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:
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!
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:
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
Visit the pearl farm
Go for a swim (optional)
Have some drinks on deck and watch the sunset
Drink the night away
Wake up for some early morning on-deck yoga/Tai Chi
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!
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.
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 …
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:
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
If you’re happy to spend a bit more and take your Halong Bay experience to the max, then there are some more luxurious cruise options available. Three of the best include:
7. Emperor Cruises Ha Long
This is by far one of the higher-end cruises on offer in Halong Bay. And with so much to see and do off the boat, Emperor Cruises offer the perfect 2 to 5 day cruises for you to also enjoy some luxurious peace and relaxation. Apart from having a truly stunning vessel, the highlights that set this cruise apart from others are it’s butler-service rooms, fitness centre, on deck BBQs, library, limousine service shuttle, and bedrooms with wall to wall glass offering stunning panoramic views to wake up to in the morning.
From the outside, you can tell Era Cruises are something special. They look like miniature luxury cruise liners and offer almost everything you could wish to experience from a Halong Bay cruise. As well as getting to see all the regular sights, the ship also offers as a cinema, fitness centre and even miniature golf! Their higher end suites also include private balconies, HD TVs and hot tub baths with views out over the bay! If you can spare a little more, then Era Cruise really do offer an unforgettable experience.
President Cruise just oozes luxury throughout. Regardless of which room you decide to opt for. Their Ambassador Balcony rooms are incredibly well priced and still offer the sorts of high end amenities you'd struggle to find anywhere else in Halong Bay. Their highest-end room, the Presidential Suite, is nothing short of astounding. It features floor to ceiling windows, a private terrace and even a jacuzzi! Like, what!? Sitting in a jacuzzi in Halong Bay, that has to be an unforgettable experience all on its own! If money really isn't a concern, then go for this room.
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.
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. 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.
BONUS TIP: 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.
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!
Oh and, here's where we stayed in Hanoi
HC Old Quarter View House
Hanoi is a loud, busy city. But this hotel was like haven away from the noise. The lady who runs it is incredibly friendly and the rooms were impeccable! They helped us with hiring a moped and you also get free refreshments whenever you need them, which is nice. If you don't mind walking up a few stairs, then we would highly recommend this place.
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I'm an Economics graduate with a passion for travel. In 2016 I decided to ditch the office environment, work from my laptop and travel to every country in the world. You'll find me working out of a cafe in Bali, perhaps on a riverboat in Brazil or maybe even an airport lounge in New Delhi.
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