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6 Tips on How to Choose the Best Halong Bay Cruise

From how long to go, to which Halong Cruise route to take and how to avoid the crowds!

Last updated: 21 Sep 2023 - 4 min read
6 Tips on How to Choose the Best Halong Bay Cruise

Halong Bay is a complicated place for us. We don't love mass market attractions, but Halong Bay is a gorgeous natural wonder, and despite the crowds it is still worth seeing - on the right cruise boat! If you go on a good cruise, your Halong Bay experience would feel like a relaxing getaway in a gorgeous natural setting, instead of simply something you have to do when you're in Vietnam.

Here are some tips on choosing the best cruise for you!


Choose a 3D2N cruise to see all the highlights

Halong Bay cruises range from 1 to 3 days. If you are short on time, day trips are a good enough option for you to catch the key highlights of the bay. But the best part about going on a Halong cruise isn’t just to squeeze all the highlights into a few hours. The biggest draw is having the luxury of time to kayak, sit on sundecks and watch the blazing sunset on emerald waters, and wake up to that amaaaaazing sunrise view.

So if you have time, definitely do the 3D2N cruises so you don't feel too rushed and you can enjoy both the sightseeing and the seriously nice boats.

Choose a 3D2N cruise to see all the highlights

Choose a Smaller Cruise Ship

If you're like us and you don't love huge impersonal tours, definitely go for a smaller cruise ship.

Usually the day cruises are larger (up to 100 persons) and more impersonal, whereas the overnight ones tend to be on smaller cruise ships (from 20 to 60 persons). We much prefer the smaller cruises as you don't need to wait for ages to disembark for activities, and the whole experience feels a little more personal.

Choose a Smaller Cruise Ship

Take the Less-Touristed Routes in Halong Bay

Not many people know this but although the whole area is known as Halong Bay, there are in fact 3 different bays: Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. If you want to have fewer boats around you, choose a cruise that takes you to Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha Bay - which are more secluded and less-crowded bays. All three bays have basically the same views and the same activities, so you won't be missing out!

Read more here on the differences between them and decide on which bay to visit.

Take the Less-Touristed Routes in Halong Bay

For a Less Cookie-cutter Experience, Look at the Itinerary

Most people when choosing a Halong Bay cruise will only look at the pictures of the boat, because the activities all start looking quite similar after a while. Most cruise boats will offer kayaking, tai chi, sunset parties, cooking demonstrations, hike to Titop and cave visits.

But there are cruises that do offer more interesting stops on their itineraries, like cycling on Cat Ba island and hiking in Cat Ba National Park, and more varied on-board activities like jet-skiing and yoga. There are even party cruises with live DJs on board!

So if you want a less cookie cutter experience, choose a cruise that has a differentiated itinerary.

For a Less Cookie-cutter Experience, Look at the Itinerary

If You're Going on a Day Cruise, Take the Expressway

If you only have time for a day cruise from Hanoi, choose the cruise that takes you on the expressway route from Hanoi. Most cruise boats that offer transport from Hanoi will take you on the 4-hour non-expressway route as it's cheaper. But this means you spend a total of 8 hours travelling and only 3-4 hours on the water, which is super rushed for a day trip!

Instead, choose a cruise that takes the 2-hour expressway route. This cuts your transfer time by half, and allows you to spend 5/5+ hours on water for a more relaxing time. You’ll also skip the tourist trap shops on this faster route!

If You're Going on a Day Cruise, Take the Expressway

Bonus: To Really Avoid the Crowds, Go to Cat Ba

Cat Ba sees a third of the tourists that Halong Bay sees every year, even though it has pretty much the same karst landscape and same type of activities. If you want a more off-grid cruise with the same views, head to Cat Ba instead!

A lot of the boats from Cat Ba may still head to the Halong Bay area, but they'll spend more time around Cat Ba and have more outdoorsy activities like rock-climbing, hiking and cycling around Cat Ba Island.

The vibe at Cat Ba is more rugged and adventurous, and the boats are more basic. So if you want luxury, you won't find it at Cat Ba.

Bonus: To Really Avoid the Crowds, Go to Cat Ba
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