Unforgettable Travel Company

Best Way to Experience Halong Bay


The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay is Vietnam’s leading tourist destination.

Translating roughly as ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’, Halong is famed for its limestone karst peaks and placid turquoise waters, providing staggering natural beauty which is unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Halong Bay cruises have rightly become one of the most popular experiences during a tour of Vietnam. There are many cruise ship operators to choose from and numerous variations to your Halong Bay experience. We’ve put together this guide to Halong Bay, with our recommendations on when, how, and who best to explore it with.

Cat Ba Island from above

Where is Halong Bay?

Halong Bay is located around 2.5 hours’ drive east of Hanoi at the mouth of the Red River Delta. The entire area is a protected national park, and UNESCO Heritage Site, covering around 600 square miles and encompassing some 2,000 individual islands, islets, and individual karst peaks. 

Halong City – a medium-sized port city in its own right – is your entry point to the Bay. A recently-completely cruise port just outside the city serves as an embarkation and disembarkation point for all cruises. If you’re looking to stay overnight before or after your cruise, there are some good hotels and beaches just nearby.

Sunset over Halong Bay

When to Visit Halong Bay

The best season for Halong Bay cruises roughly coincides with the rest of Vietnam – with the high season typically seen as falling between October and April. However, June to September is the hottest and wettest time of year, with a chance of monsoonal rains and – occasionally – typhoons lasting until September and October. 

As with the rest of Vietnam, the Bay is surprisingly cool (and often foggy) in the winter months of December and January – it’s still well worth visiting, but make sure to pack a sweater! If we had to pick an absolute best time for your Halong Bay cruise we’d suggest November or between February and April.

Overview of Halong Bay busy with boats

Day Trips from Hanoi

If you’re pushed for time or are not so keen on taking an overnight cruise, day tours of Halong Bay can be arranged from Hanoi. 

However, we generally discourage day cruises: with a 2-3 road journey each way you’ll be spending half your day on the road, and with less time on the water you’ll only be able to visit the most touristed (and unauthentic) floating villages and tourist spots. Tour guides on these trips tend to feel rushed and you’ll gain a limited understanding of the bay.

Limestone cave in Halong Bay

Overnight Halong Bay Cruises

With the above in mind, we’d always recommend an overnight cruise as the very best way to discover Halong Bay. 

All cruises operate out of a purpose-built port near Halong City. Itineraries vary depending on operator, but will typically take in the Cat Ba island, secluded sandy beaches, short hikes into the karst peaks to Sung Sot cave or similar, and activities such as kayaking, squid fishing, and tai chi lessons on deck. 

Several luxury cruise operators – such as Heritage Line, Paradise Cruises, and Indochina Sails – offer spacious and impeccably finished ensuite cabins, some with private balconies, ensuring your overall experience is of the highest quality.

Cruise through Halong Bay

2-Night Halong Bay Cruises

Spending more time onboard allows these cruise boats to conduct a wider loop of the Bay, and get further away from the day trip and overnight cruise vessels. This ensures a more peaceful and authentic experience – beaches visited are more secluded, caves much quieter, and fishing villages more authentic. 

Our preferred 2-night cruises are conducted by the same excellent operators as mentioned above. Comfort and service remain at the same high level, and you’ll have an extra 24 hours on board to enjoy your luxurious cabin and fine food and drink.

Cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay

Alternatives to Halong Bay

If you’re concerned about the relative busyness of Halong Bay, and are keen to see the staggering limestone karst scenery with fewer boats around, why not consider a cruise in one of the neighboring bays? 

Next door to Halong, Lan Ha Bay cruises also operate out of Halong City but head away from the bulk of the tourist traffic, with all equivalent experiences included, and run by the same high standard of boat operator. 

Slightly further away is Bai Tu Long Bay; tourism here is yet to really get going, with just a couple of operators in the area. Although standards of service are patchier, you’ll largely have the Bay to yourself.

Ready to start planning your next trip?

Contact our Vietnam specialists today to start discussing your bespoke tour.

+1 844 879 7388OR

You may be interested in