How to Book a Cruise in Halong Bay – 8 Tips for Halong Newbies
As far as daunting tasks go, booking a cruise in Halong Bay is certainly up there. Vietnam’s number 1 travel destination has seen a huge surge in popularity over its 20 years of tourism, even leading to the point where new bays have been opened up to ease the crowding. The hundreds of boats plying the waters can make for a difficult choice at face value, but dig a little deeper and you can find the one that fits your requirements perfectly. In this article, Indochina Sails will help you approach the formidable question of how to book a cruise in Halong Bay.
Step 1: Decide your Length of Stay
Your first step will be to decide how long you want to remain on the boat, with options spanning from 4 hours to 48. The most popular cruises are those that sail for at least 2 days in the bay, as a whole new itinerary and a wealth of experiences become available to passengers staying in a cabin overnight. Tours lasting 4 or 8 hours are good for those pushed for time, but these passengers miss out on some of the unique aspects of an overnight cruise, including:
The chance to stay in an overnight cabin A delicious breakfast and dinner Adequate time to spend on activities Adequate time to relax on board The use of a quieter route with fewer tourist boats The chance to engage in activities such as squid fishing and tai chi
If you have the time, we definitely recommend spending at least one night in Halong Bay, as many of the experiences listed above are the most memorable for passengers after they step off their cruise.
Eliminating daytrips will leave you with a choice between 2-day and 3-day cruises, which is when you can move onto step 2.
Step 2: Research what is Included
The vast amount of cruise companies in Halong Bay give the illusion of a huge variety of itineraries to choose from. In actual fact, cruise itineraries are fairly limited in the destinations they visit, and most follow a very similar route through the bay.
On a 2-day Halong Bay cruise, passengers can expect the following: A guided tour of two sites A cooking demonstration A tai chi class at sunrise Squid fishing and other evening activities One each of breakfast, lunch and dinner
Passengers opting for the 3-day Halong Bay cruise will follow the same itinerary as the 2-day passengers, but will have an extra day in the middle where they will explore via a smaller ‘day boat’ before rejoining the cruise in the late afternoon. This extra day will include: Cruising around quieter areas of the bay Visiting at least one, but maybe two sites An extra breakfast, lunch and dinner An extra tai chi class and cooking demonstration
Step 3: Decide on the Location
Most tourists coming to Vietnam (and a lot of Vietnamese as well) are unaware that ‘Halong Bay’ is an umbrella term for 3 separately named bays. Part of how to book a cruise in Halong Bay is to have a look at the differences between the three locations on offer.
Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are all an extension of the same karst seascape, meaning that customers can expect the same high degree of natural beauty wherever they go. Cruises around Halong Bay are by far the most popular of the three, which gives rise to the infamous crowding problem that Halong Bay sometimes suffers.
By comparison, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are havens of tranquility and open space. Bai Tu Long Bay sees far fewer visitors than Halong Bay, but quite a lot more than Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha Bay cruises are often highly peaceful experiences where customers can revel in a magical atmosphere befalling an ancient land.
The Indochine Cruise will offer luxury Lan Ha Bay cruises from June 2019.
Step 4: Choose the Class of the Cruise
The great variety in Halong Bay cruises means that potential passengers get a choice between the different categories, depending on their budget. Cruises are usually categorised as ‘budget’, ‘deluxe’ and ‘luxury’, representing 3, 4 and 5 stars respectively.
While itineraries remain fairly similar, the differences can be found in the quality of the cruise’s amenities, ranging from small and simple accommodation to indulgent and highly spacious. The service is also more refined at the higher end of the budget spectrum, with some cruises even employing personal butlers for a small number of guests.
Most travel agencies recommend guests looking for true relaxation to book at ‘deluxe’ level or higher. This usually means more time relaxing on the boat, better quality of meals, better cabins and a more attentive service. The Indochina Sails ensures that this is a reality for all of the guests on our deluxe cruise in Halong Bay.
‘Luxury’ is encapsulated beautifully by the Indochine Cruise, which comes with two restaurants, a lounge, spa and large hot tub area. Each cabin has a balcony and a gorgeous en suite bathroom dressed in marble. Ours is a Lan Ha Bay cruise, meaning that passengers are free to relax on any of the four decks while enjoying uninterrupted beauty around them.
Step 5: Check the Weather
You may be powerless to stop it, but it is worth checking the weather of Halong Bay before you make your final booking. Each month brings something different to Halong Bay. Those visiting during either the spring or autumn can expect wonderful temperatures and a distinct lack of rain, with plenty of sunshine and an abundance of atmosphere.
Passengers arriving in the summer or winter will be at the mercy of the northeastern Vietnam’s rugged climate. This includes occasional instances of pounding rain in the summer along with searing temperatures, while winter offers a lot of fog and temperatures around 15°C (60°F). Despite the challenges of the climate, the beauty of Halong Bay always emerges and though you may not be completely dry or exactly the ideal temperature during these months, you most certainly won’t be bored.
Step 6: Choose your booking method
Halong Bay is huge business in Vietnam, so don’t be surprised if travel agents seem very eager to sell you their tours. Speaking with a travel agent is a good idea to get a basic understanding of the cruises and what is involved on their tours, but booking should be done elsewhere as agencies tend to fluctuate their prices on a day-by-day basis.
Comparisons can be done best at your own leisure online, where websites such as Agoda, Best Price VN and Incredible Asia Journeys will lay out the information for each cruise. This is a great way to see which cruises fit the bill for your own personal taste, though booking this way always comes with the chance of an inflated price.
The safest and most assured method is usually to book directly with the cruise company, once you have figured out which cruise is best for you. This ensures that you will be paying the correct price and don’t have to go through a third party for arranging your tour.
Step 7: Make Arrangements for Transportation and Diet
Once you have ascertained how to book your cruise in Halong Bay and then arranged it with the company, they will ask you a few additional questions. The first of these will be regarding how you would like to travel to Halong Bay. Every cruise company has a shuttle bus that ferries passengers from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back, taking 2 – 3.5 hours each way (depending on which of the three bays you are going to) and costing somewhere between $10 and $20 per person one-way. This is by far the most popular and convenient method of starting and ending your cruise, as the shuttle bus picks up and drops off directly at your hotel in Hanoi. The bus also gives you a great chance to meet fellow passengers before your tour starts.
Another way to reach Halong is with a private transfer, which is a good option for passengers not coming from Hanoi or those wanting extra privacy on their way to the bay. It will cost around $75 - $100 for the one-way transfer from Hanoi and its airport, and more if coming from Ninh Binh.
After this your cruise company will ask you about your dietary requirements while on board. Halong Bay cruises, even those at budget level, are extremely good at ensuring that every passenger can enjoy their meals without fear of allergies. Each meal is tailored to your requirements, so be specific when listing them to the booking agent.
Step 8: Book your Accommodation for After the Cruise
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many passengers of Halong Bay cruises neglect to book their hotel accommodation in Hanoi for after the cruise. If getting the shuttle bus, your cruise company will need to know exactly where they are picking you up beforehand and where they will drop you off after the conclusion of the tour.
There is very little Wi-Fi availability on a Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay cruise, so this should really be arranged before leaving. It is always recommended to book a hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, as many cruise companies don’t pick up or drop off passengers staying outside of this district.
Now that you know how to book a Halong Bay cruise, let Indochina Sails help you through the process. Booking onto a Halong Bay cruise with Indochina Sails, or a Lan Ha Bay cruise with the Indochine Cruise, is a simple process with us and one that will end with fabulous memories. Click here to find out more.