Guide to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam: Best Tours & All Information (2023)

In this ultimate guide to Ha Long Bay, we give you all the information you need for a fun visit in 2023, from the best tour packages, how to get there, when to visit, and what to expect.
In this ultimate guide to Ha Long Bay, we give you all the information you need for a fun visit in 2023, from the best tour packages, how to get there, when to visit, and what to expect.
Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - daily tour, overnight tour, multi-day tour
Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - daily tour, overnight tour, multi-day tour
Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - daily tour, overnight tour, multi-day tour

Guide to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam: Best Tours & All Information (2023)

In this ultimate guide to Ha Long Bay, we give you all the information you need for a fun visit in 2023, from the best tour packages, how to get there, when to visit, and what to expect.
In this ultimate guide to Ha Long Bay, we give you all the information you need for a fun visit in 2023, from the best tour packages, how to get there, when to visit, and what to expect.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Arijana and Matej - Shipped Away
Hi! We're Arijana & Matej

Welcome & thank you for reading our blog. :) We love what we do and put a lot of work in our free articles. So if you find them helpful, please consider supporting us.

Arijana and Matej - Shipped Away
Hi! We're Arijana & Matej

Welcome & thank you for reading our blog. :) We love what we do and put a lot of work in our free articles. So if you find them helpful, please consider supporting us.

Disclaimer: We use affiliate links, so anytime you book something through them, we can earn a small commission with no extra cost to you.

It goes without saying that if you’ve done any kind of research about Vietnam, you’ve seen Ha Long Bay topping the top things-to-do lists 90% of the time.

And it’s for a good reason!

To see our experience, watch our video of our trip aboard Capella Cruise.

Introduction to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. The bay is situated in the Quảng Ninh province, covering an area of 1553 square kilometers.

The most striking features of Ha Long Bay are almost 2000 limestone karst islands in various shapes and sizes that rise abruptly from the emerald waters. These rocky outcrops rise drastically from the sea, creating this spectacular, world-famous scenery.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - beautiful scenery on an overnight cruise

The bay has a long history of human habitation, with archaeological findings dating back tens of thousands of years. However, in recent years, the Ha Long Bay waters are only inhabited by around 1600 people in the four floating villages, which you can visit.


Disclaimer: People often think of the whole geological area in the Gulf of Tonkin to which Ha Long Bay belongs as Ha Long Bay itself.

But that’s false, as there are two more bays there, Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long Bay.

For clarity’s sake, we will refer to the whole area as Ha Long Bay and outline the differences where needed.


This article details everything about Ha Long Bay cruises.
But if you want to skip to the two most essential parts, click below.

How to get to Ha Long Bay

The most common and easiest way to get to Ha Long Bay for your cruise is by organized transport by your cruise operator, usually in a minivan. But you can also pay extra and get private transport.

We highly recommend booking a tour package that includes transport, as it’s the most affordable and convenient option.

And if your tour package doesn’t include transportation or if you plan to book your tour on the spot, we suggest first visiting Hanoi and then getting a ride from the city center to Ha Long Bay.

Read More

Read all about Hanoi and what to do there in our Hanoi Travel Guide.

Traveling to Vietnam soon?
Vietnam e-Visa 2023: How to enter Vietnam (Full Guide)

1. From Hanoi with a Cruise operator

Most Ha Long Bay cruise operators include transport from Hanoi’s Old Quarter to the bay in the tour package price. 

Make sure to check that beforehand and arrange transport if needed.

2. From Hanoi by yourself

If your Ha Long Bay cruise operator doesn’t include transport or you’re booking a cruise last minute, you can easily reach Ha Long Bay by yourself for about $15 one way with a bus or minivan.

> Click here to check the latest prices for Hanoi to Ha Long Bay transport on 12go.

Powered by 12Go system

Note: Most tours to Ha Long Bay operate from the Tuan Chau pier. So that’s your destination if you’re heading out to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi.

Tuan Chau pier is also where we boarded our 2-day, 1-night cruise aboard Capella (we had transport included).

3. Fly into Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport and transfer to Ha Long

If you’re planning on flying to the Noi Bai (Hanoi) airport and heading out to Ha Long Bay straight away, you can easily do that by getting picked up by a private car which takes about two and a half hours.

Book your transfer:

If you’re flying into Hanoi (Noi Bai airport) late and there’s no transport the same day to Ha Long, then it makes sense to stay in one of the hotels near the Hanoi airport. And then transfer to Ha Long Bay the following day.

Check these top-rated hotels near Hanoi airport:

  1. Airport Classic Hotel & Travel
  2. Paragon Noi Bai Hotel and Pool
  3. Hanoi Airport Suites Hostel & Travel

> Click here to check all top-reviewed hotels near Hanoi’s Airport.

4. Fly into Van Don or Cat Bi airport

The best airport to fly into to reach Ha Long Bay is the Hai Phong International Airport (Cat Bi), as it’s very close to Ha Long (65km), and the taxi ride to Ha Long is only about 1 hour and costs about $30.

Additionally, since December 2018, you can fly into the Van Don airport, the closest airport to Ha Long, and there are free buses from the airport to the city.

You can fly into the Van Don airport directly from Ho Chi Minh City, with more connections coming soon.

5. Fly from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay on a seaplane

The most remarkable and expensive way to get to Ha Long Bay is by boarding Hai Au Aviation’s seaplane in Hanoi and landing at the Tuan Chau pier in Ha Long Bay.

Note: It seems like the Hanoi to Ha Long Bay seaplane route is not operational at the moment, but you can go on their 25-minute Ha Long Bay seaplane sightseeing flight.

Subscribe to Shipped Away! 🙂

Get travel tips, ideas, plans, behind the scenes, and more. (No spam, No BS)

What is the best time for a Ha Long Bay cruise?

The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is from October to March when the weather is pleasant and there’s minimal rainfall. But this is also high season for Ha Long Bay, which means crowds.

However, Ha Long Bay is a year-round destination, so if you plan your visit between April and September, you will experience more rainfall and humidity but fewer crowds.

Room with terrace Capella Cruise
We had mixed weather conditions in April.

Further, the best months for going on a cruise around Ha Long Bay with fewer crowds and still nice weather are April, May, and September in the shoulder season when it’s not too hot and the rain isn’t the worst, with plenty of sunshine.

Did You Know?

Ninh Binh in Vietnam is called the “Ha Long Bay on land,” and it’s not far from Hanoi and Ha Long. So if you want a similar scenery, but obviously, on land, check it out.

Click here to read our Ninh Binh Travel Guide.

Ninh Binh scenery

Ha Long Bay area & sightseeing spots explained

Sightseeing in the Ha Long Bay area includes beaches, caves, and floating villages, and it’s famous for recreational activities like swimming, kayaking, and trekking.

Arijana Tkalčec kayaking in Lan Ha Bay with Capella Cruise
Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay

People often think of the whole geological area to which the bay belongs as Ha Long Bay.

But there are other bays in this area that you can also visit. And they are usually a bit less busy with tourists due to the distance from the mainland Ha Long city.

The other bays in the large area to which Ha Long Bay belongs are the recently becoming famous Lan Ha Bay to the south and the well-known Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast.

Difference between Ha Long, Lan Ha, and Bai Tu Long Bay

All the bays, Ha Long, Lan Ha, and Bai Tu Long, are about the same in geological features, but each offer something different.

Morning at Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay in the morning.

Cruises in Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are a great alternative to the crowded Ha Long Bay because of their further away locations and the fact they’re visited mainly by fewer and usually longer-lasting cruises. 

Lan Ha Bay: Cruises to Lan Ha Bay usually involve at least one night aboard, compared to the countless daily tour packages in Ha Long Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay: Cruising through Bai Tu Long Bay which is actually the largest bay area-wise, means fewer crowds and a more tranquil and relaxed experience but still with plenty of things to see and do.

We went for a 2-day, 1-night cruise in the Lan Ha Bay, and it was an incredible experience!

How to choose your Ha Long Bay cruise

Choosing the best Ha Long Bay cruise for you depends on what you want to see and experience and your budget.

Likewise, you will also need to decide how many people you want to be on a boat with. The ships used for daily trips to the bay are usually quite filled compared to the overnight or multi-day cruise ships that only have a limited amount of cabins/suites.

Keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of the different cruises.

Cruising Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam
Example of a luxury ship used by Capella Cruise.

1. Day cruises to Ha Long Bay

Only making a day trip to Ha Long Bay is completely fine, as it allows you to cover a lot of attractions in just a day with minimal money spent.

And this is what most travelers to Ha Long Bay with limited time and budget choose.

The day cruises to Ha Long Bay cover the most known spots of the area. But they are, of course, crowded with tourists.

> Click here to check the day cruises on GetYourGuide <

> Click here to check the day cruises on Viator <

2. Overnight or multi-day Ha Long Bay cruises

The overnight or multi-day Ha Long Bay cruises are the perfect way to experience more of the bays than on the day trip and offer a more relaxed and private experience but at quite a bit higher cost.

> Click here to check the top overnight cruises on Agoda <

> Click here to check the top overnight cruises on Booking.com <

For example, our suite on our 2-day, 1-night Lan Ha Bay cruise with Capella Cruise was one of only 30 cabins on the whole ship. And so our trip was quite relaxing.

Waking up at Capella Cruise Lan Ha Bay
Sleepy Arijana waking up to a fantastic view of Ha Long Bay

Heads up, party animals, there’s also a party cruise available!
Click here to book your Ha Long Bay party cruise.

3. Private Cruise – Ultimate Ha Long Bay experience

For the ultimate Ha Long Bay experience, you can book a private cruise to take you around the bay(s) on your own time and see the things you want to see with tailor-made experiences and a chance to explore places you otherwise couldn’t.

4. Best of both worlds – overnight and day trip

If you want a complete Ha Long Bay experience, you can also go on one of the fantastic overnight or multiday cruises in either Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay and then jump on a day trip to cover even more of Ha Long Bay.

Although it’s not something that many people do, it’s the only way to see everything, including the various famous caves, islands, and beaches.

Doing this is a bit much for most people, so we only recommend it to people with incredible FOMO (fear of missing out).

How many nights should you spend on a Ha Long Bay cruise?

Ha Long Bay cruises are split into three categories, day trips, 1-night trips, and 2-night trips, with a few operators offering 3 or 4-day trips as well.

Day trips to Ha Long Bay are the best option for visitors with either limited time or budget that still want to experience the best of Ha Long Bay.

1-night cruises to Ha Long Bay are the most popular choice and the most comfortable and affordable way to experience it for longer with enjoying your time onboard and exploring a few attractions off the boat.

2 or more night cruises to Ha Long Bay are the most expensive but the best to fully experience this amazing wonder of the world.

Overnight cruises in Ha Long Bay are unique because you wake up in the bay!

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - best tours, recommendations and travel tips

Did you know?

We explored Vietnam for more than 1 year and a half
and wrote 29 and counting detailed articles.

Did you know?
We explored Vietnam for more than 1 year and a half and wrote 29 and counting detailed articles.

What activities are offered on Ha Long Bay cruises?

The most common activities offered by most cruises to Ha Long Bay are exploring caves, kayaking, visiting floating villages, joining a morning tai chi class, squid fishing, exploring beaches, and even an onboard cooking class.

Visiting Caves in Ha Long Bay
Exploring the caves of Ha Long on a sampan boat.

The longer the cruise, the more activities you can experience.

And the overnight or multi-day ones are filled with plenty of activities.

Lan Ha Bay with Capella Cruise

And something that the ship we were on had, which is quite unique, was a waterslide, which was actually super fun to slide off of.

Matej Špan sliding at Capella Cruise Ha Long
The waterslide aboard Capella Cruise.

How much does a Ha Long Bay cruise cost?

A typical Ha Long Bay cruise costs about $50 per person for the daily tour, $150 per room for the overnight, and $350 per room for the 2-night tour.

Capella Cruise Lan Ha Bay poker game
Luxury cruises in Ha Long Bay really are luxurious, we even played poker in this fancy room.
Klook.com

Our Ha Long Bay cruise recommendations

Choosing the best cruise out of the countless cruises operating in Ha Long Bay can be pretty challenging.

Luckily, many well-known ones cater to all kinds of visitors, many of whom have operated cruise ships for many years.

> Click here to check the top overnight cruises on Agoda <

> Click here to check the top overnight cruises on Booking.com <

Note: The two long years of the pandemic had a major effect on Ha Long Bay cruises, so before you book any, please check the latest reviews to ensure that it’s still operational and back to business.

We’ve re-done extensive research in January 2023 to prepare for the 2023 season, reviewed all recent reviews since re-opening after the pandemic, and found the best-value ones that are worth your time and money.

You will undoubtedly have a blast on your trip aboard one of the below cruises!

Skip to

Top Day Cruises

1. Day trip on Dragonfly Cruise

2. Day trip by Go Asia

3. Day trip by Vietnam Travel Package

4. Day trip by Vietnam Open Tour

5. Day trip by Vietnam Tonkin Cruise

6. Day trip by Vietnam Asia Trip

7. Day trip by Old Quarter Travel

Top Overnight Cruises

1. Stellar of the Seas

  • 5-star luxury
  • One of the best sundecks
  • 1 night starting at $350/room
  • 2 nights starting at $450/night
  • Also offers the incredible
    5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS cruise

Also, check the prices here:

2. Capella Cruise

  • 5-star luxury
  • New, modern, well-equipped ship
  • 1 night starting at $350/room
  • 2 nights starting at $400/night

3. Scarlet Pearl

  • 5-star luxury
  • Well-equipped rooms, great balconies
  • 1 night starting at $250/room

Also, check prices here:

4. Indochina Sails

  • Gorgeous traditionally-built ship
  • Spacious cabins, great service & food
  • 1 night starting at $150/room

Also, check prices here:

5. Aspira Cruises

  • 5-star luxury
  • New, modern, well-equipped ship
  • 1 night starting at $180/room
  • 2 nights starting at $350/night

Also, check prices here:

Top Private Cruises

1. Legend Halong Private Cruise

  • Best choice for 2023
  • 1 cabin, 2 adults from $600/night
  • 2 cabins, 4 adults from $850/night
  • 3 cabins, 2 adults, 3 kids, from $900/night

2. L’Azalee Private Charter

  • Single-cabin, private chef, sundeck, sunbeds
  • STATUS: Currently can not be booked online.

Should you book your Ha Long Bay cruise in advance?

Going on a Ha Long Bay cruise is the most popular thing in Vietnam, and you should book yours well in advance to secure your spot.

While you’re definitely able to book your Ha Long Bay cruise last minute, we don’t recommend it. At least not for the overnight and multi-day cruises, as you might be left without any availability.

But on the other hand, it’s straightforward to book your daily trip to Ha Long Bay, even the day before, because so many of them are running each day.

Where to book Ha Long Bay cruises (trusted sites)

Book on Agoda

It’s our recommended site for booking overnight and multi-day cruises with a great selection of well-reviewed and detailed listings.

Book on Booking.com

Like Agoda, Booking.com also has a wide selection of overnight and multi-day cruises.

Book on GetYourGuide

Perfect for booking many daily trips to Ha Long Bay, as well as overnight cruises.

Book on Viator

Perfect for booking many daily trips to Ha Long Bay, as well as overnight cruises.

Book on Klook

Similar to other sites, but often offers greatly discounted deals.

What to pack for a Ha Long Bay cruise?

For your Ha Long Bay Cruise, pack a bathing suit because you will likely be able to swim and bring a camera to capture the fascinating scenery, as well as sunscreen, a passport, and flip flops.

Also, make sure to bring some extra cash for buying out-of-package things like cocktails on board or buying stuff off the ship.

Arijana Tkalčec enjoying the view from Capella cruise Lan Ha Bay in Ha Long

And lastly, we recommend leaving most of your luggage in a hotel on the land and only taking what you need for the cruise, if possible.

Where to stay near Ha Long Bay?

The best place to stay near Ha Long Bay is Ha Long City and Tuan Chau Island, where the main marina for most cruises is located.

Staying in the area is perfect if you also want to explore a bit around.

Remember, the Ha Long area is enormous, so there are many options for a comfortable stay. Here are some of the best spots.

1. Stay in Ha Long City

The best place to stay to explore not only Ha Long Bay but other attractions on the mainland is in Ha Long City.

> Click here to check all top-reviewed hotels in Ha Long City <

Our top picks of the best-reviewed Ha Long City hotels:

2. Stay near Tuan Chau pier

The perk of staying on Tuan Chau Island is the proximity of the pier for taking your Ha Long Bay cruise, and it’s also easy to get to other spots in the Ha Long area.

> Click here to check all top-reviewed hotels on Tuan Chau Island <

Our top picks of the best-reviewed Tuan Chau Island hotels:

3. Stay on an Island near Ha Long Bay

One of the best ways to experience Ha Long Bay is to stay on one of the inhabited islands, where you can enjoy the beaches, go hiking and eat delicious local food.

Stay on Cat Ba Island

The biggest and most developed island in Ha Long Bay is Cat Ba Island, with plenty of different accommodation options for every traveler, beaches, hiking, and lots of nature.

> Click here to check all top-reviewed hotels on Cat Ba Island <

Our top picks of the best-reviewed Cat Ba Island hotels:

Stay on Co To Island

Visit Co To Island to enjoy a bit more raw, undiscovered location because it’s not yet as developed as some other spots and has beautiful sandy beaches.

> Click here to check all top-reviewed hotels on Co To Island <

Our top picks of the best-reviewed Co To Island hotels:

Co To Island is very high on our list of places to visit in North Vietnam. And it’s one of the places our host in our homestay at Ban Gioc Waterfall recommended to us when we talked about alternatives to the popular spots in the Ha Long area.

What else is there to do in Ha Long?

Ha Long Bay is the main attraction in the Ha Long area, but there are other cool things to do, like a seaplane sightseeing flight, relaxing in the Japanese Yoko Onsen, the amusement park and cable car of Sun World Ha Long Complex, or even going on a Ha Long Bay Helicopter Tour.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam - exploring the bays on an overnight cruise
View of Ha Long Bay from above.
Klook.com

Ha Long Bay Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Ha Long Bay cruise worth it?

Being one of Vietnam’s most spectacular natural landscapes, cruising Ha Long Bay is absolutely worth it!

How to visit Ha Long Bay?

Ha Long Bay is easiest visited on a daily, overnight or multi-day cruise, with transport from Hanoi usually included in the package.

Is going on a cruise in Ha Long Bay overrated?

Going on a cruise in Ha Long Bay is not overrated, as it is a very unique area and, for a reason, one of the world’s seven wonders.

Is a Ha Long Bay cruise expensive?

A Ha Long Bay cruise can be expensive, but it can also be quite affordable if you choose the daily tour or one of the less luxurious ships.

The cheapest way to visit and experience Ha Long Bay is on one of the daily tours.

Is going on a cruise in Ha Long Bay safe?

Cruising Ha Long Bay is a highly safe activity, as the companies operating the cruise ships have many years of experience offering tours and navigating the bay’s waters.

Can you swim in Ha Long Bay?

You can swim in Ha Long Bay’s calm waters in designated areas like the beautiful island beaches or even on the beaches on the mainland. And you can also go for a swim off the boat when you have safely docked somewhere between the islands, as we did in Lan Ha Bay.

Is Ha Long bay overcrowded?

Ha Long Bay is the most popular tourist attraction in Vietnam and can be overcrowded, especially in the actual Ha Long Bay area, where most ships go. But if your cruise goes outside of those areas, like towards Lan Ha Bay, then it’s not so busy at all.

Is Ha Long Bay polluted?

While many measures are being taken to preserve and keep it clean, Ha Long Bay can be pretty polluted at times, a significant factor being the immense amount of tourism, but equally or even worse, the nearby coal mines, which cause a lot of pollution to the bay’s waters.

Is there a Ha Long Bay alternative?

The best Ha Long Bay alternative are the equally beautiful neighboring bays, Lan Ha Bay to the south and Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast.

Can you fly to Ha Long Bay?

You can only fly directly to Ha Long Bay aboard Hai Au Aviation’s Seaplane. Otherwise, you can fly to Ha Long Bay’s nearest airport in Van Don or Hai Phong, about 1 hour away.

What is special about Ha Long Bay?

Ha Long Bay is special because of its incredible and unique landscape, where almost 2000 islands of various shapes pop out of the calm emerald waters.

Conclusion & final thoughts

To be completely honest and transparent, we only went for our (first) Ha Long Bay cruise after already being in Vietnam for one full year.

Firstly, it was absolutely connected to our budget during the height of the pandemic. Secondly, it was because of the big hype around Ha Long Bay on social media that put us off for a while.

But after going for a cruise in Ha Long Bay, we can absolutely recommend it to everyone. And it’s certainly one of the things that should not be missed while visiting Vietnam.

Waking up in Lan Ha Bay Capella Cruise
Who wouldn’t like to wake up like this? – View from our suite @ Capella Cruise

And we are so ready for another round of our Ha Long Bay exploration. We are also very excited to spend a few relaxing days on some of the less-developed islands like Co To. We’ve heard great things and can’t wait to visit.

Have a great time in Ha Long Bay!  We’re sure you will love it!

Arijana & Matej
Arijana & Matej

We thrive while slow-traveling and focus on experiences, meeting locals, and immersing ourselves in the cultures we stumble upon. And we want to share this all with you.

So if you like our work, and would like to support us, you can tip us a coffee.

Arijana & Matej
Arijana & Matej

We thrive while slow-traveling and focus on experiences, meeting locals, and immersing ourselves in the cultures we stumble upon. And we want to share this all with you.

So if you like our work, and would like to support us, you can tip us a coffee.

Related

Join our newsletter for travel tips, experiences, updates & plans

Subscribe to Shipped Away! :)

Get travel tips, ideas, plans, behind the scenes, and more. (No spam, No BS)

Get insured
Get a travel card

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *