Taking a boat cruise through Halong Bay in Vietnam is hands down one of my top 5 travel experiences to date.
Gorgeous sunsets, unbelievable rock formations, and an inexpensive cruise that feels luxurious? Yes, please!
I highly recommend making the trip to Halong Bay. You won’t regret it! Here’s what you need to know before you go.
1. You’ll need a visa to visit Vietnam
Before you can cruise Halong Bay, you’ll need to be granted entry to Vietnam. To do so, you’ll need a visa.
The U.S. Department of State website provides some detailed information about how to get a visa to visit Vietnam. To summarize, you’ll need to get a visa through a Vietnam embassy or consulate in your country or through a Vietnam travel company.
When a friend and I visited Vietnam, we booked all our tours through a travel company (Odyssey, which I highly recommend!) and the travel company arranged for visas on our behalf.
Our first point of entry in Vietnam was Hanoi. Although we had all the paperwork with us, it took the officials there awhile to process our visas. And we did have to pay an extra fee like the State Department mentions on their website.
TIP: The officials at the airport requested that we pay them in U.S. dollars (which we discovered was not unusual in southeast Asia). Plan on having some U.S. dollars on hand and get some local currency (Vietnam dong) from the ATM when you arrive in Vietnam.
I don’t recommend carrying a lot of cash – I try to never have more than the equivalent of $200USD on me at any time.
2. Be mindful of the weather
We visited Vietnam in June. We were lucky to have perfect weather. It wasn’t too hot and it didn’t rain too much.
Picking the perfect time of year to visit Vietnam can be tough. The long length of the country means that it’s subject to different multiple weather patterns. You could be subject to monsoons, typhoons, cold misty weather, and hot humid weather.
Because Halong Bay was my favorite part of Vietnam, I recommend visiting Vietnam when the weather’s best in northern Vietnam, which is where Halong Bay is located. With that in mind, I’d lean towards visiting Vietnam in May or June. During that time of year, the temperatures are warmer, but there’s not quite as much heavy rainfall.
No matter what month you go, monitor the weather to see if there are any storms that’ll interfere with your cruise of Halong Bay.
3. Stay in Hanoi before and after your cruise
Many cruises that go to Halong Bay offer pick-up and drop-off in Hanoi. This is a great way to stay in a centralized location, but still visit more remote areas like Halong Bay.
The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay is about 4 hours. But don’t worry about being bored. The countryside in Vietnam is fascinating. You’ll see scooters carrying towering cargo, water buffalo in rice paddies, rice drying on the side of the road, and an incredible variety of unique structures.
Have your camera and video recorder handy for the ride. Some of the most interesting images of your trip to Vietnam will come from the drive between Hanoi and Halong Bay.
4. Take an overnight cruise
While you can take a day cruise that picks you up and drops you off in Hanoi the same day, I recommend taking an overnight cruise. This is for several reasons:
- A day trip means an extremely long day of commuting. You’ll be in the car for 8 hours for the drive to and from Halong Bay. I recommend splitting this into two days.
- A cruise is meant to be relaxing. You won’t get to partake in a luxurious day of cruising and exploring if you’re rushing to see everything before you have to hurry back to your pickup point.
- You might miss the sunset. A sunset on Halong Bay is not something you want to miss.
- If you haven’t guessed, I absolutely loved Halong Bay. I would have been so disappointed if I only got to experience Halong Bay for a portion of one day. Taking an overnight cruise helps prolong this amazing experience.
5. Take advantage of excursions
Even though a Halong Bay cruise is typically only two days, they manage to fit a lot into those two days! During our two-day cruise, we swam in the bay, hiked up to see a cave, kayaked, and took a cooking class.
To take advantage of these excursions, pack these essentials:
- Swimsuit: Bring a suit that you can quickly throw on for a dunk in the bay. Don’t bring anything too fancy. You want something that you’re comfortable swimming in.
- Hiking sandals or shoes: The hikes to and from caves in Halong Bay can be slippery and steep. Bring sturdy footwear that will keep you on steady ground.
- Athletic clothing: It can be hot and humid in Halong Bay during the spring, summer, and fall. Bring clothing that wicks away sweat and will be comfortable for hiking and kayaking. I often wear a rashguard as a shirt, since it’s perfect for keeping me dry and protecting me from the sun.
- Sunscreen: Sunscreen is your friend. It can be the difference between a happy vacation and a miserable, sunburnt vacation. Love the smell of this sunscreen.
6. Be prepared for great photo & video opportunities
While the boat is cruising, find a shady spot on one of the side decks and prepare yourself for great photo and video opportunities. You’ll likely find yourself humming the theme to Jurassic Park as you glide past the ancient rock formations. (Completely up to you if you keep the humming or edit it out of your video!)
Make sure you’re on deck for the sunset. I’ve seen some beautiful sunsets in my travels. The sunset in Halong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
I hope you love Halong Bay just as much as I did. Have an amazing trip!