Halong Bay is still one of the most popular tourist attractions of Vietnam. It is difficult not to find a tour book without pictures of this beautiful Wonder of the World. With the vast amount of limestone karsts coming out of the water it is difficult not to be speechless when watching the scenery. And the scenery is constanly changing while the boats and junks are travelling through the bays, Despite being so popular with tourists, and thousands of tourists travelling to the Bay, it is still a must-visit place in Vietnam, and should be on any itinerary when visiting northern Vietnam.
The most popular way to experience Halong Bay is on board on one of the hundred different junks, either for 2 or 3 days. Every junk offers a different itineray with different activities – some offer more activities like kayaking or rock climbing, while other tour visit more caves. So it is important to check the various itiernaries on offer to see what tour would be most suitable, taking the price into consideration. And Halong Bay is maybe the only place where the following saying is true: You get what you pay for. Do not expect anything on a budget tour – and consider potentailly safety of the low budgest cruise.
All tours though start the same – arriving at the port around noon when you get transfer to the boat, where you have lunch while the junk makes his way to wards the main area of Halong Bay. And you will return to the port and leave the boats before noon eother the next day or the follwoing day. So this means a 2 day trip means staying on bord for only 24 hours. Take this ito consideration how long the cruise should be.
Arrival / Departure
When doing a cruise most of the time transportation by minibus between Hanoi and Halong Bay is included in the price. It takes around 4 hours for the journey. If you have never experienced road traffic on a highway, be prepared for it. Some of the driver think they are Michael Schumacher, and some of the overtaking I have witnessed were just far too risky and were enar misses.
During the 4 hur drive a longer stop is taken at one of the many large shopping malls, where you can buy all kind of souvenirs from silk embroided paintings (I saw much better qualities in the shops in Hanoi, Hoi An or HCMC) to postcards. They also have a food court to get some drinks or food. Toilets seem to be clean, which makes a big difference to the ones I saw when taking a public bus.
Apparently you can go from Hanoi to Halong Bay by sea plane, but the prices are very high.
If you arrange your own transportation you can either hire a private driver or taking a bus to Halong Bay city. Though you need to make your way from the bus station to the right port for the junk. Hence I would rather take the transfer offered by the cruise, even if it not included and costs extra.