: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, or Bai Tu Long Bay. Normally, one cruise only visits one of 3 areas, some say that they travel through 2 or all 3 areas; but in fact, the cruise still lets you visit mainly in one zone, and with the others, they just pass by, not go deep inside.
Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay share the same natural beauty
Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay own the same natural geographic structure so all the 3 areas are stunning. However, it is not the same travel experience with all these 3 zones. See what each route has to offer to opt for the most suitable cruise line for you.
Route 1: Main Halong Bay
If you like the bustling atmosphere, just basically choose a cruise that allows you to stay overnight in the Halong Bay areas. This area is the most famous zone in the Gulf of Tonkin, so there are many tourists and cruises traveling every day. This area also has the largest number of splendid ancient caves such as Sung Sot, Ti Top, Thien Cung, Dau Go, etc. If you are an active traveler, Halong Bay is just for you!
As the area with the most cruises working on, it has a wide range of overnight cruises for you to choose from. Some of the best 2-day cruise recommendations are:
Route 2: Lan Ha Bay & Cat Ba Island
It is said that Lan Ha Bay is the most beautiful area here and it has been a hot trend of cruising in Halong Bay for about 4 years. Lan Ha Bay is not as crowded as Halong Bay and it’s really suitable for people seeking a true excursion of the best tour. Although Lan Ha Bay does not have so many interesting caves and beaches to visit, you still go on a soft adventure by booking a cruise that travels through Lan Ha Bay and visits Cat Ba Island. A trip to Cat Ba Island normally allows you to enjoy a short biking tour along with a visit to Trung Trang Cave and Cat Ba National Park.
Go for our best Lan Ha Bay Cruise recommendations below:
Route 3: Bai Tu Long Bay
Compared with Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is the most less-touristy area. Therefore, if you need a few tranquil days, just go ahead and book a Bai Tu Long Bay cruise. As a lesser-known travel destination, Bai Tu Long Bay is a perfect place for kayaking and swimming with super clean wild beaches and crystal clear water which others cannot be compared with.
Some recommendations for your cruises are:
How can you know which area a cruise will take you to? It is a piece of cake. Most junk tours provide a detailed itinerary of where they go on their website so just check it out.
Step 2: Estimate your budget and pick the best Halong Cruise style
2.1 How to decide your budget?
Among hundreds of Halong Bay boats, you absolutely can choose the one that suits your budget. While comparing various price ranges of the cruise, you can easily select the most appropriate cruise standard. A good price shouldn’t be cheap but reasonable for the quality. Normally, people opt for the cruise from a 3-star standard for their overnight trip to guarantee the cruise’s quality. We can give you the nearly exact price ranges (per person, per night) for different types of overnight cruises as below:
- 3-star cruise: USD 120 – USD 135
- 4-star cruise: USD 130 – USD 160
- 5-star cruise: USD 140 – USD 200
Besides the above popular price ranges, there are many special luxurious 5-star cruises in Halong Bay with an unbelievable price which normally starts from about USD 300 per night such as Emperor, Paradise Peak, Orchid Premium, Ginger Cruise, Violet Cruise, etc.
Choose the most suitable range of Halong Bay boats for yourself
For more tips on how to choose the best cruise by price range, please take a look at three levels of comfort you may opt for.
When money is not a big deal, just go for a luxury boat. A high-end overnight cruise should be comparable to a 5-star hotel stay, where a well-maintained boat is expected with well-equipped furniture, splendid cabins, high-end amenities, and excellent services. Depending on your budget, you can choose the best luxury cruise which suits your preferences, like an outstanding bathtub with bay views, a massive bed, a banquette style lounge, a restaurant serving a combination of buffet and a la carte, a Jacuzzi pool on the sundeck, and other more.
If you prefer on-board activities, you would better choose a 5-star cruise to enjoy your tour to the fullest. For those who still wonder about which cruise is best, check our best recommendations of the top 10 most luxury cruises in Halong Bay.
On a smaller budget, the mid-range options get more limited as you will be more demanding about which is the best boat company. The top-end of the mid-range list of cruises will be comparable to a 4-star hotel, while the low-end will be corresponding to a 3-star hotel. Compared with the high-end cruises, the mid-range ones won’t be as spacious and fabulous with fewer facilities and amenities. The short wine and cocktails list might not extend far past gin and tonics. There is also less staff with less guidance and fewer activities. Nevertheless, you can enjoy most of the experiences like you wish it would be on luxury boats.
If you decide on a mid-range boat, try out some highlights of the top 10 recommended 4-star Halong Bay cruises now.
Low-budget (cheap) cruise
When you are on a tight budget, it is quite challenging for you to decide on the best cruise. You should do some research based on cruise ratings and find some feedback from previous travelers so as to avoid trouble. Budget boats usually have a small size and capacity with basic furnishings. Very few amenities and facilities are expected, corresponding with a lack of staff and services. To be honest, you will find a low-budget cruise equivalent to a 2-star hotel. Hence, it is really confusing when you consider how to choose the best cruise on a shoestring. Currently, there are some new gems of budget junk that you can give a try with our recommendations of the best cruises for budget travelers in Halong Bay.
2.2. Choose the best cruise by category
It becomes effortless when you know how to choose the right Halong cruise relying on your special needs. Every group of people has their own needs, some of which can’t be abandoned even while you are traveling. The choice of the cruise depends on who you travel with (your family, your friends, or your darling), which type of traveling you are into (young backpackers, middle-aged, or retirees), etc. Below are some common special needs that you may have and a few suggestions to solve your problem and help you choose a good junk boat.
Basically, there are only 2 – 3 types of the cabin on a cruise, including double, twin, and family. All cruises from 3 – 5-star standards have double and twin cabins. However, not every boat has a triple room, family room, or connecting room. Therefore, before deciding to book a cruise, you have to consider carefully your requirements and the cruise you like as sometimes you need a family room but the boat you choose doesn’t have that type of room or the price for that room is too expensive. Some suggested cruises have family cabins or family connecting cabins with reasonable prices are Swan Cruise, Paloma Cruise, Peony Cruise, etc.
Swan Cruise's family connecting cabin
Unfortunately, there are not many junks that have a kid club to probably babysit your children. However, if you really need some spare time for yourself, you can consider Azalea Cruise or Emperor Cruise. On the other hand, don’t have a kid club doesn’t mean that it is not a kid-friendly cruise. If your kids are not so small, you can ask for babysitting help from cruise staff, if they are not so busy or in a hurry, it’s pretty sure there will be someone willing to help you take care of your kids for short time. Some best cruise recommendations for babysitting services are Signature Halong, Bhaya Legend Private, La Regina, etc.
Kids club in Emperor Cruise
When choosing a suitable boat tour for your honeymoon vacation, you must consider a private cruise. In Halong Bay, there are some overnight cruises that give couples and newlyweds an individual atmosphere from cabin décor, dining table set, and special offers. What is better than enjoying dinner on the sundeck with candles, flowers, and wine? Or sharing sweet moments together while admiring the sunset? Plenty of cruises offer honeymoon packages at a reasonable cost. The best recommendations of honeymoon cruises in Halong Bay include Emperor Cruises, Valentine Premium Cruise, Heritage Line Violet Cruise, L'amour Junk, etc.
Select the most suitable size of cruise
The size and capacity of the cruise do matter when you compare a list of junk boats. All cruise lines provide information on the boat size, the number of cabins, and how many passengers it can take. You should do your research for the most appropriate boat company.
Some travelers might be socializing and happy to meet people, while some enjoy their own solitude. With the medium size of the cruise, the space is so limited that you might have to share the space with strangers. Remember that the bigger the cruise is, the more spaces you will have. That’s the reason why if you prefer a private space, you should go for a large cruise or consider one of the top 5 private Halong Bay cruises.
Take the cuisine and dining into account
How to choose the best cruise in Halong Bay considering your preferences for food and drink? Learn about the cuisine style and detailed menu of the cruise on their website where a great collection of magazine-style photos illustrate appetizing dishes. There is a blend of Vietnamese food, Euro-Asian fusion, Western cuisine, and seafood as you would expect. The overnight cruises generally serve a combination of buffets, set menus, and/or a la carte (lunch and dinner).
More than this, there is an array of unique dining styles on the junk: Orchid Cruise plays traditional instruments serving meals, Heritage Cruise serves Royal Dinner that passengers can dress like Kings and Queens and feel like royalty. For more special requirements, you can ask for well-served kid meals on some cruises like Orchid Cruises and Bhaya Legend Private Cruise. Other requirements may include food allergies and intolerances, vegan, Indian, or Halal food. It is highly recommended to contact the cruise line before booking to make sure they can accommodate.
Having dinner in King & Queen costumes on Halong Bay boat
Actually, if you are a vegetarian, most of the junk tours can help you to keep going on your special diet. All you have to do is notify them that you are vegetarian before your trip a few days and they definitely can provide you all meals with vegetarian food.
However, it’s not easy to find a cruise that provides Halal food. Up until now, Mon Cheri Cruise is the only one serving authentic Halal food with the official certificate. Therefore, if you are keen on eating Halal food, just simply choose to book Mon Cheri Cruise. On the other hand, if you prefer other cruises, you can ask them to prepare vegetarian meals for you as a backup solution.
Mon Cheri Cruise's Halal Certificate
2.3 Pick out your favorite onboard activities
The most effective way to choose the best cruise Halong is to see which activities they have to offer. Basically, overnight cruises provide passengers with more diverse activities than day cruises do. Instead of lounging around with a great book or sightseeing in the bay, you can join various on-board activities on a 2-day/ 3-day cruise.
- Kayaking is one of the must-try activities in Halong. Most 2-day and 3-day cruises list kayaking in their itinerary and excursion. You will kayak among the uprising limestone karsts or through dark & bright caves to get closer to the charm of Halong Bay.
Read more about Halong Bay Kayak
Kayaking is one of the most popular things to do in Halong Bay
- Cycling: You can go cycling to off-the-beaten-path routes and some local villages. It is the best thing to do while traveling with family, friends, and the other half.
- Tai Chi Exercise: Many overnight cruises offer Tai Chi as a morning exercise to start a new day on the rooftop deck. Tai Chi is a gently physical exercise giving relaxation and a beneficial retreat to your health.
- Yoga class: Instead of Tai Chi lessons, some cruises give yoga classes as a fitness activity onboard. It is perfect to do a meditation retreat while soaking up the refreshing air. As an addict to yoga and meditation, you should not miss out on Scarlet Pearl Cruises and Dragon Legend Cruise.
- Cooking class: For those into traditional Vietnamese cuisine, a cooking class is a great opportunity to learn basic cooking methods and demonstrations of Vietnam through the instruction in rolling fresh/ fried spring rolls. Actually, you don’t have to cook anyway. It is an interesting way of socializing and relaxing.
Join a cooking class on Halong Bay junk
- Night squid fishing: is such an amusing night activity on the cruise. You will be guided by the staff on how to catch a fresh squid by fishing rod.
- Sunbathing: Either sundeck or spacious balcony is an ideal place to get tan skin. All you have to do is putting your feet up and laying down on a sunbed, sometimes a good book can be a great companion.
- Pool party: If you travel with a group of friends, you can consider choosing a cruise that has an outdoor pool to enjoy an exciting pool party. Some boats with a Jacuzzi pool that you should have a try include Stella of the Sea, Jasmine Cruise, Orchid Cruise, Mon Cheri Cruise, etc.
- Spa and massage are ways of exhilarating and relaxing on the cruise. If you are a fan of spa treatment, book a Ha Long Bay tour with a spa that is available on most cruise boats.
2.4. Check what is included?
In fact, most cruises can offer these basic services: full facilities cabin with air-con, meals, sightseeing, kayaking, night fishing, cooking class, spa & massage, swimming, and Tai-chi class. However, some cruises can provide different sightseeing itineraries from others. For example, Mon Cheri Cruise takes you to Cat Ba Island and kayaking at Dark & Night Cave, Orchid Cruise also lets you visit Cat Ba Island but it also takes you further into the less touristy area in Bai Tu Long Bay, Swan Cruise gives you a chance to swim at Cap La Island and visit the amazing Thien Canh Son Cave. It is necessary to compare the best cruise companies together.
Choose a luxury Halong Bay junk to get experiences of high-end services
It is also easy to see that the higher standard of the cruise, the better the cabin. However, the expensive 5-star cruises bring much more than you can expect. Some have a swimming pool and Jacuzzi on deck like Jasmine Cruise, Orchid Cruise; Stella of the Sea Cruise has a mini-golf course on its 4th deck; especially the Emperor Cruise brings a unique experience to its guests by giving them all-inclusive services with unlimited spa & massage, food, and beverage (include alcohol) services, each room is taken care by a different staff (24/7 duty), etc.
Just consider carefully what you really want and need for your trip to Halong Bay, you can find the most suitable cruise which definitely meets your demands.
Step 3: Find the best travel agent to book your Halong Bay cruise
You can find hundreds of travel agents that advertise that they can provide you with a 2-day/1-night or 3-day/2-night overnight cruise in Halong Bay at a super-saving cost both online and around Hanoi Old Quarter. However, it is the fact that cheap price doesn’t mean the best price and although the travel cost in Vietnam is quite low, an amazingly cheap price of services, especially for the junk boat seems unbelievable. You should check carefully to find the best company before deciding on the chosen one.
The most effective way to find the best travel agent is to get as many reviews as possible. The cruise ratings can come from your friends who used the services before and several reputable travel forums such as TripAdvisor, Travel Blog, TravelFish, etc. These forums provide an ecosystem sharing trustworthy reviews from travelers while the services providers can hear, answer their customers’ questions, and solve problems. Normally, the best travel agent will be available in the top 10 of TripAdvisor or mentioned a lot in other travel forums, even appearing in reputable newspapers. You can also check the website of a travel agent for other customers’ reviews which most trustworthy travel agents provide openly on their website. These guidelines will help you find which cruise in Halong Bay is the best.
BestPrice Travel is one of the top 10 best-selling agents for Halong bay. We are a trusted online agent are being one of the best traveler choice agencies since 2015 up to now rating by TRIPADVISOR. So you can feel confident to book a Halong Bay cruise with us.
How to pack for the best Halong Bay cruise trip
- Passport: Every foreign passenger needs a passport to embark on a cruise. Your tour guide will ask it during your bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay. It is an essential document to bring along whenever needed. So, you better have your passport in your handbag rather than pack it in your luggage.
- Snacks and drinks are for the 2.5-hour bus ride to Halong Bay or short excursions around the bay. Although the journey has one stop at a massive store, the selling items are really expensive, especially the snacks. Just pack a few snacks and drinks in case you are hungry or thirsty during the excursions.
- Bottled water: You should bring your own bottle to avoid littering plastic bottles in Halong Bay. Note that some luxury cruises provide free drinking water while others may charge an extra fee. You might get a bottle on the bus and two in your cabin, then pay for the rest while on board. Sometimes, you will receive a glass bottle as a souvenir from some cruise lines.
- Swimsuit: Don’t forget about swimming in the calm waters in Halong Bay. There is no need to pack your towel as boats offer toiletries. You only need to pack one or two swimsuits for swimming, kayaking, or snorkeling.
- Sunblock/ sunscreen: Except for the wintertime, Ha Long Bay is almost sunny all year round. Especially, summer experiences mid-30s temperatures and high-UV indexes. You definitely need sunblock and sunscreen for outdoor activities, lounging on the sun deck, sunbathing on the beach, kayaking, cycling, and more.
- Wide-brimmed hat/ Umbrella: If you go for a cruise in summer, sunblock and sunscreen are not protective enough to prevent sunburn in Halong Bay. You better pack a wide-brimmed hat or an umbrella while going out. Also, it is a perfect fashion item to take selfies with.
A wide-brimmed hat is a must-have item to pack to Halong Bay
- Binoculars: Halong Bay is a complex of natural heritage sites, some of which are only admired from afar. It is best to have binoculars and feast your eye on stunning limestone karsts.
- A waterproof Cellphone Case shouldn’t be missed on a beach excursion. There is a number of water sports like kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, etc. that require a waterproof phone case to protect your phone from getting splashed.
- Electrical adapter: In Vietnam, the most common types of electrical plug and socket type A (two flat vertical pins), type C, and type F (two round pins). Make sure you have an adapter in case you use 3-pin plugs. Furthermore, the electricity supply in Vietnam is at 220V/ 50Hz. You better check the voltage of your device in advance since many countries in North and Central America usually use 110V.
For more tips, check this article out to find 9 Packing Tips for Your Trip to Halong Bay.
All in all, we hope our guidelines on how to choose the best cruise in Halong will help you pick the right boat that suits your needs. Follow our travel tips and experiences then opt for one of our top-rated Halong Bay cruise recommendations.
MinKJ & Nhung Dang
(Image source: Internet)