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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 ...
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:
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:
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.
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!
If you choose an extra night onboard, then here’s what you can expect to do on top:
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!
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
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:
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!
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.
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:
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.
Best price deals for Genesis:
Rosa Cruise is a great choice for couples, and here are a few more great Halong Bay cruises for couples.
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:
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:
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).
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:
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:
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:
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.
Best price deals for Emperor Cruises:
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.
Best price deals for Era Cruise:
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.
Best price deals for President Cruise:
To help you get the best deal on your Halong Bay tour, I’ve put together all of our best tips!
Based on all of my research, I found that Booking.com, generally speaking, offer the best Halong Bay cruise prices anywhere online.
And there's another way to make it even cheaper ...
Well, by using this link here.
If you've never used booking.com before, and sign up using this link, then you will get an extra 10% off your booking!
Yes, we would also get $20 off our next booking, so you would be doing us a massive favour as well!
Thank you in advance ;)
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
We would never think of doing this (nor would we sneak on a few cheeky ciders as well). Just saying.
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!