Halong Bay is one of the most popular places to visit for tourists in Southeast Asia and here is some advice about the place, from a person who has been on 17 Halong Bay cruises during the past 6 years.
Due to my job as a tour leader, I have been visiting Halong Bay many many times with groups and I have also been there a few times on my own, so I have some experience in touring this part of the world and there are somethings you should think about before going there.
Should you take a day trip to Halong or go with an overnight cruise?
Unless you have a very limited amount of time to visit Halong Bay, then you should try to stay at least one night in the area. On a day trip to Halong Bay, you will only get to the most touristy part where you will be elbowing your way through hundreds of other visitors. But if you take a trip that lasts for two days or more, then you have a chance to get out and see some places where you are not sharing the experience with 50 other tour groups. And Halong Bay really comes to it’s right at dusk and dawn, where the light and the scenery is a lot nicer than during the day time hours, so try to stay at least one night out there. This can both be done as a trip where you stay on a boat with cabins, or as a trip where you stay on one of the many islands in the bar.
Avoid the Sung Sot cave if you can.
Some people might disagree with me on this one, as the Sung Sot cave is the most popular place to visit on Halong Bay, but for that simple reason I think you should try and go on a trip where you do not go there. If you have visited a few caves around the world, then I will guarantee you that you do not think the Sung Sot cave is the prettiest you have seen and the crowds there can be insane with pushing and screaming and yelling from hundreds of people trying to get the right photo shoot. The view from the top of the cave is fantastic, but you have fantastic views in many other areas of the bay, where you won’t have to fight the same crowds. It can actually be hard sometimes to find a trip that does not take you there, cause all companies seem to think that this has to be part of the tour, but try to avoid it if you can.
When is the best time of year to visit Halong Bay?
Halong Bay is best visited during spring and fall. During the winter it can be quite cold there at night and during the summer months you have a lot of rain storms in the area and trips are often cancelled or shortened so that you are not allowed to stay overnight on the boats. This is for security reasons after a backpacker boast sank a few years ago and several young backpackers drowned. I think it’s fair that they control the ships during bad weather as it can get pretty extreme in the region and you do not want to be out at sea during a thunder storm at night. So I suggest that you avoid summer months as this is when you have the most cancellations. November and april on the other hand, tend to be the best months to visit, with nice warm weather and not so much rain.
Budget cruise or luxury cruise?
I have taken both budget cruises (when I was on my own) and luxury cruises (when I was working there as a tour leader) and I liked them both. The luxury cruises are really nice and some of the boats have super nice restaurants on board and these are suitabel for people who want to treat themselves to some luxury. The budget boats that most backpackers take are generally quite ok too though. I have been very happy with the tow different budget boats I have been on. Cabins were a little more simple and food was not served by uniformed waiters, but it was still nice food anyway and I had no complaints what soever on the trips. Back a few years ago, you had some really bad boats cruising Halong Bay, where safety and comfort was horrible, but they lost their license to do tours after the accident where one of them sang a few years ago, so I would say that if you don’t mind simple living then you will be fine on a budget cruise. For backpackers who are used to hostel living, a backpacker cruise on Halong Bay will be quite luxurious, even if they chose one of the cheaper cruises.
What company should you use?