Halong Bay is a magical place to visit. There are so many options and ways to tour the area, from a quick one-day tour, to a few days at sea in a luxurious boat. We actually believe we found the best way of experiencing this beautiful wonder.
NOTE: There are hundreds of companies out there that offer a Halong Bay tour at different price levels and itineraries. Personally, we felt that a one-day tour would feel too rushed considering we were coming from, and wanted to get back to, Hanoi, which is about a 3-4 hour drive away from Halong City harbor. That is why we chose a 2 day-1 night private tour with a company called Eco Friendly Vietnam. Cost: $460 for a couple with pick-up and drop-off in Hanoi. Note that the price gets cheaper per person the more people you have in your group, but if it's just the two of you you will have the ship to yourself, plus 3 members of the crew!
- You get picked up from your hotel with a private driver and then take a speed boat from Hai Phong to Cat Ba Island. This is the faster, less crowded departure point into Halong Bay.
- You get to have Halong Bay (almost) all to yourself! As mentioned above, with the purpose of avoiding the hundreds of other boats and thousands of tourists that tour Halong Bay daily, we left from an island called Cat Ba instead of Halong. The views are spectacular, and they are all yours.
- You get to sail through beautiful private beaches and kayak locations while the other companies stick to the tourist-heavy stops.
- The ship is private to your party! That means you can pretty much do whatever you want, whenever you want. We got to spend hours swimming through the Bay and enjoyed private beaches, where it was literally just the two of us.
- The atmosphere is less "strict" without compromising safety. You can jump from any part of the boat as many times as you want, and you don't have to wear a life jacket (when kayaking for example). We also used our drone whenever we felt like it.
- The food is really good, fresh and flavorful. They prepared one of the best whole fish dishes we've ever had. The crew will also make sure to fit the menu to any food restrictions or preferences.
- With the boat's crew of 3 (normally a captain, a cook/porter, and a tour guide, who speaks English very well, might we add!), you will get real stories about the local life around the Bay. We also got to try some homemade rice wine that our captain brought as a gift from his home town, and sampled smoking local tobacco using a traditional bamboo pipe (we aren't really smokers but you know, "when in Halong Bay, do as the Bay-ers do!).
- At the end of the tour there is an added perk: you go to visit Cat Ba's "Hospital Cave", which is a spectacular historical site that was dug and built by the Vietnamese during the American-Vietnam war. The cave has 4 floors and countless rooms including security rooms, operation rooms, dining and meeting rooms, and even bathrooms and army training spaces. It's fascinating to see!
Things to note:
- No WiFi on board ships in Halong Bay- enjoy an off-the-grid experience.
- While the bedroom on the EFV ship is large with a comfortable bed, it is not luxurious by any means. In the room you will have: solar-powered electricity and a bathroom with a sink, shower, and toilet. Note, however, that there is no AC. Instead, two wall fans will be your best buds if you want a cooler sleep. While it can get a bit hot and humid at night, keeping the windows open ensures a nice breeze. Thankfully, we didn't run into any mosquitos but we did use bug spray at night just in case. On that note, I t is definitely recommended that you bring bug spray.
If your goal is to stay on a budget and simply see Halong Bay to check it off the list, we believe one of the day tours will suffice. However, if you are interested in making your Halong Bay visit a unique and awesome life experience, take our recommendation and go book yourself a private tour. There are also 3 day-two night options available, though we thought the 2-day, 1-night option was perfect.
Best and worst times to visit Halong Bay:
Spring (March-April) and Fall (September-October) are known as the best times to visit due to the cooler, more comfortable weather. While we can't always predict what mother-nature has in store, especially at sea, we visited in mid-September and had an amazing time. It was sunny and the water temperature was perfect. We were also told by our guide that we were lucky not to visit during the jellyfish season (May-June-July).