Halong Bay is according to us one of the wonders of Asia and probably our favourite place in Vietnam, with its deep blue lagoons and thousands of limestone islands popping vertically out of the water as far as you can see. Some are so small that you could swim around it in less than a minute, whilst others have abundant rain forests growing on top of them. It offers an absolutely spectacular scenery that everyone visiting Vietnam should see.
Without a doubt, the best way to visit Halong Bay is by cruise. Halong Bay is huge and it’s really worth booking a cruise of 2 or 3 nights minimum to see the far end of the bay and to have enough time to take it all in. There are also daytrips (which is what the majority of the tourists choose) but then you will end up cruising in the front part of the bay with hundreds of other boats so we don’t recommend this option.
There is a huge range of companies (though of varying quality) offerings cruises in Halong Bay, most of which are coupled with a return minivan ride from Hanoi. We read many horrible reviews about people having a really bad experience with some companies (like suffocating cabins or even rats on some boats) so it’s wise to do some research before booking. In our opinion it’s important to find a boat which is not too big (5 to 10 cabins) and which offers sightseeing activities on top of the cruise, like kayaking around the deserted limestone islands (Camille’s favourite), or a visit to some of the local communities who literally live on floating houses on the water.
After a couple of hours on Tripadvisor we decided to go for the Red Dragon cruise of the company Indochina Junk and were super happy with this choice. They have several different boats all built in the typical Indochinese style with gorgeous dark brown wooden decks and dragon heads at the front. The cabins are incredibly comfortable and feel more like a four star hotel than a boat. Boats are quite small and ours only had a handful of cabins so we really felt like it was just us in the bay. To top it all off, the food was absolutely delicious! Only downside: drinks were not included and quite expensive so you may want to stop by a supermarket before boarding on the boat 😊
We booked our cruise directly in Hanoi as many of the cruise companies have offices there so it’s easy to just pop in and compare the different offers. If you are set on one particular cruise however, it may be wise to book in advance as most cruises end up being fully booked.
They say the best time to visit Halong Bay is during summer and autumn (April trough November), even though it can get colder at the end of autumn with the risk of clouds. Halong Bay is quite North on the map so bear in mind it can get quite chilly in the evenings when you dine on the deck. Nothing that a glass of red wine can’t fix!