Halong Bay Tourist: Useful Information for First-time Visitors 2021

Last updated: April 07, 2021 /84 Views

Halong Bay is an amazing destination for tourists. However, if you are planning for your first trip here, there are many things you need to know to create a perfect travel plan and have a wonderful vacation. Hereby all essential information for every first-time Halong Bay tourist.

An overview of Halong Bay tourism

According to statistics about Halong Bay tourists, for at least a decade, the number of visitors in both domestic and international markets has been increasing impressively. In 2019, the number of tourists coming to Halong Bay 2019 reached 4.4 million, of which international visitors nearly 2.9 million, up 6% over the same period in 2018.

Due to the influence of the Covid-19 outbreak, in 2020, the number of tourists visiting Halong Bay decreased significantly with 1.5 million visitors equal to more than 30% compared to 2019. It is not a good result but still is a not-so-bad number for a gloomy year of tourism all over the world, which can affirm the charm of this destination with tourists.

In this year of 2021, it is believed that there will be a soft recovery of tourism in Halong Bay thanks to new stimulus policies and vaccines.

When to visit Halong Bay?

As Halong Bay is located in North Vietnam, the best time to visit is in March, April, September, and October, when the weather is cool, and there are no more storms. As to come to Halong right at its most beautiful time, you should take advantage of your Easter holidays. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t come here in other months of the year. December and January are considered as the 2nd good time to travel to Halong Bay, so you can come here on your Christmas and New Year holidays. But please note that it is quite cold at this time, and you may have to pay a holiday surcharge for cruises and hotels here if you plan to stay there right on 24th and 25th December or 1st January. On the other hand, you may wish to spend summertime in Halong, and in fact, it is the best time to enjoy water activities there and have tanning skin. However, you should think carefully about the outside heat, which may be up to 40oC or more tropical storms during the North summer from May until the end of August. 

You might want to know more about the best time to visit Halong Bay

Top-recommended Halong Bay tourist attractions

Of course, you can’t explore Halong inside out for the first time here; however, there are some must-visit destinations in the bay that you may choose some and add to your travel plan. 

Halong Bay tourist attractions

Tourist attractions in Halong Bay

Cat Ba Island

Don’t miss a short trip to Cat Ba - the biggest island in Halong Bay. This is the No.1 hot search destination in Vietnam 2020, and, predictably, Cat Ba will be on the top list for domestic and international tourists in the year 2021. You can obviously find everything you need for a vacation on Cat Ba island, such as luxury resorts or cruises, beautiful beaches, soft adventure exploring ancient forests and marvelous caves inside the National Park, a short biking tour around the winding coastal line, and visit a local fishing village.  

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island

Lan Ha Bay

As a new trend among Halong Bay tourist attractions for a few years, Lan Ha Bay continues to lead the travel trend in this area as a promising place for cruising. The bay is not so big but located far enough to make cruising become the only way to get there. There is no doubt that you can find the best cruises when visiting Lan Ha Bay; therefore, if you come to Halong Bay for the very first time, don’t miss a cruise trip exploring Lan Ha Bay. 

Lan Ha Bay - new trendy for Halong Bay tourism

Lan Ha Bay - a new trend of Halong Bay tourism

Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long is not a trend; it’s a hidden gem in Halong Bay. Don’t wait till the next trip to come to visit this spectacular silent space. If you seek a perfect holiday right for the first time in Halong, adding Bai Tu Long Bay to your travel plan is a need. This place is small and even further than Lan Ha Bay, making it a less touristy area in Halong Bay, which hides its unspoiled beauty perfectly. Of course, although this bay is quite peaceful, it doesn’t mean traveling there is boring. There are some beautiful beaches on Cap La Island or Hon Co Island for an unforgettable swimming experience; you also can visit Thien Canh Son - a famous big marvelous cave in Bai Tu Long Bay.

Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Grotto)

The name of Sung Sot Cave came from its tourists’ comment about its beauty, which is “Grotte de la surprise,” and the word “surprise” in Vietnamese means “Sung Sot.” With the magnificence which could become its name, Sung Sot Cave is totally worth being a must-visit place in Halong Bay for every first-time visitor. 

Ti Top Island

One of the most popular beaches in Halong Bay is on Ti Top Island. As the island is small, its beach is not so large but looks charming. The beach is quiet, extremely clean, and airy as the sand is washed by the tide every day, and the seawater is emerald all year round. Currently, to visit the island, you have to book a cruise tour, which could be a day tour or 2-day itinerary that allows you to get to Ti Top and experience it completely.

Titop Island

Titop Island

You might want to find out: 20 Amazing Places to Visit in Halong Bay 2021

How to get to Halong Bay

There are many ways to get to Halong Bay. Currently, the nearest airfield is Van Don Airport. Unfortunately, it is a domestic airfield only; therefore, you have to arrive at an international airport in Vietnam to continue your journey to explore Halong Bay. Some most popular airports are in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh city, and you can follow the instructions below to continue your trip after arriving there.

Halong City – Tuan Chau / Halong International Port 

You can easily take a taxi from your hotel to Tuan Chau Port and Halong International Port which may take only about 15 minutes. However, if the cruise departs from Got Port (Hai Phong), you should arrange transportation with the travel agency at least 1-2 days before your trip.

Hanoi – Halong Bay

Travel duration: 2.5 driving hours

The most convenient transportation to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay is the shuttle bus. You can book a shared bus by yourself; however, the better way is to arrange it with the travel agency you booked the cruise before. They are the only ones who know your itinerary clearly, guarantee the bus’s quality, and can support you whenever you need them. The shuttle buses used to transfer here usually are the Limousine Dcar which may include 7 – 9 seats that are large and comfortable. If you have the car sick, just tell your travel assistance about it so they can help arrange a front seat (if available).

If you need to bring along too much luggage, another option for traveling between Hanoi – Halong Bay is by private car. Although traveling by car seems more expensive than by shuttle bus, this type of transportation is more suitable for people who travel in a group of family/friends, have a lot of luggage, or simply prefer traveling alone.   

Explore more transportation between Hanoi to Halong Bay

Hanoi to Halong Bay

Ninh Binh – Halong Bay

Travel duration: 3.5 driving hours

It is possible to travel by shuttle bus from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay. However, as all Halong Bay cruise tours only provide the pick-up service in Hanoi, it is hard to guarantee the quality of the shuttle bus from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay. Therefore, in this case, a trip by private car between Ninh Binh – Halong Bay seems reasonable. On the other hand, as the distance between Halong Bay and Ninh Binh is quite far, you have to wake up really soon to prepare luggage, have breakfast and depart at 7.30 a.m.; therefore, if you want to sleep a bit more, you should come back to Hanoi 1 night before the trip then get to Halong Bay from Hanoi so you can rest more, shorten the travel time, and down the travel cost. 

Sapa – Halong Bay

Travel duration: 7 driving hours

There are 2 ways to travel from Sapa to Halong Bay. First of all, you can get back to Hanoi 1 day before by car, bus, or train and then get to Halong Bay the day after by shuttle bus or private car. The other way is traveling to Halong 1 day before your trip by car. These complicated transfer options are because of the distance between those 2 destinations (about 450km). It is almost impossible to drive from Sapa to arrive at the port on time for cruising to Halong Bay. 

Da Nang to Halong Bay

Travel duration: 1.20 fly hours

For a first-timer, the journey to get to Halong Bay from Da Nang is not so hard; it is simply a combination of traveling by airplane and private car. You can take the flight from Da Nang to Cat Bi Airport (Hai Phong) and then book a private car to get to Got Ferry and join a Halong Bay cruise there instead of keen on traveling to Halong City and start your Halong Bay discovery there.

Ho Chi Minh to Halong Bay

Travel duration: 2.10 fly hours

The number of flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Bi airport is even more than Da Nang - Hai Phong; therefore, with first-time travelers, flying directly from Ho Chi Minh to Cat Bi airport is the easiest and safest way to get to Halong Bay. Of course, if you can’t book the air ticket at the time you want at a reasonable price, you may consider taking the flight from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, then transfer by private car to Halong from the airport or enjoy a city tour in Hanoi, have a good night there and travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay as above instructions.

Read more: Ho Chi Minh to Halong Bay

Places to stay in Halong Bay

Overnight cruise

You shouldn’t be amazed that spending at least 1 night on an overnight cruise is one of the top must-do activities when you come to visit Halong Bay. For at least a decade, cruising in Halong Bay is a must for tourists here, and most of them choose to sleep on deck. Although the word “cruise” sounds quite fancy, sleeping on an overnight Halong Bay cruise is actually an experience for everyone as it has been provided on different price levels, guaranteed that most of the tourists can afford the chance to enjoy this special activity. Another highlight of an overnight cruise is that it can bring you to explore deep inside the bay and provide you with a full package Halong Bay tour to go sightseeing, visit some famous attractions, try interesting water activities, and enjoy all meals included in the itinerary. Therefore, if you choose to stay on an overnight cruise, you don’t have to worry about where to go, what to do, and to eat, the cruise tour will help you with all those details.

Overnight in Halong Bay cruise

Overnight in Halong Bay cruise

Private Island Resorts

There are two islands in Halong Bay that actually belong to luxury resorts, which made them become the top unique accommodations in the bay. 

  • Monkey island resort: This resort is the only accommodation on Monkey Island (also called Cat Dua Island). Although it is only at 3-star standard, it still attracts a huge number of tourists to come and enjoy their vacation there. Silently located on a small island inside Halong Bay and becoming the only accommodation there, Monkey island resort is ideal for anyone who is finding a peaceful holiday, far from the noisy tired life. 
  • Vinpearl resort in Reu island: As the Reu island is nearby Halong city center (only about 5 minutes on the speedboat) and all the island is a complex of excursion and entertainment, the Vinpearl resort here brings totally different experiences from the Monkey island resort. Vinpearl Reu island provides 5-star services with luxurious rooms, special gastronomy, large swimming pools, and a private beach, which is absolutely the best choice for accommodation in Halong Bay for families with kids or groups of friends to enjoy their holiday with laughs and fun. 

Hotel in Halong city

If you decide to sleep on the mainland, in Halong City, there is also a wide range of hotels at different prices and standards for you to choose from. Hereby a list of 5 top recommended accommodation in Halong from 3-star to 5-star standard:

STTHotel NameStandardAddressPrice from
1Lapaz Resort3-starNgoc Chau St., Tuan Chau Island, Halong$35
2Novotel Halong Bay4-star160 Halong Rd., Bai Chay, Halong$51
3Halong Plaza4-star08 Halong Rd., Bai Chay, Halong$30
4Wyndham Halong 5-starNo.12 Halong Rd., Bai Chay, Halong$46
5Premier Village Halong Bay Resort5-starNo.09 Halong Rd., Bai Chay, Halong$272

Must-do activities for first-time tourists

Explore Halong Bay by cruise

It is a must for every first-time visitor to book a cruise tour to explore Halong Bay as it is the best and the only way to experience the bay completely. You can choose to travel with a day cruise tour or book the 2-day-1-night/3-day-2-night itinerary, so the trip to Halong Bay would be fit with your travel plan. Of course, the more time you spend cruising, the more attractions and areas in the bay you can visit and experience. As mentioned above, the price range for Halong bay cruises here is extensive, and there are options from budget to luxury; therefore, it is so easy to take your chance on cruising right at the first time you visit Halong Bay. 

Try kayaking in Halong

If cruising gives you a tour throughout Halong Bay, kayaking gives you the opportunity to get to some small areas and interesting water caving systems here. In addition, this activity will buy you more time to admire the magnificent bay, look clearer and closer to its beautiful, unique natural structure that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. You can book the kayaking service only when arriving in Halong; however, it is recommended that you should book a cruise trip to visit the bay, and the kayaking will be a free activity included in the tour.

Read more about kayaking in Halong Bay

Kayaking in Halong

Kayaking in Halong

Bike through the stunning coastal line on Cat Ba island

There is nowhere in Halong Bay that can give you the perfect biking experience as in its biggest island - Cat Ba. The cycling route on Cat Ba island is quite easy, suitable for everyone. Usually, the biking tour starts from the town center, following the beautiful coastal line. Then you may stop at Cat Ba National Park and visit attractions around here or get directly to Viet Hai fishing village and enjoy the stunning natural scenery there. As to enjoy the cycling tour in Cat Ba, you may get to the island and book it there. However, the easiest way for first-time visitors is to book a cruise tour, which includes biking excursions on Cat Ba island in the itinerary.

Get to know more aboutbiking in Halong Bay

Enjoy airy beaches and go swimming

It will be a mistake if you have a vacation in Halong Bay without swimming. You may have heard about beaches on Monkey island, Ti Top island, Cat Ba island, and Ba Trai Dao Islet. They all are the most beautiful airy beaches in the bay, and it will be a shortcoming if at least one of them isn’t added to your travel plan. 

Swimming in Halong Bay

Swimming in Halong Bay

Have a festive fine dining experience on a luxury cruise

There are not many typical foods for you to try in Halong Bay. However, instead of enjoying specialties, you should experience fine dining on a 5-star cruise, which will definitely satisfy perfectly any foodie. Gastronomy is one of the top highlight things of each luxury cruise in Halong; some boats even make them become once in a lifetime experience for their guest which can’t be found on any other cruise in the bay. Some boats with delight culinary can be listed are President Cruise, Paradise Cruise, Scarlett Pearl Cruise, and Orchid Cruise.   

Get your supper by trying night squid fishing

Night in Halong Bay is quite silent and does not have so many things to do. Fortunately, night squid fishing is worth trying, and in fact, most tourists love it. It is fun as an easy, interesting competition among them and a chance to make new friends. In addition, if you succeed in fishing a squid, after taking a picture of your booty, it will become your supper (grilled or boiled is up to you). 

Purify your soul with a morning Tai Chi lesson

There is no doubt that the sunrise in Halong Bay is marvelous. You can choose to sit down and admire that gorgeous view or maybe try another interesting activity to enjoy the new sunlight in a different way - try a Tai Chi lesson. If you rarely wake up soon for exercise, this is a chance to change your daily routine. Tai Chi is not hard, it is a combination of slow-motion movements and when your limbs and body move slowly, your mind will be purified gradually under the gentle sunlight and breeze. 

Explore more interestingthings to do in Halong Bay

Taichi Lession in Halong

Taichi Lesson in Halong

Suggested itinerary for first-time visitors

The option for travel itinerary and duration in Halong Bay is varied. You can choose to take a day tour or overnight tour with 1 or 2-night itineraries. However, the most popular choice among tourists here is the 2-day-1-night itinerary cruising through the bay. As Halong is extremely large, no one can explore it in a few days; therefore, different travel itineraries were created for different tourists. As a first-timer, you should consider the below 2d1n travel plan.

Halong bay itinerary

Halong bay itinerary

Day 1: Hanoi - Halong Bay

  • Visit attractions: Dark and Light Cave
  • Pick-up time: 9.00 - 9.30 a.m. (from Hanoi Old Quarter)

After being picked up by a tour guide and driver, you will get on a shuttle bus and spend about 2.5 hours on the car to get to the harbor, prepare to embark at 12.00 - 12.30 p.m. Your lunch will be served and then you can have a few minutes to rest before beginning your discovery in Halong Bay. 

In the afternoon, before arriving at the Dark & Light Cave area, you will pass by many small islets with interesting shapes and some of them even become the symbols of Halong Bay. Meanwhile, Dark & Light Cave is the perfect spot to enjoy a must-do activity in the bay: kayaking. But don’t worry if kayaking is too hard for you, there will be basket boats driven by local people with professional skills to help you experience the Dark & Light Cave completely.

When the sunset is coming, you will be back on the cruise, enjoy a sunset party with music and cocktails before enjoying your festive dinner on deck.

Don’t forget to try night squid fishing - it is one of the must-try things to do in Halong Bay. And if you are lucky enough, you can get a grilled squid for your supper before going to bed.

Day 2: Halong Bay - Hanoi

- Visit attractions: Cat Ba Island - Trung Trang Cave

Good morning with a simple Tai Chi lesson before the big breakfast, you will have a busy morning right after that. About 9.00 - 9.30 a.m., you will arrive at Cat Ba island - the Gulf of Tonkin's biggest island. A bus will take you from the port to Cat Ba National Park which has the stunning Trung Trang Cave. After more than 1 hour exploring Cat Ba, you will get back to the cruise and have a light brunch while the boat sails back to Halong City. Usually, you will get in the car to Hanoi at 12.30 p.m. and finish your trip at 3.00 p.m.  

Read more: Halong Bay Itinerary

Travel advice

Packing tips for your first Halong Bay vacation 

Luggage: As the Halong Bay trip is short, you shouldn’t bring too much luggage while traveling here. If there is too much luggage, you can leave it at your hotel and come back to get it after the trip to Halong Bay. In case all the luggage must be brought along during the trip, you should talk with the travel agency a few days before and order a private car instead of a shared limousine Dcar to have more space for the luggage.

Some basic things a visitor should bring along to Halong Bay:

  • 2 – 3 set of clothing
  • 1 evening gown (for fine-dining dinner on the luxury cruises)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Phone and camera
  • Your medicines (if need)
  • Basic skincare and make-up set (if need)
  • Cash and credit card

Travel document

There are some travel documents tourists have to bring along while traveling Halong Bay as below:

  • Passport with visa
  • ID card
  • Booking voucher
  • Tour itinerary with tour guide and travel agency contact

Get more useful packing tips for your trip to Halong Bay


In fact, tipping is not compulsory in Vietnamese culture. Therefore, in the Vietnam tourism services industry, a tip means a big compliment for staff who provided outstanding service and it makes the day. Below are some suggestions for how much you should tip while traveling Halong Bay.

  • Tip for a tour guide: Even if you travel on a 10 or 40 cabins cruise, there is always only 1 tour guide to direct and help all the guests on a cruise during the trip in Halong Bay. This guide is usually the only one who can talk in English fluently, give tourists deep information about each attraction and area in the bay, instruct and solve guests’ problems on each activity in the itinerary. Therefore, if you are happy with the trip, a generous tip of US$ 5-10/day is quite reasonable.
  • Tip for waiter/waitress/bartender: Normally, there is a waiter/waitress who takes care specifically of your table while you have meals. If you feel they are so enthusiastic, helpful, and totally happy with your meal, you should tip them about USD 3-5. With the bartenders, the amount of the tip may raise a little as they are the ones who make your drinks. A small tip of US$ 5-10 seems reasonable if your bartender is so skillful, interesting and the drink is totally perfect!
  • Tip for spa & massage therapist: The price of spa and massage services is quite high and even very expensive if you experience them on a 5-star cruise in Halong Bay. These fees usually include the commission for therapists, therefore just give them a tip if you receive an absolutely outstanding service.

Book your first tour to Halong Bay

Halong bay is the top destination for most tourists when they plan to travel to Vietnam. Therefore, to get the best Halong Bay tour with the perfect cruise, you should make your booking soon enough (usually 2 - 3 months before your travel date). To avoid scams while traveling without having much experience, it is necessary for a first-time tourist to book a Halong Bay tour with a reputable travel agent. Among thousands of travel agencies providing cruises and tours to Halong Bay, BestPrice Travel is the most trustworthy name. Owned 10 years experience with 5 years awarded TripAdvisor's “Excellent Certificate” (also the "Traveler's Choice" award), our team is definitely where you can find the best Halong Bay tours with the guarantee of remarkable vacations, perfect services, and reasonable price. Don't worry if this is your very first trip, we are always here to help you have a no-worry holiday! 


Image source: Internet


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