Halong Bay has been a popular stop on travelers’ Vietnam itineraries for a long time. Not only is it an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, making the thousands of cliff islands a must-see place for anyone visiting the country.
While there are several options for visiting Halong Bay, the best in my opinion and the most popular is a cruise. Most travelers choose a tour that features one or two nights on the water. Picking the right one, however, can be incredibly difficult due to the number of travel agencies offering tours of the bay. So how do you choose which tour of Halong Bay is best for you?
- Don’t try to make a visit to Halong Bay a day trip. Halong Bay is about four hours away from Hanoi, giving you only a few hours to explore the bay. That’s hardly enough time to really see it, and you’ll be wishing you had longer to stay.
- Don’t travel to Halong Bay by bus and try to catch a last-minute cruise. Some travelers try to save money this way, but many often end up spending more money than if they booked a tour ahead of time, and often the tours they end up on are worse.
- Don’t book the cheapest tour you find. Do you research. The cheapest option may a terrible experience. I’ve heard some pretty horrible stories of travelers not getting any food on their cruise, tour staff being rude, or tours being overbooked. It’s definitely worth it to pay a bit more for a much better experience.
We decided to book a one night cruise with Vega Travel, which I highly recommend. We were picked up early in the morning by bus from our hotel. During the ride to Halong Bay, our tour guide introduced himself, explained the plan for the day, and shared a bit about himself and a few sights along the way. The bus ride included a short break at a rest stop and bottled water.
We reached Halong Bay and our boat for the cruise just in time for lunch. Once we settled in to our rooms for the night, we were served lunch and set sail. I’m a fairly picky eater, but I can honestly say there wasn’t anything I tried that I didn’t enjoy. There was a pretty good variety of food, and plenty of it!
One of the things I enjoy most about the cruise is the chance to go kayaking in a grotto, and being able to see monkeys scurrying or enjoying the sun along the cliffs. Kayaking was followed by a short boat ride to explore Surprising Cave.
Our tour guide chose to have us do kayaking first so we could see the cave when it was less busy, which paid off. There was only one group of people in the cave when we arrived, and they were near the exit, so we had the cave to ourselves for the majority of the time we were there. Our guide explained a lot of what we saw in the caves, making plenty of jokes along the way.
After the sunset, we got to try our luck at making spring rolls before dinner, which had as even more delicious food than lunch. Afterwards, our guide showed us a few “magic” tricks and got us to try a few challenges, offering to a free beer to whoever could figure them out. Luckily, the other travelers on our cruise were friendly and we were all able to hang out together and chat.
The next day started with breakfast, which included some of the best coffee I’ve ever drank. After breakfast we headed over to Titop Mountain to climb 340 steps to the top. A bit of a tiring hike if you’re not use to climbing up so many stairs, but well worth it for the view. It was unfortunately fairly cloudy when we got there.