A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ha Long (or Halong) Bay is a beautiful vast 'cove' of thousands of towering limestone islands and an unmissable destination when visiting Hanoi. A simple google search for Ha Long Bay tours reveals HUNDREDs of 'junk boat' trips and cruises, which can be overwhelming and confusing at best. But have no fear, we've compiled a review and a guide from our trip on the Indochina Junk's Dragon Pearl, among one of the highest rated tours on TripAdvisor as well as recommending other companies for this immense adventure.
Finding The Right Tour
There are hundreds of companies that offer group travel around Ha Long Bay, from luxury private tours to weekend party cruises, so deciding what you want from your trip will dictate which tour is best for you. Our trip was with the company Indochina Junk, and I cannot recommend them enough. They were an extremely organised company, efficient throughout our stay with them, we had an amazing, friendly host, a brilliant itinerary which allowed you freedom despite travelling in a group and was really excellent value for money. Therefore if I recommend them in any of the categories below, it is because I honestly think this is one of the best tour companies. And why take my word for it? Indochina Junk is a 5-star company on TripAdvisor with over 5,000 reviews, check them out here.
For a typical cruise, friendly for families or couples, I would of course recommend the Indochina Junk trip I took, as we felt like we were in good company and the activities were suitable for our group. Serving exceptional food and with a range of activities included in our itinerary, this was a perfect tour for us.
Although pricey, private charter cruises provide privacy and intimacy, as you don't have to share your tour with anyone else, and may allow you to customise your own itinerary. These can be a romantic option if you are looking to take a tour with your significant other and also provide a great culinary experience, as the staff can personalise meals to your liking.
My favourite junk boat company of course:
Legend Halong also have a 5 star review on TripAdvisor:
Perhaps if you are younger, planning a gap year, or travelling with friends, a party-themed boat trip can provide a great opportunity to meet new people and let your hair down without worrying about getting lost in Hanoi's winding streets or feeling unsafe.
With a certificate of excellence Oasis Bay Party Cruise has amazing reviews on TripAdvisor, and is exclusively available to 18-35.
7.30 – 8.00: Pick up at your hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter area.
12.30 – 13.00: Check-in, enjoy welcome drink & cruise briefing.
13.30 – 15.00: Have lunch while cruising to Bai Tu Long bay; admire the fascinating formations on the way. (THE BEST selection of food ever!)
15.15 – 18:00: Explore the well- hidden Thien Canh Son cave. Enjoy relaxing on a white sandy beach at Hon Co island, swimming or kayaking. (Definitely one of my best memories from this entire trip, a beautiful island, amazing views whilst kayaking and a refreshing dip whilst jumping off the side of the boat whilst the sun set over the bay.)
18:00 – 19.00: Back to junk for refreshing before having dinner on board.
20.00 – 21.00: Relax, enjoy fresh air & overnight on board. We were also given the opportunity to watch and try octopus fishing with the cabin staff!
07.30 – 08.00: Morning view of Bay’s landscape with a cup of tea or coffee. Have breakfast in the fresh air.
08.30 – 09.30: Visit Vung Vieng fishing village by a rustic row-boat. (An amazing trip, something I haven't experienced before and was really unique to Halong Bay)
10.00: Check out of the cabin. Start cruising towards the harbor while an A la carte lunch is served.
11.45 – 12.00: Disembark. Drive to Yen Duc village in Dong Trieu province.
14.00 – 14.30: Enjoy water puppet show performed by local artists. (Hilarious if nothing else)
14.45 – 17.30: Arrive in back in Hanoi
Getting to the Boats
Do not be fooled. Halong Bay is by no means close to Hanoi. If you were expecting a quick taxi journey to the waterside 'village', host to all the junk tourism offices and boats, you'd be wrong, as our excursion to start our tour was approximately 2 hours long. This was not an issue for us however, as our tour company collected us and fellow travellers from our hotels in Hanoi in a luxury minivan complete with aircon, usb charging points and refreshments.
We were greeted at the busy waterfront, by friendly attendants of the Indochina Junk, which pointed us towards a spacious bar and we awaited the details of our tour. After leaving our bags checked in and being given passes for our boat, we travelled to the impressive Dragon Pearl with our fellow travellers on a smaller carrier boat.
On Board Accommodation
I could not have expected more pleasant on board accommodation on our tour, and whilst I was impressed with our boat in particular, this exceptionally high level of cleanliness, luxury and availability of facilities appears to similar across most junk boats. Our room was relatively spacious, considering we were on a boat, had storage beside our bed as well as a wardrobe and an ensuite bathroom with shower and toilet. We also had air conditioning in our room, a welcome extra during the warm afternoon and after canoeing and swimming in the bay. What was undoubtedly the best part of our room, however was the incredible view from our windows, a constant mirage of limestone islands, blue waters and when waking especially early, a picturesque pink sunrise.
In addition to the brilliant accomodation on board, I was also extremely surprised by the variety and freshness of the food served to us. After settling into our room on the first day we had lunch on the top deck of the boat, with stunning views of the islands and water. We were handed a menu with around 9 or 10 dishes, thinking we would be asked for our choice, instead we were astonished that every one of the dishes listed was served to us in procession. Fresh seafood and meat of traditional Vietnamese dishes were presented to us and we were constantly attended to by the friendly staff on board. During our evening meal we were given the choice to purchase wine at an additional cost to the package price of the tour, surprisingly this was also at a really reasonable price and made our night even better.
What to Pack
As our tour was only 2 days and 1 night, we took a small bag with us on our cruise and with not much room in the minibus, boat and in our rooms for enormous suitcases, it requires careful packing and planning for the trip. Here's some items I'd definitely recommend including in your packing:
Our Ha Long Bay cruise was one of the best experiences of my life (cheesy but true) and if you were to visit Hanoi I would say it is an unmissable part of your trip. Not all tours are the same and honestly it depends on your budget, group and desires for the trip, but I hope my reviews and tips have given you a push in the right direction!
Let me know in the comments below if you've visited Ha Long Bay!