How To Visit Halong Bay

We were on a visa run from Thailand to Hanoi, Vietnam and decided to visit Halong Bay.

Incase you don’t know, Halong Bay is on the coast of Northern Vietnam on the Gulf of Tonkin and a few hours drive from Hanoi.

We last visited Halong Bay over twenty years ago on a group tour of Vietnam.

Halong Bay is an amazingly beautiful area of limestone karsts that jut out of the ocean around the bay.

When we were there over twenty years ago, only a handful of tourist boats were available to see the area but we’d read that now hundreds of tourist vessels plied the waters of the bay.

Halong Bay

Beautiful Halong Bay, Vietnam

How To Get From Hanoi To Halong-Bay

We love doing things independently but a visit to Halong Bay is honestly much better as part of a tour from Hanoi.

Firstly getting to Halong Bay by public transport is hard and very time consuming, secondly if you book ahead you know what you’re going to pay and what type of boat you’ll be on.

Our hotel had lots of glossy albums of different Halong Bay cruises to choose from.

We did some research on what cruise companies might suit us best and what length of time we wanted to spend there.

You can either visit Halong Bay on a day trip with a short cruise around the bay and back to Hanoi but just the drive to the coast is three hours long so that doesn’t leave much time for the cruise.

Or as we decided you can stay overnight on the boat as part of the cruise.

Most companies do much the same sort of trip but some of the boats are aimed at young people and are more like party boats which we didn’t want, being a family.

There are literally hundreds of boats to choose from so do your research and look at reviews etc before you choose.

You can pay a small fortune for some of the luxury boats.

When you book either through an agent or your hotel, see what their lowest price would be.

This is Asia so a bit of negotiation is always possible so don’t just take the first price given, even if it’s printed in the brochure.

Cruise chosen, we waited for the day of our Halong Bay trip.


On Board The Launch Out To Our Boat

The Cruise

Our bus turned up early and as usual, on a tour, it had to drive around the different hotels, picking people up before setting off toward the coast.

The drive takes between 3 to 3.5 hours with comfort stops and a lunch stop.

Once at the port, we were escorted to a small launch, given life jackets and then set across the harbour to our waiting cruiser.

What astonished us was the sheer number of boats, hundreds of them.

A few years ago the Vietnamese government told the cruise owners that all the boats had to be painted white, so you have all these different shapes and sizes of boats but all white.

To be honest, it was quite a shock to see this many people and boats.

When we had come over twenty years ago our trip leader had organised a fishing boat to take us out on the bay and a cook to make lunch for us.

I remember hardly seeing any other boats out in the bay but like so many places in the world mass tourism arrived.

Don’t let that put you off though as Halong Bay is still a beautiful destination.


A Halong Boat Almost Identical To The One We Were On

We boarded our boat and were shown to our cabins along the narrow side of the boat.

We were pleasantly surprised by how nice and comfortable the cabin was for the three of us.

Once the boat was underway we went up on the top deck.

Our boat had three levels, the cabin deck, the lounge and dining room deck and then an upper open lounge deck.

The meals were served in the dining room where we shared tables with the rest of the group.

We felt a bit out of place as everybody else on the boat were single young people and we began to wonder what type of trip this would be.

Halong Bay - Our Room On The Boat

Our Comfortable Room On Board The Boat

We cruised out through the spectacular landscape of the bay but as we looked down at the ocean we did see a lot of trash in the water.

It’s devastating to see so much trash in beautiful surroundings.

We did see a few locals in their tiny boats collecting the litter but it’s a huge task.

The boat made its way out to an area where you can kayak so Annabel and I boarded the launch that took us to the kayak jetty.

After splashing around and not really getting anywhere, we got the hang of paddling and went through a passageway that led to a body of water enclosed on all sides by the tall limestone rock formations.

We enjoyed our kayak paddle and returned to the boat.

Once on board, we got changed and headed up for our dinner.

The food was OK but nothing to write home about

As darkness fell we tried our hand at fishing off of the boat.

We did see some huge fish but didn’t manage to catch anything.

The evening went on but the other people on the boat seemed to be starting a party with plenty of alcohol flowing.

We decided to go to bed but were kept awake by loud music playing ( to be fair I think the music was being played by one of the guys on the boat and not the crew)

It’s an odd situation though as obviously the boat owner makes quite a bit of money selling drinks to the passengers so they don’t dislike a party atmosphere.


At One Of The Many Halong Bay Island Beaches

The morning arrived and after breakfast, the boat took us to an island where with lots of other tourists, we could climb up to the viewpoint with great vistas of the surrounding landscape.

After this stop, the boat made its way back slowly through the bay but not before we had been given a cookery lesson where we made vegetable spring rolls.

The best times on the boat were just when it’s cruising through the water and we watched out over the ocean and karsts, seeing the life on the water as locals go about their daily chores on boats and floating homes.

Lunch was served as we neared the harbour and once complete we made our way back to our bus for the journey back to Hanoi.

So what did we think…

Halong Bay has changed, there is no doubt about that, and not for the better.

It was disappointing to see a large number of boats and tourists and that it’s become a party destination and of course the amount of trash in the sea.

For all that, it’s still a stunning place to visit and experience being on the water in such a beautiful atmosphere.


Sue Enjoying The Atmosphere and Scenery Of Halong Bay