It was the photos of Halong Bay that sealed the deal. After one look at those emerald green waters and limestone pillars…Javi and I knew Vietnam would be our next destination. Our first stop was the capital city of Hanoi. Next we headed to Halong Bay (Hạ Long Bay)—which is only a four hour drive from the city!
I’m pleased to say Halong Bay definitely lived up to the hype and it was as beautiful in person as in all the photos. 😉 The bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in northeast Vietnam. Its spectacular seascape features 1,600 limestone islets topped with lush greenery. It’s also known for its beautiful, emerald waters and hidden caves too.
Once we arrived at the bay we checked-in at the Indochina Sails office. Then we were taken to our luxury ship by way of motorboat. The ship was the perfect size for our group and featured 15 cabins, an dining area, and a large deck. Our cabin had a king sized bed, full bathroom, air conditioning, and a large window for enjoying the views. The cruise package was all-inclusive except for alcohol.
Make sure to spend enough days in Halong Bay
You’ll find a variety of excursion options when planning a trip to Halong Bay. Make sure to choose the right amount of time when planning your visit. The most common tour options you’ll find are:
- Day excursions (from nearby cities)
- 2 day 1 night cruises
- 3 day 2 night cruises
- 4 day 3 night cruises
There are many day excursions from Hanoi and Halong City, but I would recommend staying at least one or two nights on the water if possible. Javi and I did a 3 day 2 night cruise and it was the perfect amount of time for us. Don’t make the mistake of rushing your visit!
Select the right itinerary for your travel style
There are three distinct bays in this area; Ha Long, Bai Tu Long and La Han Bay. There’s also a variety of itineraries you can choose from. My advice is to research all your options and make sure to choose the best fit for your travel style.
- Halong Bay: most popular and usually includes stops at Ti Top Island and Sung Sot Cave (this was our itinerary). I’ve read this is the biggest “party destination” of the three but I suppose this depends on the boat/excursion you choose. Ti Top Island and Sung Sot Cave were crowded, however our time on the water was super relaxing.
- Halong Bay + Bai Tu Long Bay: normally combines the best spots of Halong with off the beaten path stops in Bai Tu Long. Keep in mind these tours will probably be more expensive.
- La Han Bay + Cat Ba Island: a nice option if you want to spend a night on an island or extend your stay without breaking the bank on a boat. I’ve read La Han Bay is also less touristy compared to Halong Bay.
Choose the right time of year to visit Halong Bay
I’ve heard the bay can get ridiculously crowded with boats and tourists around November and December (to the point where it’s less enjoyable). You may want to consider visiting in the off season like we did (August/September). Just keep in mind you could run into bad weather this time of year. Give yourself an extra day or two in the region if possible….some overnight cruises were canceled due to weather the day we checked-out for example.
Thoroughly research all options before booking anything!
I would recommend you avoid booking excursions through your hotel and do extensive research before making any reservations online. My best tip is to book your visit to Halong Bay through a travel agency if you have the option. Tourism is still relatively new in Vietnam and travel agencies seem to offer the most secure and affordable options for tourists.
P.S. If you go swimming make sure to keep an eye out for jellyfish! 😉