One of the “must-go” places in northern Vietnam, UNESCO-listed Halong Bay is certainly worth the trip to get to. There are countless cruise options; the question of which cruise to take seemed to me to depend on budget. Hotels and hostels, as well as tour agencies in Hanoi, will have a few different tours to choose from. Many tour companies run different boats with prices depending on the luxury level, and how many nights on the boat. I booked a 2 day 1 night cruise, but there were also 3 day 2 night cruises available, obviously with higher prices. The itineraries seemed to be pretty similar with each cruise.
From my understanding, it is generally advised to book the cruise with a hotel in Hanoi rather than before the trip since prices are usually cheaper in the city.
My hotel offered three cruise options, I went with the cheapest of the three, which was with Lemon Cruises. The total cost for the 2 day cruise was $100. Since I was travelling alone and wanted my own room, I had to pay a $25 single supplement, so solo travelers be forewarned.
The price of the cruise is all-inclusive of everything except drinks, so I thought it was a good deal. From what I had read, it’s best not to skimp out too much on price for Halong Bay since you really get what you pay for. Most people I had spoken to paid at least $90 for a good cruise, though it may be possible to find something cheaper and good quality.
One great aspect about the Lemon Cruises tour is that it went to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is a larger bay above Halong that is larger, cleaner and less crowded since only overnight ships go out that way. It was indeed peaceful and water very clean for the most part. I did see other boats around but not a huge amount. If you are planning on doing a 2 day tour it may be a good idea to look for a cruise that goes to Bai Tu Long.
The tour guide for Lemon Cruises picked me up at my hotel, and joined a van heading out to Halong. The ride takes about 4 hours and the van stops for a bathroom break. The pit stops in Vietnam have huge shopping areas with clothes, jewelry, and silks as well as a small restaurant and snack area.
After arriving in Halong, the group boarded the boat and we were given our room keys. The rooms in Lemon Cruises are pretty nice, though the bathroom was quite smelly (perhaps inevitable for a bathroom on a boat I guess) but I locked the door from the outside to prevent the smell from getting in the bedroom area. The bed was a good size, comfortable and clean.
The other members of the tour group were also friendly, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, which is my age group.
The first thing we did on the tour was go to a beach to do some kayaking or swimming.
The weather was beautiful and warm when I was there, but this isn’t always the case in winter. Halong Bay can be quite cloudy and cold in February, so I lucked out.
Next the group stopped at a pearl farm, where mollusks are farmed for their pearls. It was actually fairly interesting.
Of course they have a pearl store for tourists to shop, but they did let us try the pearls on without having to buy them, and they weren’t pushy either, which was nice.
After that it was back to the large ship, where I mostly sat on the roof and took more pictures.
The food our group was given for lunch and dinner was very good. At lunch there were a few different options, consisting of yellow curry chicken, spring rolls, tofu in tomato sauce, and others. Everyone took bits of what they wanted and put it on their plate. Dinner was prawns, fried chicken, pork spring rolls, fried fish, and a few other options.
The sunsets on the bay are absolutely gorgeous.
The activities for the night were either to sing karaoke or go squid fishing. But the karaoke machine wasn’t working so one of the group members gathered everyone to play charades. After the game was over (I think my team lost but not certain) there wasn’t much left to do so everyone either went to bed or continued squid fishing.
The next day, the group had breakfast at 7 am, which was eggs and toast. Then we went to a limestone cave. The cave was pretty cool, but every tour group seems to go there at the same time, so it was very crowded. Also the cave is small so it crowds easily.
After that the group went back to the boat where we made pork spring rolls in a cooking class and ate them for lunch. The meal was again good. Then the boat took the group back to Halong and on a bus back to our hotels in Hanoi.
I really enjoyed the tour of Halong and Bai Tu Long. The tour guide was informative, the food delicious, and the staff on the ship were helpful as well. The only issue was that the ship didn’t have wifi, and there wasn’t much to do on the boat after dark. Other than that it was great.
As I mentioned previously, there are literally dozens of Halong Bay tours and many have similar quality and itinerary, so there’s no need to be particular about which cruise to take. Many tours have reviews on Tripadvisor and other websites. Lemon Cruises at least for me was a great experience and a pretty good deal.