Ha Long Bay (or Halong Bay) is a breathtakingly beautiful bay, recognizable by the thousands of islets made of limestone. The bay is about a 3 hour car drive from Hanoi, the capital, and is located in what was known as North Vietnam. And the best way to explore is a Halong Bay cruise!
Getting to Ha Long Bay
Hanoi is the closest large city to Ha Long Bay. If you book a cruise, I believe most, if not all, companies will provide transportation for a fee from certain districts in Hanoi.
If you’re flying in from Ho Chi Minh (roughly a 2-hour flight) there are some really affordable options. I flew roundtrip from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi on Vietjet Air for less than $100!
Schedule a cruise
My friends and I explored Halong Bay by going on a 2-day, 1-night cruise. It was definitely the highlight of our Vietnam trip! There are many options for cruises around the bay with varying price points depending on your budget! We took the Azalea Cruise, which is a part of the Pelican Group, and it was incredible.
Our room in the Azalea Cruise ship was gorgeous with dark wood finishings, a luxurious bathroom and huge windows displaying the beautiful bay, complete with a large private balcony where we could enjoy the sea breeze.
There was also a large deck on the top of the boat which was fun for socializing with the other guests. We made friends with the other American group on the boat, but it was also awesome to meet people from all over the world. Most of the ship guests were from Europe or Asia.
The food was delicious and of great variety. I was eating vegan at the time and the crew and chef were extremely accommodating to my strict diet. One of the things I remember most about the cruise is how friendly, caring, and polite the crew was. They made the experience extra special!
The cruise also included tons of awesome excursions and activities that make exploring Ha Long Bay easy!
Activities on the cruise
I had been kayaking before, but this was the coolest place I’ve every kayaked. It was pretty incredible weaving around the islets. It rained lightly on and off while we were kayaking, which actually somehow made it more fun and memorable. While it stopped raining we would explore and when it started to rain or mist again, we would just paddle our way right up next to the closest islet and try to use it is as cover.
Explore the caves
Make sure you pack some sneakers for a cave excursion, because Ha Long Bay has several famous caves. The excursion started with a short hike up to the the Trung Trang cave on Cat Ba Island. I thought the cave was kind of creepy, but was also fascinated by it, having been formed by nature for over 2,000 years.
Go for a swim
After exploring the caves, we went for an evening dip in the bay. This was an optional planned activity. My friends and I had a ton of fun jumping off the back of the ship with the rest of the cruise guests. We went swimming right as the sun was setting.
In addition to the excursions off of the boat we also had activities planned while we sailed. There were a couple of events planned around Vietnamese food traditions. We had a demonstration on making spring rolls and were able to roll our own. And there was also a tea ceremony where we shared Vietnamese tea.
If you’re going to Vietnam, I would highly recommend doing a Halong Bay cruise to experience the beauty one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world.
While you’re there… be sure to explore Hanoi
Before or after your Ha Long Bay cruise, be sure to explore the city of Hanoi. I really enjoyed strolling through the streets of Hanoi.
My friends and I stayed in the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is the commercial district of Hanoi and it is filled with so much history. Street vendors have been selling goods here for over a thousand years. The streets are even known by what goods are sold there. For example, our hotel was on Hang Dau, the shoe street.
We loved exploring the city and spent an afternoon around Hoan Kiem Lake café hopping, which we found out is very popular in Hanoi. Vietnamese coffee is growing in popularity around the world and it was fun to try at different cafés. We also loved the lemon water here (which is similar to lemonade).
A cruise is an epic way to see Ha Long Bay and an experience that you won’t forget. Stopping in Ho Chi Minh City too? Be sure to check out my guide to the here.