Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is becoming one of the most popular stops for tourists visiting the north of Vietnam. The major draw of Halong Bay is the never ending views that are sure to leave all visitors speechless. The bay is filled with nearly 1,600 limestone islets jutting up out of the water, and most are covered with a dense green vegetation. A few of the islets are hollow with massive underwater caves. If that isn’t enough to get you excited, Halong Bay also provides hiking opportunities, water sports, fishing villages, and more.
Halong Bay is a three hour car ride from Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi. Aspiring visitors can plan for a long day trip, or slow things down a bit and take a one or two night cruise. I would highly recommend that visitors opt for the overnight cruise and will explain why in this post. I’ll also provide a list of agencies that aspiring travelers can book with.
Best Time To Go
Halong Bay has a tropical climate with hot and moist summers and cold and dry winters. In the summer months you can enjoy the beaches and warm weather, but might get a few summer storms. The winter months will be cold, but usually have less precipitation.
We visited during winter in the month of December and had cold, overcast, and rainy weather. It was a bit disappointing to have such poor visibility, but the gray sky gave the bay a quality of it’s own. The cool weather was perfect for hiking and cave exploration, but too cold for any beach lounging or swimming.
Day Tour vs Overnight Cruise
If you’re visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi, I strongly suggest you don’t try to visit in one day. The drive out to Halong Bay is 3-hours each way, which would leave very little time for enjoyment or exploration on a day trip. On an overnight cruise, you’ll have time to enjoy the bay and all it has to offer. Your cruise provider will prepare food and a scheduled itinerary with stops at many of the bay’s most popular points of interest.
There is no shortage of amazing cruise operators in Halong Bay. For a well reviewed company, you can plan on spending anywhere from $120 to $200 per person. We traveled through Vietnam with tour operator Odynovo Tours and they booked us on La Vela Premium. This was an incredible agency that really specializes in family travels. I will detail the La Vela experience in my itinerary write up below. In the following list you will find five other companies to look at. Keep in mind that many companies offer a standard and premium experience tier for those on a budget. Most of these cruises are all inclusive and include all meals, entrance fees, use of kayaks, transport from Hanoi, and on board insurance.
As I mentioned above, it’s a 3-hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay. My Odyssey Tours provided us with a private car and driver for our visit to Vietnam. For those not traveling with an agency, most of these cruise companies have a shuttle that leaves from Hanoi. This shuttle ride is usually included in the overall cost.
Our 2-Day 1-Night Itinerary With La Vela Cruise
Halong Bay via Tuan Chau Island
After a three hour drive from Hanoi we arrived at Tuan Chau Island, which is the main entry and access point for Halong Bay. Tuan Chau Island has an estimated population of 1,500. It is from here that we checked in, boarded our cruise ship, and began our journey.
After settling in to our very nicely appointed room, we made our way up to the main hall dining area for a lunch and introduction. It was here that we first met the incredible staff at La Vela Cruise. If you haven’t heard this before, you need to know that the Vietnamese people love children. Owen felt like such a little celebrity everywhere we went, but nowhere was this more noticeable than on our cruise. Every staff member was so kind and accommodating for our needs as a family. They always had the high chair ready to go, and were willing to prepare dishes that were optimal for a toddlers needs and wants.
Sung Sot Cave
Our first stop on our cruise along Halong Bay was at the Sung Sot Cave. Our cruise ship had an old motorboat moored to the cruise ship, and this is what we took to each island-bound point of interest.
Sung Sot Cave was “discovered” by a group of French explorers in the early 20th century. The cave is an incredibly popular spot due to the views it provides of Halong Bay looking out, and the depths of the cave network accessible by foot. Sung Sot Cave is also called Surprise Cave because of the wondrous stalactites and stalagmites formation within.
While we were exploring Sung Sot Cave the skies opened up with rain. This was a little disappointing as I was really looking forward to our next planned stop, Luon Cave. Luon Cave is a part of Bo Hon Island and provides an arch that allows people to pass through on boat. I was really hoping to get a chance to kayak through the arch, but the weather didn’t get any better.
Tung Sau Pearl Farm
The next stop was at the Tung Sau Pearl Farm, which is the most well known pearl farm in Halong Bay. This is more of a tourist stop where you can buy jewelry, but it’s still cool to see and learn about the pearl culturing process.
Dinner and Cooking Classes
After the Tung Sau Pearl Farm, we made our way back to the boat for a cooking class where we learned to make authentic spring rolls. After cooking class, we were treated to a masterclass multi-course dinner.
Morning Tai Chi
Our second day started with coffee, tea, and baked goods, as well as a rainy morning Tai Chi session on the deck. Julia enjoyed the Tai Chi, while Owen and I took in the views of the passing islands.
Ti Top Island
After coffee and Tai Chi, we hopped back on the motor boat and made our way to Ti Top Island for a morning hike. Ti Top Island is named after the Russian astronaut German Titov, who was the second human to orbit the earth, and a visitor to Halong Bay. Ti Top Island is the only real beach in the bay, making it a popular spot in warmer months. There is also a concrete step hiking path that leads to the top of the island.
Like Sung Sot Cave, Ti Top Island is another great place to see a bird’s eye view of Halong Bay. Our views were thwarted by gray skies once again, but we still enjoyed the landscape. Much like Sung Sot Cave, be prepared to share the island with a lot of other people. It’s a stop on just about every cruise.
Parting Tea Ceremony
After returning from our hike on Ti Top Island, we were treated to an amazing buffet breakfast, followed by a parting tea ceremony. In the ceremony we learned the traditional way to make Vietnamese tea.
The tea ceremony was the conclusion of an amazing overnight cruise on Halong Bay. We had an amazing time despite the less than ideal weather. It was hard for Owen to say goodbye to the new friends he met on the cruise. We’ll have to return so he can see them soon!
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