Absolutely everything you need to know about visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi, including a comprehensive guide on how to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay on a day tour, overnight cruise, or DIY. Includes what to do in Halong Bay, recommended tour companies, and my top 3 Halong Bay alternatives.
Halong Bay (Hạ Long Bay) is Vietnam’s best-known and most-visited tourist attraction. More than 6 million people flock to the area every year to cruise around on wooden boats, known as junks.
What makes Halong Bay so unique is the 2,000-odd limestone islands and islets that emerge from the waters off the coast. These range from towering karsts with deep caves, to tiny formations ringed by white-sand beaches.
In 1994, Halong Bay was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ever since then, it’s featured near the top of every traveller’s bucket list.
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, is the jumping off point for Halong Bay. But figuring out how you’re going to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi can be confusing.
There are literally thousands of tour operators organising tours and packages. Fair to say they vary dramatically in quality.
When I moved to Hanoi, the very first piece of advice I received was ‘Don’t book the $12 Halong Bay cruise’. It was a good life lesson! I’ve seen far too many travellers get sucked in by cheap deals and have their Halong Bay experience ruined as a result.
This guide is designed to help you tackle Halong Bay like a pro and have the best experience possible. It covers three main topics:
- Hanoi to Halong Bay day tours (great if you have limited time and are travelling on a budget)
- Halong Bay overnight cruises (the best way to see the bay, provided you have the time and funds)
- Halong Bay DIY trips from Hanoi (using bus, train, van or car)
A big thank you to my friend and Hanoi-based tour guide, Trang, who helped to ensure this guide is up-to-date and accurate.
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Halong Bay: The basics
In this section, I’ll run through the Halong Bay basics: What, where, when, and how. I’ll also throw in my two cents about whether or not Halong Bay is worth visiting.
Feel free to skip ahead if you’ve already done your research.
Where is Halong Bay?
Halong Bay is located off the coast of Northern Vietnam. It’s part of Quảng Ninh Province, which borders on China. The nearest major city is Halong City (Thành phố Hạ Long).
Most boats and cruises depart from Halong Bay cruise port, also known as Tuan Chau Gateway. It is located on the island of Tuần Châu, 13km or a 20-minute drive from Halong City via land bridge.
The heart of Halong Bay, where boats cruise around the karsts and you get those amazing photos, is approximately 20km off the coast from the port.
How far away is Halong Bay from Hanoi?
Tuan Chau island, the jumping off point for Halong Bay, is located roughly 153km (95 miles) from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
How long does it take to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay?
Hanoi and Halong Bay are connected by one of the newest and best highways in the whole country. The area has very good infrastructure, partly because of tourism, and partly because the nearby city of Hai Phong is Northern Vietnam’s main seaport.
It takes between 2.5 and 3 hours to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay by car or van. With a bathroom break half-way, the journey usually takes 3.5 hours.
By bus, it takes between 3.5 and 4.5 hours.
And by train, it takes 7 hours to get to Halong from Hanoi.
How long do you need in Halong Bay?
Typically, people visit Halong Bay for 1 or 2 nights. If you have the time and your budget allows for it, I recommend staying for 2 nights. This is the option I chose the first time I visited Vietnam.
If you have 2 nights on the boat, you naturally have one full day of cruising, which means a whole day without having to be on a bus or in a car. Having this day in between gives you a chance to relax and take in the landscape.
It also means your junk boat will travel further out into the bay. And the further you go, the less polluted and the more beautiful it gets.
Can you visit Halong Bay as a day trip from Hanoi?
Yes, it is possible to visit Halong Bay as a day trip from Hanoi. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how.
A day trip is a good way to go if you’re pressed for time or on a tight budget. Just be aware that a large chunk of your day will be spent in the car. You’ll miss out on the chance to wake up amongst the karsts, which was the highlight of Halong Bay for me.
Is Halong Bay worth visiting?
There’s an elephant in the room.
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in travelling off the beaten track. So why am I writing about Halong Bay, Vietnam’s busiest tourist attraction?
Halong Bay is a bit like Sapa: It’s very touristy, it has a pollution problem, and very sadly, tourism development hasn’t been managed particularly well.
But Sapa is still Sapa, and Halong Bay is still Halong Bay.
It’s still a UNESCO Site. It’s still one of the ‘wonders of the world’. And it’s still one of the most majestic landscapes on planet Earth. It’s still a huge employer of local guides, chefs, skippers and tourism professionals, and it’s still a major driver of the tourism economy in Northern Vietnam.
I’m not here to tell you you shouldn’t visit Halong Bay – that would be hypocritical. I have been to Halong Bay twice now, and both times I enjoyed it.
At the same time, I do want you to be aware that there are some great Halong Bay alternatives out there. Bai Tu Long Bay is one of them, and I’ve included a few tour providers that visit Bai Tu long in this guide. At the end of this post, you’ll find more of my favourite Halong Bay alternatives.
Just like you can still have an authentic experience in Sapa, I think it’s possible to have an enjoyable experience on Halong Bay. You just have to be prepared, well-informed, and manage your expectations. Don’t book the $12 cruise!
Is Bai Tu Long Bay the same as Halong Bay?
Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are two separate bays that sit side by side. If you look at the map, you’ll see that Bai Tu Long Bay wraps around the northern coast of Vietnam, just to the northeast of Halong Bay. A third bay, Lan Ha Bay, is located west of Halong Bay. It hugs a large island, Cat Ba.
In recent years, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay have become more popular as alternatives to Halong Bay. The landscape in all three bays is basically the same – dramatic karst rocks and caves. But each one feels very different.
As a general rule, there are more restrictions on how many boats can go out into Bai Tu Long Bay at any one time, so it can be significantly quieter. It’s also more remote and less polluted.
Lan Ha Bay attracts a particular crowd, mainly backpackers and budget travellers, and has additional activities on offer on Cat Ba Island.
Many Halong Bay cruises will take you through Bai Tu Long Bay as part of the itinerary. Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island can be visited separately from Hai Phong (refer to the section on Halong Bay alternatives for more details).
Things to do in Halong Bay & surrounds
Before we delve into the logistics of your Halong Bay trip, it helps to have an understanding of the different attractions and activities on offer. Not all tours follow the same prescribed itinerary, so having an idea of what you actually want to do on Halong Bay will help you choose one that’s right for you.
Note that anyone visiting Halong Bay must pay a 40,000 VND ($1.70) national park entrance fee. Some attractions, including caves and fishing villages, also charge a small fee (typically 30,000 VND 50,000 VND).
Here is a broad overview of the main things to do in Halong Bay and surrounds.
- Cruising the bay and overnighting on a junk boat
- Touring fishing villages (floating villages)
- Sun Sot (Surprise Cave) & other caves
- Kayaking, snorkelling and swimming
- Ti Top Island (that famous photo spot)
Things to do around Halong Bay:
- Bai Chay Beach
- Halong Queen Cablecar
- Sun World Halong Park
- Poem Mountain
- Cat Ba National Park (Cat Ba Island) and Monkey Island
Where to stay in Hanoi
If you’re going to Halong Bay, you’ll probably be staying in Hanoi on either side of your trip. My favourite hotel in Hanoi is Essence Hanoi. The rooms are gorgeous, the on-site restaurant is one of the best in the city, and the service is unbeatable.
When we did our Halong Bay tour, Essence stored our big luggage free of charge. When we got back, they allowed us to have a shower before our night train, even though we had already checked out.
A great budget-friendly alternative is Tung Tran Hotel. I stayed here when I first arrived in Hanoi. It’s run by a beautiful family, and it’s located right in the beating heart of the Old Quarter. Check rates and availability on Agoda.
If Airbnb is more your thing, here is my curated list of the best quintessentially Hanoian Airbnb apartments. Remember to use this link when you sign up and you’ll get $55 AUD credit towards your first booking.
How to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay
Most people go to Halong Bay for one reason, and that’s to drift amongst the karsts on board a junk. To go on a junk, you need to book a tour. You can either do that online before you arrive in Vietnam, or in person in Hanoi or Halong.
There are hundreds (literally) of tour operators working in this space, and they differ vastly in quality and price. I’ll say more on this later, but for now, all you need to know is that 95% of Halong Bay cruises include transfers between your hotel in Hanoi and Halong Bay. This will either be rolled into the price, or added on when you book.
In other words, if you book a tour package – which I recommend you do – your transportation to Halong will automatically be taken care of.
There are two basic tour options to choose from, depending on your budget and how much time you have:
- Halong Bay day tour from Hanoi
- Halong Bay overnight cruise from Hanoi (1 or 2 nights)
Under certain circumstances, you might want to travel to Halong Bay from Hanoi independently. Consider this option if:
- You prefer a private transfer rather than the standard transfer offered in your tour package (in which case, you can take a private car with driver)
- Your tour package has transport as an optional add-on and you want to find a cheaper option
- You are on a very tight budget and want to organise your cruise the cheapest way possible (in which case, you can use the limousine bus, public bus or train)
- You want to stay in Halong City
- You want to visit Sun World Park and the cable car before Halong Bay
If you do want to travel to Halong Bay independently, know that it’s going to take a bit more organising and a bit more effort. I will go over this in detail in Option C below.
Option A: Halong Bay day tour from Hanoi
First let’s look at the easiest, quickest and most affordable way to see Halong Bay, and that’s with a Halong Bay day trip from Hanoi.
There are a bunch of Halong Bay one-day tour options that cater to travellers who are time-poor but still want to tick the UNESCO site off their list.
I’ll be honest, a Halong Bay day tour is a tighly packed schedule. It starts early, finishes late, and involves spending about 6 hours or more on the road. I probably wouldn’t recommend you attempt it with kids in tow.
It’s still the quickest way to get a taste for the bay. Tours usually include boat cruising, lunch on deck, and a couple of activities such as walking through caves, kayaking or swimming.
How to book a tour before you arrive
It’s possible to book a tour in person at one of the many agencies in Hanoi. However, I strongly recommend booking online. Using a booking service such as Get Your Guide (my first preference) gives you the added safety net of a third party if anything goes awry.
Online payment is secure, cancellation policies are usually quite relaxed if your plans change, and you can manage your booking on the app (no need to print anything).
Booking online also gives you time and space to properly research the options (and when it comes to travelling to Halong Bay from Hanoi, there are a lot).
This reduces the likelihood of getting pressured into something you don’t want to do. Get Your Guide lists the tour provider for each itinerary, so you can do independent research to verify the company before you book.
I would recommend booking your day tour at least 3 weeks out if you’re travelling in low season or 6-8 weeks out if you’re travelling in high season. If push comes to shove, you can usually find a tour with availability a few days out (or even the night before).
Recommended Halong Bay day tours
I’ve done the legwork for you and put together this list of reputable Halong Bay day tours from Hanoi. Each one follows a good itinerary, has great reviews, and is backed by a reputable company. All tours have an English-speaking guide.
Full Day Trip with Genesis Luxury Cruises
This popular day tour of Halong Bay starts with pick up from your hotel in Hanoi at 7.45am. Transfer to Halong Bay is by limousine van.
You also have the option to organise your own transportation to Halong and meet at the pier. If you do this, $15 (the cost of the van transfer) will be subtracted from the tour price when you book.
On-board Genesis’s air-conditioned junk, you’ll cruise the bay while enjoying a seafood lunch. The tour then visits Sung Sot cave and Hang Luon cave. If you want to kayak or ride a small bamboo boat through the cave, you’ll need to pay an additional $5. Otherwise, stay on the junk and relax.
The boat returns to the pier for refreshments before departing for Hanoi at 5.30pm. At under $90 per person with limousine van transfer, it’s great value for money.
Bai Tu Long Bay & Vung Vieng Village with Swan Cruise
This full-day cruise skips Halong Bay and heads straight to quieter Bai Tu Long. You’ll spend 6 hours on the water, exploring rock formations and enjoying a traditional lunch.
In the afternoon, the boat arrives at Vun Vieng floating village. You then transfer to a row boat to explore the floating village and visit a fish farm. This tour also visits Thien Canh Son cave, and finishes with sunset on the boat and a cooking demonstration.
Round-trip transfer from Hanoi by shuttle, drinks, lunch, and all entrance fees and equipment hire are included in the price, which starts from just $79 per person.
Luxurious Day Cruise with Paradise Explorer
With a number of add-on luxury extras, this day cruise is perfect for honeymooners or couples. It’s one of the most beautiful boats currently out on the bay.
Meet at their office in the Old Quarter for the transfer to Halong by shuttle bus. Following lunch on board, you’ll visit Sung Sot Cave on foot and later, Luon Cave (again, kayak hire is not included in the price).
In the late afternoon, you’ll visit Soi Sim Island and hike up to the top for the iconic panoramic view. There’s a chance to swim afterwards.
As you sail back to the pier, you can organise to have a reflexology massage (not included in the tour price). This day tour starts from $80 per person.
Halong Day Tour with Dragonfly Cruise
Organised by Charming Vietnam Travel, this day cruise includes a round-trip transfer from Hanoi by coach. After lunch on the boat, you’ll have a chance to explore Thien Cung, a massive limestone grotto.
Forty-five minutes is set aside for kayaking (equipment hire is included in the price). Because transfer is by coach, this tour departs a little earlier at 4.30pm to get you back to Hanoi by 8.30pm. This eats into your time on the water.
There are often great specials on this cruise. The advertised price is $90, but I’ve seen it for as low as $45.
Important things to note:
- When booking a Halong Bay tour, you’ll need to enter your details including your full name, passport number and visa expiry date. If you don’t yet have your Vietnam visa, you can note this down. Remember to bring your passport with you on the day! You’ll need it in order to check in at the dock.
- Some tour operators will only pick you up from a hotel, not an Airbnb. That doesn’t mean you have to organise your own transport, it just means you need to get yourself to the nearest hotel for the scheduled pick up.
- Similarly, most tour operators charge an additional fee (around $10) for pick up from a hotel outside of the Old Quarter.
- Most lunches are seafood-heavy, but can be customised. If you’re veg/vegan or you have dietary requirements, give the company plenty of advance warning.
- It’s customary to tip your guide provided you were happy with the service. How much you leave depends on you – and the size of the group, length of the tour, etc. A small tip for your skipper or driver is also appreciated. If you visit a floating village, you often have an opportunity to leave a donation at the local school or library, etc. Do not hand money straight to children.
- Most buses and vans will stop at ‘souvenir’ shops or craft workshops on the road from Hanoi to Halong. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything; it’s perfectly OK just to smile and walk through. Save your money for Hanoi’s shops instead!
- Be very careful to note what’s included in the tour price and what’s not. Most day tours include lunch, but some don’t include drinks. Equipment hire for kayaking is often an optional extra that you have to pay for in cash on the day.
- Overnight tours often have a holiday surcharge (around $20) for Christmas, New Year and Lunar New Year.
- Halong Bay tour itineraries are always subject to change. Boats will still sail if it’s raining, but if the weather is bad enough, there’s a chance your tour might be altered or cancelled.
Option B: Halong Bay overnight cruise from Hanoi
One of the best experiences you can have in Vietnam is spending the night on a Halong Bay junk cruise. I have vivid memories of taking a shower on our junk and looking out the round portal window as the karsts floated by. I will never forget that view!
Like day tours, most overnight cruises start from Hanoi and include transfer to and from your hotel in the price.
Again, I highly recommend booking through a third party agent such as Get Your Guide as an extra insurance policy. You can also book Halong Bay overnight cruises through hotel booking sites Agoda and Booking.com.
Consider reserving overnight tours a little further in advance – 5-6 weeks out for low season or 10-12 weeks out for high season.
Best Halong Bay overnight cruises
Most (but not all) overnight cruises follow a very similar itinerary. The main difference between companies is the quality of the boat and the standard of the accommodation and food.
Here is a shortlist of 7 reputable companies that offer overnight Halong Bay overnight cruises.
This 2D1N overnight cruise focuses on Bai Tu Long Bay. The deluxe ocean view cabins and family suites (up to 3 people) are ultra swish and feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows. On-board activities include Tai Chi and traditional massage.
There’s plenty of time set aside for swimming, visiting floating villages in a sampan boat, and caving. On the last day, you’ll be treated to a traditional Vietnamese cooking class before heading back to Hanoi for a 4.30pm arrival.
Note that drinks are not included in the tour price. Hotel pick up from Hanoi must be added on at the time of booking and costs $25 per person.
Lee and James, The Travel Scribes, booked their cruise with Paloma and had this to say:
“If you’re looking for a mid-range option for Bai Tu Long Bay, then Paloma Cruises is a cracking choice. One of the better operators in this breath-taking area, Paloma offers a 4 star experience that often feels closer to 5 star luxury than the price tag might suggest.
“Think crisp white linen, downy soft pillows, well-appointed rooms and – of course – a bathroom with a view of limestone karsts as you drift on past. The highlights of doing a Paloma Cruise? Undoubtedly, the food. Over your time on the boat you’ll be plied with deliciously pungent pumpkin soup, heavenly sweet and sour chicken and more gourmet food than you can shake a spring roll at.
“Speaking of spring rolls, the crew do a great little exercise of ‘making’ your own spring roll – it’s activities like this, and the impeccable eye to detail and friendliness of the entire staff contingent that makes the Paloma experience so special.
“Your activities while aboard are quite standard – tai chi in the mornings, a visit to the caves, kayaking in the bay, and a visit to the fishing village and pearl farm. It’s all wrapped up in a well-executed yet affordable package.”
This luxury cruise is a bit different from the others because it concentrates on Lan Ha Bay while incorporating a visit to Cat Ba Island.
The 3D2N option includes a bicycle trip around the island in addition to the usual kayaking, caving, Tai Chi, etc. It’s a great choice if you want to spend some time off the water in the national park. The 2D1N option visits Cat Ba on the last day.
Both include transfers from Hanoi by limousine bus and accommodation in superb 5-star cabins (full-size bath and private balcony included). The interconnecting suites are perfect for families.
Ultralux Hera Cruise
One of the flashest boats on the bay, this is a great option for luxury travellers or honeymooners. Suites (there are only 11 of them, making for an intimate experience) are spacious and thoughtfully decorated with bespoke wood furnishings.
The 2D1N itinerary (more here) has a relaxed pace, with lots of downtime to enjoy the on-board spa.
Eric from Travel Babbo took a Hera Cruise and had this to say:
“We did a two-day, one-night cruise with Hera Cruises on Ha Long Bay this past summer. Having sailed with a different company in the past, I was extraordinarily impressed with Hera. Our cabin was huge with a private deck that took up half the back of the ship. (We enjoyed afternoon tea on the deck). Our bathroom and tub were large as well. The food was excellent, and there way too much of it.
“We stopped at a floating village in the afternoon and boated around with one of the residents. Having done this on a previous trip, I was disappointed how standardized and touristy it had become. For that reason we skipped the caves the next morning and opted to kayak instead, which was amazing but unfortunately now restricted to just one spot. I understand it’s the same for all visitors?
“Hera is more expensive than other companies, but we felt like it was worth it given how few others were on our ship (maybe 6?), the service and our cabin.”
This boat features spacious rooms and a huge upper deck. Full English breakfast is served every morning. The 2D1N cruise (full itinerary here) focuses on Lan Ha Bay and includes visits to two caves and a row boat ride. Transfer from Hanoi is by shuttle bus.
Shandos from Travelnuity did a tour with Sapphire and had this to say:
“My husband and I had a wonderful time on our overnight cruise with Halong Sapphire. Everything ran very smoothly and the meals on the first day in particular were excellent – a modern take on Vietnamese cuisine.
“If you’re wanting a romantic experience, I highly recommend spending extra to upgrade to a cabin with a spa bath! Just one thing – the drinks on board are more expensive than elsewhere in Vietnam, so keep this in mind before ordering too many cocktails, plus bring along a couple of big bottles of water.”
When I cruised with Indochina Junk on my first trip to Vietnam, I went with the standard Halong Bay itinerary. They now offer a great alternative tour that combines Bai Tu Long Bay with a visit to Yen Duc village on the mainland.
The 2D1N tour includes VIP van transfer from Hanoi and accommodation in one of 24 luxury cabins. The boat features a full spa and seawater pool as well.
Caving, kayaking and swimming feature on the first day. On the second day, you’ll visit Yen Duc on the way back to Hanoi for a water puppet show and a look around the traditional Vietnamese villiage.
Majestic Halong Cruise
If you want to make your budget stretch further, Majestic Halong offers the same sort of activities as other cruises but at a lower price. The rooms are not as luxurious as some of the other boats, and the shuttle transfer from Hanoi costs extra.
2D1N and 3D2N itineraries (more here) both include the hike up Ti Top Mountain.
Julie from Ruhls of the Road cruised with Majestic and had this to say:
“Majestic Cruise is a great budget friendly option for cruising through Halong Bay. For our cruise, the boat fit about 20 people fully loaded which made for a more intimate experience than the larger capacity ships. Our room was fully equipped with a queen bed and our own balcony for morning coffee and relaxation.
“The itinerary was filled with activities, including a cooking class, kayaking, squid fishing and Tai Chi as the sun came up! All meals came included in the cruise price and were delicious! Lastly, our guide was top notch, friendly, knowledgable and hilariously entertaining.
“We chose Majestic Cruise mainly because this was an inexpensive option that still had a ton of excursions. We were very pleased with our experience and would recommend cruising through Halong Bay during a trip to Vietnam.”
The cabins on Rosa Boutique are some of the nicest you’ll find on the bay. Choose from doubles or interconnecting family cabins for this 2D1N itinerary, which includes a visit to Sung Sot cave, a Tai Chi class and cooking class.
Round-trip hotel transfer from Hanoi by coach is included in the price. Or, you can upgrade to the Rosa Eco Bus (a luxury minivan) for an extra $20 per person.
Option C: Hanoi to Halong Bay independently
If you want to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay independently, there are several options available.
|Private car||From $70 per car||Reservations here|
|Limousine bus||From $20 per person||Buy tickets here|
|Local bus||From $5-$11 per person||Buy tickets here|
|Train||From $3.50 per person||Buy tickets here|
In this section, I’ll go through each transportation method in detail.
Private car from Hanoi to Halong Bay
There are a few major advantages to booking a private car and driver from Hanoi. It’s a door-to-door service, you can stop whenever you want, and it’s a lot faster than the bus or van (a professional driver can get you from Hanoi to Halong Bay in as little as 2 hours).
Ouros Travel is one of many local companies that run SUVs, sedans and small vans between Hanoi and Halong. The quoted price is per vehicle, and depending on what model you choose, it will cost you between $70 and $150.
If you’re travelling with kids or a large group, this can work out as an economical alternative to the bus.
Private car from Hanoi Airport to Halong Bay
If you’re flying into Hanoi and you want to hit the ground running, you can pre-book a private transfer from Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi to Halong Bay.
The driver will meet you at the airport in Hanoi and drop you off either at the boat dock in Tuan Chau or at your hotel in Halong.
This is a particularly good option if you’re arriving mid-morning and want to get to Halong on the same day. I would also consider using this service to get back to the airport after your cruise. Most tour companies will drop you at the airport, but a private car is a safer bet if you’re trying to make a tight connection.
Hanoi to Halong Bay by limousine van
I love limousine buses and used them regularly when I lived in Hanoi to get to Ninh Binh, Sapa, Thai Nguyen, and other locations around the North. The limousine van is a nice middle ground between hiring a private car and taking a public bus.
Basically, it’s a minivan fitted out with super comfy lazyboy-style recliner chairs. WIFI, power sockets and drinking water is all provided. It’s a door-to-door service.
A good budget limousine van is Phuc Xuyen. They run 10 vans throughout the day to Halong, starting from 7.40am. Tickets start from $9.50 and can be reserved online. These vans leave from Hai Ba Trung (southeast of the Old Quarter) and terminate in Halong City. That means you’ll need to make your own way to the boat dock at Tuan Chau.
I can also recommend Rosa Eco Bus, which departs from their office on Hang Voi (the French Quarter) once daily at 7.30am and gets into Halong at 11.20am. Tickets cost $23.50 per person.
You can book online and email them to arrange a hotel pick up if you prefer.
Hanoi to Halong Bay by bus
There are several bus services between Hanoi and Halong. Some terminate at Tuan Chau Gateway (the boat dock), while others only go as far as Bai Chay Bus Station on the outskirts of Halong City. Make sure you check before you board.
Sapa Dragon Express is my top choice. The coaches have AC, and you can reserve tickets online in advance to avoid missing out. There is a scheduled departure for Tuan Chau every day from the Sapa Dragon office in Hanoi Old Quarter. It leaves at 8am and arrives at the dock at 12pm. Tickets cost $11.
A cheaper option is local bus company Kumho Viet Thanh. They run 7 buses every day starting from 6am and finishing at 6pm. Tickets cost 120K VND ($5.20) and can be bought from the bus station in Hanoi or online here. Note that these buses terminate at Bai Chay Bus Station.
Hanoi has several bus stations. The one you want for Kumho Viet Thanh is My Dinh. A Grab car from Hanoi Old Quarter to My Dinh costs 120K VND ($5.20).
At the other end, a Grab car from Bai Chay Station to the boat dock costs at least 110K VND ($5). This brings the total cost to approximately $15.40, making the Sapa Dragon bus a more affordable option overall.
Hanoi to Halong Bay by train
You can also travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay by train. There is just one train daily, Vietnam Railways train 51501. It departs from Yen Vien Station bright and early at 4.55am, and pulls in at Halong Train Station (Ga Hạ Long) at 11.45am.
A ticket for the train costs $3.50 per person. There are only hard seats available on this service. When you book tickets online, you can choose your seat.
A Grab car from Hanoi Old Quarter to Yen Vien Station in the city’s east costs at least 140K VND ($6). At the other end, a Grab car from Halong Train Station to the boat dock costs at least 110K VND ($5). This brings the total cost to approximately $14.50.
If you’re taking this train or any other train in Vietnam, make sure you read my tips for what to pack for a long rail journey.
Halong City Guide
Where to stay in Halong City
Budget: BBQ Hostel (from $8) has free bikes and a popular on-site restaurant.
Mid-range: Beachfront Deja Vu House (from $24) has a gorgeous design and boutique-y feel. It’s close to the beach on the eastern side of town (other side of Bai Chay Bridge), and features a shared kitchen and free bikes.
Up-market: Novotel Halong Bay (from $63) is close to Bai Chay Beach and has a spectacular outdoor pool. Wyndham Legend (from $92) is located in the city. The high-rise has ultra-modern rooms and two cocktail bars.
How to organise a Halong Bay tour from Halong City
There are a couple of options here: Join a cruise coming from Hanoi that gives you the option to meet at the boat dock, book a boat cruise that includes pick from your hotel in Halong, or head down to the dock in the morning and join a boat tour. Your hotel should be able to give you more advice on the latter.
To do a Halong Bay tour on the fly:
- Get yourself from Hanoi to Halong City using one of the transport methods above
- Transfer to Tuan Chau boat dock (a car costs 140K or a bike 70K when booked through Grab).
- Buy a cruise ticket at the dock in Tuan Chau (250,000 VND per person for 4-6 hours, plus an extra 40,000 VND for entrance to the UNESCO Zone)
Other things to do in Halong City
If you base yourself in Halong City, you have an opportunity to do other activities in the area. Popular spots include Sun World Park (a massive amusement park, great for kids) and Queen Cable Car. You also have the option to hike up Poem Mountain for a nice view of the bay.
It’s also worth having a stroll around Halong City to visit the local market and Quang Ninh Museum. Like nearby Haiphong, Halong is a great example of a less-touristy city that has its own particular charms.
Ti Top Island and Sung Sot cave can be visited on a short boat trip from Halong. Just head to the dock and ask around.
Hanoi to Halong Bay: Summary
|Day tour from Hanoi||From $79 per person||Reservations here|
|Overnight cruise from Hanoi||From $140 per person||Reservations here or here|
|Private car||From $70 per car||Reservations here|
|Limousine bus||From $20 per person||Buy tickets here|
|Local bus||From $5-$11 per person||Buy tickets here|
|Train||From $3.50 per person||Buy tickets here|
What to pack when you visit Halong Bay
- Your passport. Most companies require you to present your documents when you check in for your cruise at the dock (even if it’s just a day trip).
- Motion sickness and/or sea sickness medication. Pack plenty for the boat and the bus/car if you suffer from motion sickness.
- Book or e-reader. Depending on what kind of tour you do, there may be some downtime. All boats have WIFI these days, but I recommend unwinding with a book. I travel with a Kindle and couldn’t live without it.
- A reusable water bottle. Absolutely essential for minimising plastic waste and staying hydrated. I love my S’Well water bottle – it’s vacuum insulated to keep water icy cold for the whole day, and it doesn’t sweat. Most boats have pure water refill stations.
- Rehydration tablets or sachets. I always travel with a tube of Hydralyte tablets.
- Rain jacket. It does get wet on the bay, so it’s good to have rain gear with you in case you get caught out when you’re kayaking or exploring the caves. I love the packable rain jackets by Lomon for women and EZRUN for men.
- Your swim kit. Don’t forget your bathers! Towels, snorkels and flippers and provided. If you want to bring your own instead, you can.
- Warm jacket or scarf. It can get chilly in the evening when you’re out on the water, so remember to pack something you can throw over your shoulders at night.
Tips for being a responsible traveller in Halong Bay
- Choose a locally owned company if you can.
- Don’t litter! Avoid single-use plastics when you’re out on the bay (and anywhere else in Vietnam or Southeast Asia, for that matter).
- Be respectful when visiting floating villages. Remember that these are people’s homes and communities. Never photograph children.
- Support a few of these Hanoi social enterprises when you’re back in the city – all do amazing work for the environment and Vietnamese people.
Halong Bay alternatives
If you decide that Halong Bay isn’t quite what you’re looking for, I can recommend these 3 alternative options.
- Bai Tu Long Bay & Yen Duc Village: This is definitely an option you should consider for a more ‘off-the-beaten-path’ experience. I love that this tour combines a boat trip and a homestay, so you get to experience the best of both worlds. It’s run by Indochina Junk, one of the most reputable tour companies working on the bay.
- Cat Ba Island & Lan Ha Bay: I recently visited Cat Ba Island and did a boat trip around Lan Ha Bay. It was pleasant – much quieter than Halong, and the National Park offers some great outdoor activities including cycling tours and hiking. Unfortunately though Lan Ha Bay is quite polluted – plastic waste is a huge problem.
- Ninh Binh: ‘Halong Bay on land’, as it’s known, also offers boat trips (although the waterways are very shallow), cool bungalow accommodation and other activities. It’s only 1.5 hours from Hanoi, making it a great day trip option. Here is my comprehensive Ninh Binh guide and itinerary.
Here are the booking sites and services I personally use whenever I travel to Vietnam.
– Find affordable flights to Vietnam on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Vietnam and apply for an expedited e-visa online.
– Pre-book a private hotel transfer from Hanoi Airport or Ho Chi Minh City Airport.
– Pre-order a local 4G sim card for pickup at your first Vietnam hotel.
– Find the best hotel deals in Vietnam on Agoda, book a Vietnam hostel, or find a unique Airbnb.
– Reserve your Vietnam Rail tickets for the train to Sapa, Da Nang, Hue or Saigon.
– Buy your domestic bus or plane tickets in advance using Baolau or 12GoAsia.
– Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Vietnam. Here are my top 15 Vietnam food experiences to help you decide.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Vietnam. Check out my top 10 best Vietnam day trips for more inspiration.
– Consult my comprehensive Halong Bay guide to find the best cruises & tours.
– Try an alternative tour or DIY experience with social enterprise Backstreet Academy.
– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam.
Still have questions, concerns about visiting Halong Bay? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help out.