After scoring a great flight deal to Hanoi in Vietnam, my best gal and I decided that we will make the most of our trip — after all, we only had 5 days to spend in the country. So, apart from exploring the lively and vibrant city of Hanoi itself, we made sure to drop by Halong Bay in order to finally witness this UNESCO World Heritage Site! (Halong Bay Cruise)
Another reason why we wanted to visit Halong Bay was because of how it looked so similar to the limestone cliffs and pillars that you will find in the Philippines’ Palawan islands (the UNESCO sites of El Nido & Coron to be exact). Well, sure enough, we were right! Nevertheless, each of these places has its own charm and we were grateful to have witnessed Vietnam’s version.
Best Tours in Halong?
Come and check out this list of the top things to do in Halong which features the best activities and tours to do and more!
Now a lot of tourists would actually book either a day trip or overnight trip when they visit Halong Bay from Hanoi; however, we wanted to spend more days there… and thanks to Buffalo Tours, we had the chance to sail around Halong Bay for 3 days and 2 nights with an amazing cruise provider called as L’Azalée!
Venturing to both the well-known and off-the-beaten-path spots in the bay, you bet that we had a great time for each and every day that passed! If you wanna know exactly why do read on below and find out how we have come to love this experience through and through.
Halong Travel Guide
» Best Time to Visit
The fall season (October to December) along with months of January to April are the best times to visit Halong Bay because of the pleasant weather that brings a low chance of rain — however, this also means that it will be peak season. So if you’re rather traveling on a budget, traveling during summer (June to September) is your best option as it is the low season given that there is a higher chance of rain or typhoons.
– – –
» Getting in to Halong Bay
You can reach Ha Long by first landing in Hanoi and then taking a bus ride (or an organized tour such as this) to Halong Bay which roughly takes 4 hours one way. Otherwise, you can also choose to fly directly to Cat Bi International Airport in Haiphong which is just a 2.5-hour bus ride away from Ha Long city.
My go-to platform for grabbing the best flight deals is Skyscanner. I scan through this site to ensure the best fare that I can find! But of course, it’s always good practice to research first the budget airlines that exist in the country that you’re currently staying in since they could have rock-bottom prices that are not often visible in the above flight search engines.
– – –
» Visa for Vietnam
If you’re NOT a citizen of any of Vietnam’s exempted countries, you are then required to avail of a visa beforehand.
- Check full visa requirements here as per your nationality.
– – –
» Where to Stay (Halong Bay Accommodations)
To search for the best hotel accommodation in Vietnam at the best prices, I suggest cross-checking hotel prices between Agoda and Booking.com. But if you’re rather interested in renting comfortable houses or apartments, you should search through AirBnB.
– – –
» What to Pack for a Halong Cruise
Depends on the weather. We visited Halong Bay in February which is winter season. It averages 17-22°C in the mornings — but if in case it’s not foggy and the sun shines well and good, it becomes perfect and I can wear shorts and a shirt only. If you’re coming during summer (May to October), there’s no need to pack too much swimming gear because swimming in Halong Bay has been outlawed (except for a few islands where it’s allowed).
– – –
» Vietnam Currency
Vietnamese Dong (VND / ₫) wherein 23,000₫ is equal to about USD $1~ / €0.85~ / Php 45~ (this is as of March 2020). In the event that you want to exchange your money for VND, I highly advise that you do NOT exchange your money at the airport since the rates there are not competitive.
- How to best exchange your currency? Either exchange it at a bank or at a money exchanger in your home country or in Vietnam’s city center. Better yet, just withdraw from an ATM with your debit/credit card — however, you must do one big withdrawal to minimize fees with your bank. Speaking of cards, a lot of Vietnam’s establishments accept credit cards but it’s always advisable to have cash on hand because a lot of smaller shops do not accept international credit cards.
– – –
» Cost of Travel in Vietnam
To give you an idea, you should expect to travel in Vietnam with an average daily cost of about USD $15~ per person on a budget, or at least $40~ if you want to experience more comfort on activities, tours, hotels, and more. (Values below show low budget to medium budget ranges).
- Hotels: $7 to $20 USD / day
- Food: $3 to $10 USD / day
- Fun: $3 to $10 USD / day
- Transport: $2 to $7 per ride
– – –
» Helpful Vietnamese Phrases
Vietnamese is the official language of the country, and though English is increasingly favored as a second language, it will help to know a few local phrases like the following.
- RELATED READ: Best translation apps for travel
Hello: Xin chào (sin chow)
Thank you: Cảm ơn (gauhm uhhn)
Yes: Vâng (vuhng)
No: Không (kaumng)
Goodbye: Tạm biệt (tam byet)
Excuse me: Em ơi!
I’m sorry: Xin lỗi (sin loy)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Có ai ở đây biết nói tiếng Anh không? (GAW eye uh day byet noy tyeng ang kaumng)
Help!: Cứu (tôi) với! (gih-OO (thoy) vuh-y!)
Cheers!: Dzô! (Yo!)
• • •
Halong Bay Cruise & Price
L’Azalée Cruises may have just been established last 2015, but they have swiftly built themselves a reputation as being one of the premier cruise providers in Halong Bay.
To date, they have over 6 vessels that provide a range of packages such as the following:
- DAY CRUISES: starts at around $60~ per person
- 6.5 Hours — A classic cruise wherein you will be visiting Sung Sot Cave, and afterward you choose one of these 3 activities: ride a boat through Luon Cave and see monkeys, hike to the top of Ti Tov Island for panoramic views, or hike and swim at Soi Sim Island. This includes a buffet brunch, afternoon tea, and use of onboard kayaks and snorkeling equipment.
- 4.5 Hours — For those on a tight schedule, this classic cruise will make you pass by Dao Tung Lam Bay, Thumb Island, Incense Island, and Ba Hang floating village, and then have a guided walk through Thien Cung cave. This also includes a buffet brunch.
- OVERNIGHT 2 DAYS – 1 NIGHT: starts at around $250~ per room
Includes lunch, dinner, and sunset tapas on the first day. On the 2nd day, breakfast and a light lunch will be served. You’re free to use kayaks, snorkels and fishing equipment on board. There are 3 variations to this kind of trip and they are:
- Intimate Journey To The West — This is a premium cruise geared towards couples and it mainly involves visiting several caves and beaches as well as trying out squid fishing.
- Intimate Journey To The Center — Also a premium cruise geared towards couples. It differs from the above with the caves and bays that you’ll be seeing. To know the distinction, see this page.
- Halong Explorer — Unlike the other two, this is the deluxe cruise wherein you’ll be joining other guests. The itinerary will almost be similar, but with additional special activities like a Tai Chi and cooking class.
- 3 DAYS – 2 NIGHTS: starts at around $450~ per room
Includes meals throughout your stay, and you’re also free to use water equipment such as kayaks and snorkels. There are 2 variations:
- Deep Into the Bay — Premium cruise for couples.
- The Heart of Halong — Deluxe cruise which is the standard.
- SEAPLANE & CRUISE COMBO: starts at around $300 per person
This is a packaged cruise that includes a 2-day-1-night cruise and a scenic one-way seaplane flight to Halong Bay from Hanoi (you can choose to have it after the trip too which is from Halong Bay to Hanoi).
Like I’ve already mentioned, I had the chance to go on their amazing 3-day-2-night cruise. It helps to note though that depending on the weather, the places that you will be visiting may differ or change as compared to what’s stated on the website. (We were given a document beforehand that shows the intended itinerary, but there were a few changes on the way — which was not a problem at all.)
Moreover, the prices mentioned above may change by season and apart from the already mentioned inclusions such as food and water equipment, transfer to and fro your hotel will also be provided. (Naturally, airfare and visa costs are not covered.)
» The Vessels
Premium Cruise Vessels
Private Asian-style junks that have a capacity for 4 people (hence, 2 rooms). It features queen-sized beds, a bathroom and shower, flat-screen TVs, and a private deck for the rooms. Meanwhile, the vessel has a spacious top deck for dining and sun deck sprees.
Deluxe Cruise Vessel
The largest member of the fleet, this features 10 superior cabins (16sqm) and 2 junior suites (23sqm) — each of which has a private bathroom. (The suites have a private outdoor deck at the rear of the ship). The facility has a wide open-air sun deck with sun loungers and a bar and a large restaurant and bar area at the middle deck.
Classic Cruise Vessel
A single vessel that is 24 meters in length with a capacity of 40 guests. It has a top deck with seats and sun beds as well as a lower deck that has an air-conditioned lounge bar.
» The Staff
L’Azalée Cruises has English-speaking staff, so you should not have any worries about that. When it comes to service, their hospitality is on par with that of the Philippines — which means a lot, because I am proud of the service industry in my home country.
All throughout our trip, we dealt with 2 main tour guides and they were great to be with! They offered a lot of information and trivia on every place that we visited; and if we ever had any problems, they always went above and beyond to assist us in order to make our stay as comfortable as possible.
» The Activities
For the activities that we did, I think I can best show you what they were in video form, and here it is!
For a detailed breakdown of our itinerary…
- 8:00AM – Pick-up at hotel and departure from Hanoi to Halong Bay
- 12:00PM – Arrival at Halong Bay and transfer to Tuan Chau Island to board the boat
- Settling into our rooms and then a buffet lunch
- Tour at Sung Sot Cave or ‘Cave of Surprises’, the largest cave in the bay
- Cruise through Lom Bo Canal
- Visit the floating Pearl Farm
- Kayaking activity (if you want to kayak, please let L’Azalée know 48 hours beforehand)
- Free Time
- Cooking class on how to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls
- Squid Fishing
- Catch the sunrise at Bai Tu Long Bay while taking part in a Tai Chi class with a guru
- Transfer to a different boat at Ti Tov Island to cruise to lesser-known areas of Halong Bay
- Visit the locals at Cu Van fishing village whilst riding a smaller tender to sail through the homes
- Buffet lunch on the boat
- Cruise by Drum Cave, Trinh Nu Cave, Ho Dong Tien Cave, and a number of islets
- Kayak through Luon Cave where we also spot monkeys
- Back to Titov Island and back to the main boat
- Option to visit the pearl farm again for a chance to shop
- Take part in another Tai Chi class
- Back to Ti Tov Island to better explore it: swim at the beach and/or walk up to its scenic viewpoint
- For final leg of cruise, we passed by karsts of Thumb Island, Fighting Cocks and Incense Karst
- Light lunch
- Say goodbye to the crew
- 1:00PM – Departure to Hanoi by shuttle bus and drop-off at our hotel
» The Food
There was never a day in L’Azalée that we were hungry; besides, every meal was just so filling and packed with varied dishes! Naturally, there are Vietnamese fares such as gỏi cuốn (spring rolls), pho (rice) noodles, canh (soups), bánh mì (Vietnamese-style sandwich), and more that are accompanied by other Western dishes, fruits, and desserts.
When it comes to drinks they have an array of wines, champagne, spirits, fruit juices, and coffee that you can choose from. Speaking of coffee, Vietnamese coffee is lauded as one of the best in the world — unfortunately, I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t say much about that… however! My companions for this trip were, and they always kept singing praises about the cup of jo that they get served with.
The only improvement that I’d like to see is that I hope they offer snacks or a la carte desserts too on board. But then again, with how full the meals were, you’ll most likely not have any cravings!
» Halong Bay as a Destination
Halong Bay was exactly how we expected it to be — and more!
There are distinct differences though to that of Palawan in the Philippines (most especially the fact that in Halong Bay, you can’t just swim anywhere anymore and that the waters aren’t as clear); but anyhow, that didn’t take away the allure of it all. It remained to be a trip that was truly memorable!
Vietnam’s Halong Bay is a wonder that’s worthy to be seen and I’m absolutely glad that I had the chance to witness it for myself — more so in a cruise that helped enhance the overall journey!
That being said, I highly recommend L’Azalée Cruises if you’re looking for a company that will make the most of your stay and which will give you the best “bang for your buck”.
DISCLAIMER: Buffalo Tours sponsored this trip (other expenses are my own). Still and as always, all views that are expressed here represent only those made by myself and NOT of any other entity in their favor.