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Best Halong Bay Cruise For Backpackers [+6 Ways To Save Money]

Written on
April 27, 2018
Travel stories

Best Halong Bay Cruise For Backpackers [+6 Ways To Save Money]

Written by:
Bradley Williams
Last updated:
May 8, 2018
Travel stories
We visited Hanoi in September 2017 and spent hours researching the best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers. So, to help save you time and money, here it is!
Best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers
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If you’re heading to Vietnam, then you simply must visit Halong Bay.

It is widely considered the best thing to do in Vietnam, and is perhaps the most famous area as well.

The problem is that with so many tour operators offering Halong Bay cruises (more than 200), it can be hard to find the right one.

Especially if you are budget backpackers like us!

But don’t worry, cheap Halong bay cruises do exist, and I’m here to help you find them.

In fact, I’ve brought together all of my top tips for visiting Halong Bay as well as a detailed run down of the best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers.

First off, let’s answer some of your most pressing questions ...

Hạ Long Bay, vietnam

Popular questions about Halong Bay cruises

How do you book cheap Halong Bay tours?

There are a number of ways to book a cruise in Halong Bay, including both offline and online.

If you're not as comfortable booking something online, then you can head to a number of tour operators who operate all across Hanoi.

Or, just go and speak to your hostel/hotel receptionist and they can likely book one for you.

However, these operators usually take a cut and you will instead find the cheapest tours online. Here are the 3 cheapest and best comparison sites we found:

How long is a Halong Bay boat cruise?

It’s up to you!

You can book Halong Bay cruises for as long as you want. However, the most popular packages are for the following:

  • 1 day, 0 nights

These depart from either Hanoi, Cat Ba or Halong City. Essentially, you get a little taste for the bay, but will be rushed to squeeze in everything.

  • 2 days, 1 night

The Halong bay 2 day cruise is the tour we chose, and there’s a better explanation of it below. In my opinion, you should choose at least 1 night, as waking up to the views is what makes the trip so wonderful!

  • 3 days, 2 nights

If you choose an extra night onboard, then here’s what you can expect to do on top:

  • Squid fishing
  • Visiting floating villages
  • Bike riding on Cat Ba island
  • Option to spend the night on Cat Ba island or La Han Bay

  • 4 days, 3 nights

A 4 day, 3 night tour to Halong Bay has to be the ultimate way to relax and unwind! You’ll get to see all of the islands and do all of the activities. If money wasn’t an issue, then we’d have chosen to do this!

2 day Halong Bay tour boat

What is a typical Halong Bay tour itinerary?

Well, this all depends on the length of the cruise you decide to take.

The longer you are out there, the longer you have to see things. However, here is the standard Halong Bay Tour itinerary for a 2 day, 1 night cruise:

Day 1:

  • Get picked up from your hostel in the morning
  • Drive to Halong Bay and stop off at a halfway point souvenir shop (ridiculously overpriced)
  • Arrive at the boat at midday
  • Set sail and have lunch
  • Go kayaking
  • Visit the pearl farm
  • Go for a swim (optional)
  • Have some drinks on deck and watch the sunset
  • Have dinner
  • Drink the night away

Day 2:

  • Wake up for some early morning on-deck yoga/Tai Chi
  • Have breakfast
  • Head to the Sung Sot caves
  • Back on the boat and sail back to the docks
  • Do a cooking lesson (i.e, make Vietnamese spring rolls)
  • Have lunch on the journey
  • Arrive back about midday
  • Disembark and head home
  • Again, stopping at the stupidly over-priced souvenir shop on the way

What does the tour usually include?

As standard, most Halong Bay tours include the activities listed above, as well as free lunch dinner and breakfast.

They also usually include the transfer to and from Halong Bay.

They don’t include drinks, and be warned, you’re not normally allowed to take drinks onboard.

Instead, you have to pay above the odds for any alcohol, so factor this into your budgeting.

How do you get to Halong Bay?

All of the tours tend to include travel to the Bay within the package.

The journey takes about 4 hours and, after speaking to people, we found that the more expensive your tour, the nicer the vehicle that takes you.

We considered renting a moped and riding there, but it all just seemed like too much hassle and the transfer worked out just fine!

View of mountains in Halong Bay

When is the best time to do a Halong Bay backpacker cruise?

The best time to do a Halong Bay cruise is whenever there’s no rain and you have clear blue skies.

As such, the best time of year is typically between February and April.

November till January also has low rainfall, but that is also late Autumn/Winter time, so the weather is colder and it is often foggy.

However, it all depends on your luck. We were there in September and we had beautiful clear blue skies the whole time. 

However, just 2 days before, all of the tours had been cancelled due to the tropical monsoon that swept through the area. You really can't predict the weather in Southeast Asia!

What do you get fed on board?

Simply put, a lot of fish!

We found that there was at least twice as much food as what we needed (I don't know if the staff eat whatever is left).

It all tastes pretty great, it just depends on what you’re into.

But if you have any allergies or a particular distaste for fish, then message them at the same time you book.

Cazzy did this as she hates fish and can’t eat rice. (I know right, not eating rice in Asia! What?!)

So they made her a few chicken dishes which kept her happy.

1 night Halong Bay cruise backpacker

The best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers

Ok, so this is why you’re really here! To get the most cruise for your Dong!

Well, luckily for you, me and Cazzy are two of the savviest backpackers you can find! So, safe to say, we did plenty of research before booking a Halong Bay tour.

We spoke to a number of tour operators all across Hanoi, and searched all of the sites online.

So, without further ado, this is the best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers:

Presenting … Rosa Cruise

Rosa Cruise is, in our opinion, the best value Halong Bay cruise.

We found that the quality of cruises normally falls into one of three tiers: basic, mid-range and luxury.

The Rosa Cruise falls somewhere between mid-range and luxury, but comes at a much lower price tag to its competitors.

You get the full Halong Bay experience, complete with all-inclusive meals and all of the typical things you’d expect to see.

But what set them apart and what makes them the best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers is the quality of the rooms and the fact that they don't follow the throng of other boats that head out on the bay.

Instead, they keep their distance which is perfect as it allows you to get stunning pictures. Like this one …

Click below for the best prices for Rosa Cruise:

Rosa Cruise boat

So, how much does Rosa Cruise cost?

We paid $94 each which, as you’ll come to find, is a great price for what you get.

Yes, it was the most expensive thing we paid for in the whole of Vietnam. But, then again, you have to think about what you're getting.

Visiting Halong Bay truly is a once in a lifetime experience. So, compared to the cheapest Halong Bay cruises that come in at around $50 per person, you get a hell of a lot more for that extra $44.

In fact our friends paid just $10 less each for a 1 day tour of Halong Bay! (That’s without the night’s stay, and they had to leave mega early and get back late in the day!)

Plus, as a backpacker, it was lovely to spend a couple days in luxury before we headed off back to the budget hotels!

Read: The Best Hotels in Vietnam (At a Great Price Too!)

Just be aware that I think all of the cruises have put their prices up slightly since we were there in 2017.

If you want to find out more, then here are 3 of the best (and cheapest) ways to book Rosa Cruise.

Rosa Cruise best deal

6 other great value Halong Bay cruises

The cheapest Halong Bay cruises for backpackers

If you’re looking purely for cheap Halong Bay tours, then here’s the best ones we found. Be aware, they are only for one day:

1. Viet Nam Open Tour Day Cruise

Coming in at roughly $40 per person, this cheap Halong Bay cruise offers you the chance to do many of the typical Halong Bay activities. It is longer than many of the other 1 day cruises available and seems to have great reviews. They pick you up from your hotel or hostel in Hanoi Old Quarter and drop you back off in the evening. Oh, and you get a free bottle of water ... bargain!

Best price deals for Viet Nam Open Tour Day Cruise:


Viet Nam Open Tour Day Cruise

2. Genesis

This Halong Bay day tour lasts 12 hours, so get ready for a long, but enjoyable day. They pick you up at 07:45 and drop you off at 20:00. You get lunch included on board Genesis, which is a lovely cruise boat. Find out more through the links below.

Best price deals for Genesis:



Genesis Halong Bay cruise boat

Best Halong Bay cruise for couples backpacking

Rosa Cruise is a great choice for couples, and here are a few more great Halong Bay cruises for couples.

3. Aphrodite Cruise

Aphrodite Cruise offer some of the best Halong Bay cruise options for couples. They have extremely good reviews and, though not the cheapest, you seem to get a lot for your money. I’ve seen these guys pop up a lot and seem to offer good Genius Perks discounts on Booking.com. What makes this option so good for couples is that they offer a spa bath in your room! A great way to relax even more just before dinner time.

Best price deals for Aphrodite Cruise:



Aphrodite cheap Halong Bay cruise boat

4. Secret Halong Cruise

Secret Halong Cruise offer another great, but cheap Halong Bay overnight cruise. This is the perfect backpacker cruise because it offers high quality, modern rooms, as well as a true Halong Bay experience. Reviews make it clear that the staff are incredibly friendly and you get a nice modern vehicle that transports you to and from Hanoi (this is not to be undervalued!).

Best price deals for Secret Halong Cruise:


Secret Halong Cruise cheap Halong Bay tour

Best Halong Bay cruise for solo travellers

If you’re travelling through Vietnam on your own, just looking for a good time, then here are some of the best Halong bay cruises for solo travellers (more commonly known as the party boats).

5. Oasis Bay Cruises

Oasis Bay Cruises seem to be open of the most proactive cruises in Halong Bay trying to find party-goers. They advertise themselves as a party cruise and apparently “party time” starts at 9pm. What’s good about Oasis is that it is still a luxury cruise boat offering a nice and enjoyable trip through the bay in luxury accomodation.

Best price deals for Oasis Bay Cruises:



Oasis Bay, cheap tour

6. Golden Bay Party Cruise

The Golden Bay Party Cruise offer free beer, vodka and rice wine between 8pm and 10pm. Which, as I’m sure you’ll find, is an offer that’s hard to refuse. Better yet, despite the free booze, they are still one of the cheapest Halong Bay cruises available.

Best price deals for Golden Bay Party Cruise:


Halong Golden Party Cruise boat for backpackers

Our top 6 money saving tips for your Halong Bay boat trip

To help you get the best deal on your Halong Bay tour, I’ve put together all of our best tips!

1. Search all of the price comparison sites

Just because Booking.com was cheapest for us, it doesn't mean it will be for you.

In fact, it so often surprises us how much the prices can fluctuate between booking sites.

My recommendation is that, once you find a boat you like, search for it in all the different sites before making your booking.

Also, read the small print for what each one includes.

The site might be able to offer you some additional perks (for example, it might count towards your 11th free night on hotels.com).

Don't worry, I don't expect you to scroll back up to find the tour operators. Instead, here they are for you:

2. Speak to the tour operators direct

Again, just because we found it cheapest online, you might be surprised to find a cheaper deal by booking in person.

I can’t recommend any actual stores to visit, though they each seem to offer select cruises (I presume they have certain commission agreements).

Either way, the experience is worthwhile as they can answer all of the questions you have in person, which is always nice.

3. See if you can get a group discount

If there’s a large group of you looking to book a cruise, then you  might be able to negotiate a better deal.

The tour operators don’t usually have any flexibility when they’re booking for one or two people but, if there’s a lot of you then I have no doubts they could work something out.

4. Decide early on what you want to do

It’s a good idea to get an idea of what your budget is and how long you want to spend out there as soon as you can.

That makes the whole search process a lot easier.

Above, you can find more information on the extra things you get from a 2 and three night cruise.

For us, we though the extra day on the boat didn't really warrant the leap in price.

In fact, you don't even spend the second day on the boat! Instead, they send you to an island for the day whilst the boat heads back to the mainland to drop people off and pick up more people!

5. Book in advance

If you leave things till the last minute then there’s a chance you’ll get a flash deal.

However, if you are at Halong Bay in peak times of the year, then you will likely find that many of the best value Halong Bay cruises are already booked up.

As such, I recommend checking and booking online as far in advance as possible.

6. Think about alcohol

If you're planning on having a few drinks onboard your Halong Bay cruise, then remember, it will cost at least 2 times as much as drinks on land.

This is where the boats make extra money, so factor it into your budgeting.

One thing I would absolutely not recommend (and what we certainly didn't do), is the following:

  • Buy a bottle of water and empty it out in Hanoi
  • Fill it with cheap Vodka
  • Carry that bottle of “water” on with you (store it in a bag)
  • Even if they catch you, it’s unlikely they’ll take the water off you
  • Keep it tucked away in your room and make casual bathroom breaks throughout the night

We would never think of doing this (nor would we sneak on a few cheeky ciders as well). Just saying.

View of Halong Bay from tour boat

Well, that’s about it

When we visited Hanoi, we spent hours researching the tours and trying to find the best Halong Bay cruise for backpackers.

It was hard work trying to find the info online, so that’s why I wanted to write this post, to bring all of our findings into one place.

So I hope you found it helpful!

If you have any more questions, then just leave a comment below and I will be happy to help where I can.

Similarly, if you’ve been to Halong Bay before and have any tips, then let me and the other readers know!

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