Halong Bay, Vietnam: Is It Worth It?

This post was last updated on April 28th, 2014

The short answer? YES!

We actually had a different post prepared to share with you today. But then we went to Halong Bay, and everything changed. We were too excited about what we saw to think or talk or write about anything else. We would have felt guilty for keeping the beautiful experience all to ourselves for even a moment longer.

As it would happen, we weren’t planning on going to the iconic destination when we first arrived in Vietnam. After all, we had to buy bicycles. We had to plan our cycling itinerary. We had to catch up on work. We ‘had’ to do so many things, and spending a huge chunk of our budget to see a markedly tourist destination was not really on the list. But as with most things we do, at the last minute we changed our minds, assuming there must be a reason why Halong Bay is dubbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. We got on twitter for suggestions, skimmed through TripAdvisor, and booked our luxury cruise line the day before its departure. And we can honestly say we are so glad we did.

We could try to explain the beauty of the bay using the typical travel clichés. ‘It took our breath away.’ ‘It was mind blowing.’ Well, it nearly was those things, but we’ll let you be the judge of that.

 

A Cruising Couple Halong Bay

Our Room

Our amazing room on Indochina Sails!

Balcony View

The view from our balcony

Halong Bay Boat Sun Deck

Indochina Sails Junk Boat

Halong Bay Vietnam Indochina Sails Luxury

The boat!

Halong Bay Vietnam table and chairs

Indochina Sails Halong Bay Vietnam

A Cruising Couple Halong Bay

The sun was really, really bright here. Casey couldn’t keep her eyes open ;-p

Halong Bay Vietnam Boat

Halong Bay Vietnam Sun

Halong Bay Vietnam Sunny Day

Halong Bay Dan

Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay Indochina Sails Sunset

A Cruising Couple in Halong Bay

Halong Bay Vietnam Night

Halong Bay Vietnam Sunset

Sunset Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay is a four-hour drive, one-way, from Hanoi. Most tours will include transportation and food on the boat. It is possible to see Halong Bay in one day, but you will spend most of your time in transport—along extremely bumpy roads. If the weather is exceptionally bad, the boats won’t go out. In our opinion it would still be worth experiencing Halong Bay in the rain and mist (the bay is actually known for its ‘foggy’ look), although of course a sunny day is preferable. Halong Bay is touristy, but for good reason. We didn’t feel overwhelmed by fellow tourists at any point, though perhaps because the number of people on our cruise was quite small.

Spend as much as your budget will allow on your Halong Bay cruise. Additionally, we suggest you go for at least two days and one night. We chose Handspan’s Indochina Sails—they deliver on all their promises and then some. Judging from what we saw of the other boats out on the water, not all tours do so, and there are certainly a lot of scams. However, we had to pay for that 7-course lunch and spectacular view from the bedroom—something to definitely consider.

 

Have you been to Halong Bay? What was your experience like? Do you think the experience is worth it? 
 

37 Comments

  1. Awesome views…great pictures…beautiful people!!!!!!!!!! Love you lots

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    • Halong Bay was renowned for having several scam tour operators there whose boats sank, drowning all of their foreign passengers. Warning: Though there are plenty of decent locals, there are nearly as many sharks who care not for foreigners and who will gladly steal everything from you.

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  2. Beautiful !Miss you both!

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  3. I totally agree with you!! Halong Bay is absolutely amazing!! Your pics are awesome!! Did you get a chance to explore the caves and go kayaking? My husband and I escaped in the kayaks and found our own little piece of paradise and watched the sunset when we were there!!
    Constance recently posted…8/8 – Ba Ba – Father’s Day in TaiwanMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks Constance! Wow, a private sunset by kayak sounds amazing! We did get to go kayaking and see the caves, but it was all very structured. Still awesome, but I think my favorite part was just cruising by the bay itself. Do you remember what tour you went on? It’s always good to know more recommendations :)

      Reply
    • Thanks for making the point of listing the company you went with for the cruise. It’s a huge disappointment getting suckered into scams.
      @Constance. Do you recall the company you went with as well?

      Reply
  4. Awesome photos guys!! We were in Vietnam in 2009 but only made it from Saigon to Hue – I got really sick :( It looks like we definitely missed out on Halong Bay! Thanks for listing a reputable company, we’ve heard horror stories….

    Cheers! Have fun.

    Reply
    • O no! Sorry to here you got sick. We’re seriously hoping that doesn’t happen to us while we are cycling :/ You always need an excuse to return to a place, so at least now you have one!

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  5. The verdict … the pictures say it all!

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  6. Wow, touristy or not, this looks absolutely gorgeous! I’ve been seeing more and more on Vietnam and it is really making me want to book a ticket and go.

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    • We’re loving it so far! From what we’ve seen, Hanoi had a ton of tourists and expats, but now that we are cycling, we are in the middle of nowhere with no one who speaks English or even a 3G connection. But, it’s BEAUTIFUL!! We’ll be here for six weeks, so we are excited to see what we uncover :)

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    • Thank you!! Glad you enjoyed it and we were able to offer something new :)

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  7. Wow, you guys got so lucky with the weather! Even though we had sunshine and blue skies in Hanoi, we got the Halong Bay mist-and-fog treatment for much of our cruise. And the morning we rowed out for the fishing village tour, it absolutely poured! We went the luxury route too, and our guide was the only one who brought umbrellas. We huddled under cover while other tourists from other boats just had to sit there in the driving rain!
    Heather recently posted…Exploring Budapest: The Historic Charm of Castle HillMy Profile

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    • O no!! We definitely got lucky with our trip-the following day it poured down rain the entire day! I bet going the luxury route was extra worth it then, not only so you had the umbrellas but also for a great place to find shelter from the rain! :) Plus, you got to see the ‘iconic’ Halong Bay ;)

      Reply
  8. This was really good to read. I’ve read so much negative stuff about cruising on Halong Bay. As you suggest, you’d have to choose your cruise company carefully … and, of course, choose your descriptions extremely carefully, lest you attract the attentions of the ‘cliché police’. Let your pictures do the talking; you certainly did here!
    Keith Kellett recently posted…New BookMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks Keith! You’re right, there really is so much negativity about Halong Bay, and that was partly why we were so undecided about going! Everyone’s experience is unique, but obviously we had a wonderful time. Glad you enjoyed the photos!

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    • Thank you! It sounds like we were one of the few that have been blessed with a beautiful day!

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    • Thank you! Not gonna lie, waking up in the morning to a view like that was definitely a highlight :) Hope you make it there one day!

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  9. great post, I agree that Halong Bay is a must see, when I went it was mainly cloudy and foggy and still so beautiful, the lack of sun didn’t impact our enjoyment at all. It can only help to get a recommendation on a good operator from someone else who has had a good recent experience.

    Reply
    • I’m glad to hear you had a wonderful time! Good to know that the fogginess didn’t deter. :) We were definitely happy with our tour operators-it’s a shame there are so many scams.

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    • Thanks Freya! We hope you make it there soon, it’s stunning!

      Reply
  10. Love that you posted this. (I saw it as a ‘you might also like’ and it was right, clever bloggy thing). I totally agree that it is so worth it and from the looks of things you did it the right way without going on one of the dodgy budget trips but going with one of the nicer and more eco-friendly companies. Heard lots of negatives from people in Vietnam too who went with one of the scamming boats that promise the world and give the place a bad name but Handspan (the co we went with) were really excellent.
    Anna @ eatseedoblog recently posted…Bonding in broken FrenchMy Profile

    Reply
    • Haha I can’t believe that plugin actually worked! Seems like Handspan is the way to go! Of course we loved our cruise with them, but it’s so good to hear that others had great times as well. It’s a shame that so many people have had negative experiences-Halong Bay is truly like no other place we’ve been. Happy to hear you loved it, too :)

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  11. We also went to Halong Bay and were a bit skeptical at first. But when we got on the boat, all was good. We had such an amazing time there. Those three days were definitely not wasted!
    Angela recently posted…Fresh Vietnamese Spring RollsMy Profile

    Reply
    • We were so glad we did it in the end. We got super lucky with the weather as well. It was surely a trip we will never forget!

      Reply
  12. I do want to go to Halong Bay when we travel in Vietnam.
    Some things are touristy for a reason. I don’t like when people avoid “touristy” things on purpose because it’s like it’s almost not cool if you visit something that others are dying to see too.. it’s not “off the beaten” path enough or something along those lines. This applied specially to backpackers. But everyone is free to do whatever they want, of course.
    As your pictures show, Halong Bay looks quite amazing.. so I guess I’ll just have to go and see for myself! :)
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…WOAH! 2 years on the road today!My Profile

    Reply
    • One of the things we love about slow travel is that it allows you to do the ‘touristy’ things but also have time to explore for yourself. I agree that most touristy things attract crowds because they are worth it, so as long as it is something you want to do you should go for it :-)

      Reply
  13. I went to Halong Bay in 2012 with my husband on our Honeymoon – we also did other parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I am so glad we did Halong Bay, it was so amazing and I don’t even know how to describe it to other. When we were there, the tourist economy was just starting so it was not too westernized or touristy. It was so amazing to visit a place that very obviously will become mobbed throughout the years. Loved it and would love to go back! Unfortunately, we took a new camera on that trip and our photo quality is not that great. Oh well! Happy travels!

    Reply
    • Halong Bay is definitely a place that sticks in our minds when we think of natural beauty! The tourist economy has started to kick in and we only hope that it doesn’t become too overwhelming.

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