Halong Bay cruise, Vietnam-Day trip experience!

This post shares my detailed experience visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam and related information and tips.

When I arrived in Hanoi late night, my original plan was to spend next day exploring places of interest in Hanoi city. However next day during breakfast it stuck me that it may not be wise spend a full day inside city, I could use this to visit places of interest away from city. (Day trips depart by 8.30/9 AM. Places inside city can be visited any time). Halong Bay cruise was promoted all over as a must to thing when in Hanoi. Because of this hype I prioritized Ha Long over other things and  decided to head to a travel shop n hop on a tour bus heading to Halong Bay. However most travel shops had not yet opened for business at 8 AM. Few that were open had huge crowd of western tourists. After walking around a bit I found a shop open- of Blue Dragon Tours on Hang Trong street. I walked in and asked if I can have a seat in today's Halong Bay Cruise. The lady at the counter showed me the trip details on their website. After checking with operator the lady at the counter confirmed. I was quoted USD 55. When I had checked online earlier, a private trip to Halong bay was quoted at USD 99 per person or more in various websites. 55 USD for a seat in coach seemed decent and it was already time- couldn’t explore more shops to check if there’s a better option- so I signed up. I was given a detailed receipt and a copy for bus operator. (later in the evening I spotted another shop which sold Halong Bay cruise for as low as 23 USD, not sure if it excludes some items like meals, banana boat ride). I was asked about any special requests and I said veg meals-she spoke to the operator and confirmed veg meals is possible.
Phoenix Day Cruise were the operator. The cruise involved a 3 hour bus ride to starting point, including a pit stop. We were assigned a Hyndai made mini bus that seated about 20 people. (50 seater bigger full size bus would be more cheaper but slower). On our bus we had visitors from Korea, Thailand, China and Australia. The pit stop as usual had all items at twice the price, so I avoided buying much. At pier our guide bought tickets and we were taken to a boat operated by the tour company. Lunch was served on boat-they did provide good amount of vegetarian food for me- some veg spring rolls, some coconut based items, fruits, rice and salad. Boat operated by Phoenix was a decent one with two toilets and an upper deck.

As the boat left the harbor and started cruising towards the bay, the experience sort of reminded me of similar ride in Phang Nga Bay in Phuket, towards James Bond Island. Both experiences are fairly similar. Soon we approached the first attraction- two small limestone rocks, offered referred to as fighting rooster rocks (some call them kissing chickens). Boats pause a minute here for tourists to click photos.
Next stop was at a makeshift harbor, from where guests can either do kayaking or go on a bamboo boat. Bamboo boat is rowed by hand, the boat ride lasts for about 40-45 minutes and takes us inside cave like structures. This is ticketed separately but our package included this.
 
 Can you spot the cat and its tail?
 
 Two Panoramas

The caves: We were next taken to a cave complex, Thien Cung Grotto




Then there was a second cave, which they didn’t tell us about, but I saw the sign board and diverted. The second cave was nice too, hardly any crowd.

Walked back to the boat- others were waiting. The guide said he thought I lost my way.
Back to harbor, back to city.

In summary, Ha long bay I find it fairly similar to Phang Nga bay in Thailand (James Bond island). If you’ve toured that area (which I did in August), then Halong Bay will feel a lot similar. The best view is often from the top, which regular tourists can’t get. 

We were back at the pier by about 4 PM and reached Hanoi by about 8 PM.

Points to note while planning Ha long Bay Trip in Hanoi, Vietnam:

1. What type of Halong Bay visit is best suited for you?
Option 1: Day visit, shared
Cheapest one, 25-55 USD, shared with other tourists, some operators keep the price low and exclude lunch/banana boat fee etc. 3 hours to reach the pier from city,  around 3 hours on the boat, 3-4 hours to return. Most convenient, you can just walk in to any travel shop n book. Advance booking is not needed.

Option 2: Day visit, Private
Some operators charge double and offer a private tour- costs USD 99 per person onwards- usually minimum 2 Pax or more requirement may apply. I've not tried this, but likely to include a non-sharing transport (like Ford Transit minivan and speed boat)- cross check inclusions before booking, advance booking may be needed. It is better to take shared transport which gives you an opportunity to interact with international tourists, than spend more on a private tour of your own group.

Option 3: Overnight cruise:
You can spend a night on a boat and return to city next day. Advance booking may be needed

Option 4: Stay near the pier.
There're accommodation options close to the sea. If you stay here,you can enjoy view of Halong Bay early morning/late evening without any crowd.

2. Best of the scenery is when viewed from top. 
During a boat cruise you will not get that view. So keep your expectations in check. Do not expect views shown in advertisements.

3. Don't keep Halong Bay for last day of your stay. 
Cruise is subject to weather conditions- might get cancelled if sea is rough. Usually operators re-route buses to other attractions such as Perfume Pagoda, Tin Binh etc if Halong bay tour gets cancelled. If you’ve already visited these it will be wasted time n money. If you plan Ha Long Bay on day 1, even if trip gets cancelled you can replan for next day.

4. How to compare prices between operators?
  • Check what's included and what's not- some operators price the trip low by excluding lunch, banana boat ride etc, for which you'll have to pay separately
  • Big bus is usually cheaper- as it seats more people but may mean more time (slower + more pickups etc). Ford Transit minivan on mini buses are better. Check what kind of bus or with how many people you will be sharing.
5. Only kayaking was available, no swimming/snorkeling or scuba etc. 

6. Veg food option available with most operators, prior confirmation advised.
If you’ve vegetarians in your group, do inform upfront and confirm that operator can serve veg food. Usually lunch is served on the boat- they will need advance notice to get required stuff to prepare veg food, so last minute request may not work.
Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

4 comments:

  1. Very useful information!! How can one get to see the top views of Halong bay?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Those photos are shot using drone or from helicopter. No way for regular tourists to view them from their eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Detailed information with stunning pictures !!

    ReplyDelete

Appreciate your efforts and interests to comment. Comments may be moderated due to increased spam. Will ideally respond to comments within few days- Shrinidhi

Powered by Blogger.