13 Hạ Long Bay Cruise Tips To Know Before Your Trip to Vietnam

Have you ever heard of Hạ Long Bay in Vietnam? If you haven’t, I hope that we are about to blow your mind with a few images of this enchanting place. We arrived with no plans when we booked a last-minute trip to Vietnam.

It wasn’t until we were already in Hanoi that we debated going on a Hạ Long Bay cruise. It is easily the most well-known tourist attraction in Vietnam, but that can sometimes lead to questionable destinations full of tourists. However, after the advice of many, we had to go to Hạ Long Bay for ourselves. We didn’t know what to expect, but now it remains a highlight of all our travels.

Where is Hạ Long Bay?

Ha Long Bay Kayaker Drone Shot Rocky Outcroppings

Hạ Long Bay is located in Northeastern Vietnam and is a two-hour drive Southeast of Hanoi. The bay has approximately 1,969 islands and islets made from karst limestone formations. Immense in size, the 1,500 square kilometers area is dotted with islands, limestone towers, grottos, and caves that blend together in a dizzying display of nature’s wonders.

Hạ Long Bay sits in the center of a large area along with Bai Tu Long Bay to the north and Cat Ba Island to the south. They are all similar throughout, sharing common formations, history, and culture, but Hạ Long gets to make its claim to fame.

What is Hạ Long Bay famous for?

Cruise Ship In Ha Long Bay

Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its limestone rock formations that tower out of the emerald waters. It’s one of the most visited sites in Vietnam and is well known for its beauty around the globe.

The name Hạ Long translates to “descending dragon” due to the bay’s unique features. It’s an out-of-this-world landscape that has made numerous big screen appearances like Pan, James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies, and my favorite, Kong: Skull Island.

Hạ Long Bay Cruise Tips

Choose the Right Hạ Long Bay Cruise Provider

Ha Long Bay Beaches

There is only one way to explore Hạ Long Bay: by boat. So, if you’re going to go to this corner of the world, you should research and choose a good tour company. Who you decide to go on your Ha Long Bay cruise could be the difference between having an okay time and an amazing time — tough to have a bad time.

We did our due diligence and researched what seemed like hundreds of companies. So many Hạ Long Bay cruise operators can be overwhelming to sort through. Ultimately, we decided to go with the well-reviewed Bhaya Cruise Company on their luxury Au Co ship and were not disappointed.

We chose the Au Co cruise because it is one of the few luxury cruises that sail around Hạ Long Bay. Hạ Long Bay is already the most touristy thing to do in Vietnam. We wanted to board a ship with a more personalized and unique feel. Which we certainly got on this 32-cabin ship. Some of the reasons our time on the Au Co was the absolute highlight of our time in Vietnam are listed below.

The Staff

The Crew On Au Co Cruise Ship

The number one reason we swear by the Au Co is the tremendous staff, who are all Vietnamese. Many of the staff members come from rural communities and are given ample training to be some of the top employees in Hạ Long Bay.

We loved the fact that although many of the staff members were young, they were eager to learn and be the best in the tourism sector. From the captain to the chef and bartender, each staff member is given an important role in aiding in the voyage’s success. Every guest on our cruise fell in love with the entire staff, and after chatting, we felt they made our time in Vietnam special.

Green Initiatives

Visiting A Community Farm On A Ha Long Bay Cruise

Bhaya Cruises and the Au Co pride themselves on being green and practicing responsible travel in Hạ Long Bay. They have set up community farms and projects on rural Cat Ba island, encouraging guests to take less popular routes. They have a Save The Langur project to create awareness for the rural Cat Ba Langur and encourage local people not to harm or eat the langurs. We also consistently saw the staff doing cleanups together – it was great!

The Cabins

Halong Bay Cruise Ship Luxury Cabin
Natasha In Morning On Ha Long Bay Cruise
Ha Long Bay Cruise — Au Co Cruise Ship Balcony

We were impressed with the cabins on our Hạ Long Bay cruise. They were very comfortable and spacious enough for the two of us. The bathrooms had eco-friendly toiletries and were luxurious. I particularly loved that each room on the Au Co had a balcony where you could relax with a cup of coffee and enjoy the views!


The Au Co Cruise Ship In Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The rest of the ship was spacious and had so many comfortable points to relax. With a full-service outdoor bar and espresso machine serving up Vietnamese coffee and then a top deck with loungers, it was a great place to hang out for a view day and take in the views.


A Dining Menu On The Au Co Cruise Ship

Meal times are no joke at the Au Co. Breakfast is a traditional buffet style, but lunch and dinner are multiple courses with a fusion of Western and Vietnamese cuisine. Our favorite meal was the outdoor barbeque on our last night!

I’m so confident you will love cruising on the Au Co I’ve asked the staff there to give readers of this blog a special discount. Use the code THEWORLDPURSUIT20 for 20% off your three-day cruise!

Look at the Hạ Long Bay Cruise Routes

Natasha Sits On Top Deck Of Ha Long Bay Cruise Ship

Many Ha Long Bay Cruises stick to the same route, so it’s important to look where you will be going when booking. The closer you are to the Hạ Long Bay harbor, the more ships and crowds you will see.

Once you venture out, you will then start to find yourself alone. The Au Co takes you to less crowded destinations in Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. There were so many times when we were the only ship around! This brings me to my next point…

Opt for a Longer Trip

A Small Cruise Ship In Ha Long Bay

If you are only embarking on a 1 Day/1 Night cruise, you won’t be able to get too far out. I highly recommend booking at least a 2-night cruise to maximize your time in Hạ Long Bay. We booked a 2-night cruise and felt it was the perfect time in Hạ Long Bay.

It’s Easily Accessible from Hanoi

Local Rowers In Ha Long Bay

Hạ Long Bay is less than a two-hour drive from Vietnam’s capital and easily accessible by bus or private transfer. You should not struggle to find a bus to take you to Hạ Long Bay. Just make sure to ask your hotel in Hanoi for their recommendations. Or, if you want a private transfer, check with your Hạ Long Bay cruise operator about setting one up.

Since we were coming from Ninh Binh, we opted to take the four-hour public bus journey to Hạ Long Bay but were transferred back to Hanoi with the Bhaya Cruise guys and found ourselves in a private minivan with WiFi, AC, and reclining seats. So, the bottom line is if you are flying into Hanoi, you have no excuse not to go to Hạ Long Bay!

There are Lots of Activities

Biking Through The Vietnamese Countryside

Besides taking in the gorgeous views of Hạ Long Bay, there are many other activities to participate in. You also won’t be on the ship the entire time, and most tour operators will have a set itinerary for you to enjoy. The Au Co set up many enjoyable excursions and activities to take part in, including:

  • Visit Cua Van floating fishing
  • Visiting Viet Hai Village
  • Kayaking
  • Masterchef competition (which I won)
  • Sunrise  Tai Chi lesson
  • Beach time on Ho Ba Ham
  • Squid fishing
  • Tien Ong Cave

Don’t Expect the WiFi or 4G to Work

Natasha On A Small Row Boat In Ha Long Bay

I should mention that many ships advertise WiFi, but the further away you are from Hạ Long Bay, the less likely the WiFi is to work. We even had a SIM card and got great 4G reception all over Vietnam—except on our Hạ Long Bay cruise. So sit back and enjoy the views without being connected!

Take Optimal time to Enjoy the View

One of my favorite things on our Hạ Long Bay cruise was sitting on our balcony and enjoying the views. They are so impressive and out of this world and should not be ignored. From the moment you board your ship, you will be amazed by the emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands.

Bring a Camera

A Drone Shot Of A Kayaker In HaLong Bay

This is my chance to mention that you should always bring a camera on your Hạ Long Bay cruise.

Remember to Pack a Bathing Suit

It’s possible to go swimming in Hạ Long Bay, and you will be given a few opportunities. Even if you don’t plan on swimming, I think it’s still worth it to pack a bathing suit to sunbathe or put it on while kayaking, as you might get wet.

Tip the Staff!

This isn’t necessary or mandatory, but I feel if you think your Hạ Long Bay cruise was a great experience, it typically has something to do with the staff. Keep in mind many of the staff members come from rural and poor communities and rely on their jobs to live, and it would make their day if you thought they did a good enough job to receive a tip.

Seriously – everyone on our Hạ Long Bay cruise pooled some money together and gave the staff a tip at the end; it was worth seeing their smiles. Vietnam is not expensive to travel through, and you don’t need to make it rain. We personally left $50 a cabin. If you plan on tipping, make sure you have cash on hand to do so.

It’s Worth It

Sunset In Vietnam

To be honest – I was really dubious about taking a Hạ Long Bay cruise while we were in Vietnam. Being a full-time traveler, I know how touristy well-known destinations can be, and I thought that Hạ Long Bay would be overcrowded and wouldn’t live up to the hype. Man, was I wrong! Even coming from Ninh Binh (another amazing place in Vietnam), I still thought Hạ Long Bay was incredible.

When I first saw Kong: Skull Island, I thought that the helicopter scene could not have been a real place – but it is – and it’s so close and affordable in Vietnam. I don’t think one single person left our Hạ Long Bay cruise disappointed, and many commented that it was much more than they expected. GO!

When is the best time to go on a Hạ Long Bay cruise?

Bhaya Cruises Welcome Drummers

Hạ Long Bay has four distinct seasons and the best time to visit is spring and Fall (March, April, October, or November). This is when the weather is pleasant, not too humid yet, and daylight is longer. We visited in November and found ourselves with sunny days and mild temperatures, which was ideal after coming from a miserably humid week in Bangkok.

Check if you need a visa for Vietnam

Natasha At Sunset Viewpoint In Nin Bihn Vietnam

Before traveling to Vietnam, check to see if you need a visa (most visitors do). Americans do need a visa, and the process is confusing and inefficient. First, you must apply for an e-visa online before entering the country. The process can take up to three days to clear, although we got our approval letter in two days. Be prepared to pay $25 or more for a one-month visa if you use an agent for this beforehand.

Once you arrive in Vietnam, you will need to take your proof of e-visa (as it is only a letter of approval) to immigration. From there, you must have a passport-sized photo with you or have them take yours for $2. You will also need to pay another $25 in cash upon arrival for your actual visa. You can also pay in Vietnamese Dong, but you will likely get a bad exchange rate.

The rate kept changing for us as I questioned it with the immigration officer. Ultimately, we ended up paying 700,000 Vietnamese Dong plus 60,000 for the photos per person—slightly more than I think it should have been if we were paying in USD—but we didn’t have USD on us. The process is confusing and inefficient, but it’s much better than it used to be when you had to go to an embassy to get a visa.

Plan For Your Trip

About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

2 thoughts on “13 Hạ Long Bay Cruise Tips To Know Before Your Trip to Vietnam”

  1. Hi! Is that promo code still valid? You’ve definitely convinced me to use the same company to go on the trip!!

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