Halong Bay: What To Expect When Taking An Overnight Cruise
Cruising Halong Bay
Halong Bay is considered one of the most sought-after places to visit while in Vietnam. One of the most popular ways to view Halong Bay is by cruise. There are multiple cruises at different price points that offer all sorts of amenities. You have your Halong Bay party cruises, super luxurious, mid-level luxury and budget ships. Do your research and read Trip Advisor before deciding. I will tell you that all of them will offer free food and activities whilst on board. Drinks including water ARE NOT INCLUDED.
As a long-term traveler, it is very hard for me to drop a lot of money for just 2 nights but for a special occasion why not? As a belated birthday present for Sean and after days researching I decided to take him on a mid-luxury cruise of Halong Bay. For 2 nights we would be sailing along Halong Bay where we could kayak, swim and explore one of Vietnam’s most famous destinations. That is what I thought and even though overall we had a great time there were a few things I wish I had known before going. Which got me thinking that I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.
The following are just my thoughts and observations including a few tips on what to expect when cruising Halong Bay. Read it and consider if the pros outweigh the cons.
Itinerary: 2-Night Vs 1-Night Cruises
The most popular option for cruising Halong Bay is the 1-night and 2-day cruise. For those who have a little more time in Vietnam, there is also a 2-night and 3-day cruise. I booked a longer cruise because it does take time getting to Halong Bay and with my anxiety, I always need a bit longer to adapt.
When booking, I was aware there was an itinerary but didn’t think much of it. The truth is if you are looking for sleep ins and flexibility then, a cruise is not for you. Almost every minute of every hour was planned and when you did have free time, you couldn’t just swim. Every cruise has roughly the same activities planned so chances are you will never be alone when doing something either.
The only time we experienced it just being us when on our second day, we anchored somewhere close to the Pearl Farm but were the only ones who were swimming and kayaking there. There is a bit more flexibility 2-night cruise but if you are traveling for just one night, be prepared to have none of that.
For every beautiful and stunning picture of Halong Bay, also be aware that there is actually a lot of trash in the water. I wish I had taken a picture of all the trash but honestly, whenever I saw it I would feel sad. It was a popular topic of conversation between me and my fellow cruise-goers. How surprised we were and how long it would go on for before it became an issue. The pessimistic in me think nothing will be done to help until it starts impacting other countries …
The following are the basic activities that you will do on a cruise. As mentioned earlier, almost every boat offers the same excursions and activities.
If you are on a 1-night cruise then don’t expect to do much swimming except for the hour you have at the very crowded island of Hill Top. This beach is man made and on the weekend is even busier as locals will come and enjoy the small beach. Sean ended up climbing the 400+ steps literally STRAIGHT UP a mountain to get this view at the top:
I, on the other hand, was like Nah” and floated in the ocean instead until Sean joined me later.
Jumping off of boats:
This was by far the best part of the trip for me. On our second day of our 2-night cruise, we were given an option of kayaking and swimming. I found myself jumping into the water over and over again skipping kayaking. I had a blast and as much as I wanted to jump off the top of the boat, I couldn’t due to my ears and risk getting an infection but the first level was just fine by me.
If this is something you are hoping to do, I would either message the cruise to ask if this is doable or if this is something they offer on the 2nd day of a 2-night cruise. I don’t know how common it was as I didn’t see any other boats doing it.
Watch this little video of me jumping here:
If you really want to see if your relationship can handle anything then go kayaking through a small cave. Sorry babe for the constant “wow look at that” moments as I stopped paddling and let us crash not one, not twice but three times into the island rocks while also directing you to take all the pics!
Kayaking While Fat
A few days before leaving, I started having a mini panic attack that I would not fit on the kayak. That I would massively embarrass myself and then be known the rest of the trip as the Fat Girl that broke the kayak. The night before, I posted on Fat Girls Traveling Facebook group (which I help the incredible From Annette With Love with and you should check it out if you are a Fat Girl while traveling) about this fear. Needless to say, I got the confidence to give it ago.
Bless Sean for being so great and being there. I was actually lightly crying on the boat as 2 by 2 people got it. Gripping Sean’s hand I made sure to go last and guess what, I fit! Yes, I suctioned cupped in but Sean and I were able to Kayak together.
So for the bigger girls who are looking to do this, trust me the life jackets will work (they won’t look good but they will fit). You will be able to Kayak and not sink. Now, full disclosure, it will be HARD to get out of it. Especially if it is a closed kayak. Ask for an extra hand or two to get out. But, you will get out and Sean didn’t end up in the water as I did, so #winning. They will also look at you but my guide was awesome and helpful. It was nothing like the experience I had in Thailand on the long-tail boat. Do not be afraid to try!
There isn’t much to really say about this except it is pretty funny. They shine a light into the water and you’re given a simple rod and do a little dance with it for a few minutes or however long you want to. We did it on our last night and it was fun but after 5 minutes, I found myself ordering a G&T and sitting inside by a fan.
You will visit one cave on the 1-night cruise and 2 on the 2-night. The regular cave is massive and is considered a dry cave. There are some stairs but it is much more manageable compared to Hill Top. This is how you end your cruise no matter what option you pick.
On the second day of the cruise, you will climb through a small cave. It is a wet cave which makes it a little slippery. It has steep moments but is doable, just watch your step and head. Make sure to wear clothes that allow you to bend down to get through some narrow and low holes. Also, maybe don’t wear a white t-shirt cause dirt will get on you and be very hard to get out. I honestly had so much fun in the excursion. It might be one of my highlights of cruising Halong Bay after jumping off of boats.
Plus the view at the top ain’t too bad, would you agree?
You will be provided all meals while onboard. I really enjoyed the food on our cruise. The courses are varied and offer plenty of selections for everyone. After booking, you will be sent an email asking for any food issues. They really do cater to your needs and even when asked provide a beautiful birthday cake. On our first night, the boat gifted Sean a cake that was DELICIOUS at no extra cost.
Take note though, all drinks except in the morning are not included. This includes water. The drinks aren’t expensive but make sure to take some extra money for water, beer or cocktails.
Embrace Your Inner Social Being
If you don’t want to be social then I recommend doing something else. I actually really enjoyed meeting people both nights of the cruise. In fact, Sean and I made some really great friends with two other couples. One of which, we saw on our last night in Hanoi. It was really fun laughing and sharing moments with these guys.
One couple was from Spain via Nicaragua and the other Copenhagen. We honestly went through a lot together from communication issues with the staff to our joined love of drinks and laughing. There are a lot of personalities but it seemed to work each time.
Boats Are Everywhere
You don’t actually do a lot of cruising on your boat FYI. You will be stationed during the night. This is due to government regulations and safety. A lot of time was spent on the smaller boat to get to destinations as a result. You should also be prepared that you won’t be in seclusion. There will be boats everywhere.
I knew from pictures that we would see boats all around of us. Some people didn’t realize that. It is actually a weird feeling but also oddly magical. At night seeing all the lights on the different ships is beautiful. It is also strange knowing that the people in those ships are doing pretty much the same thing you are doing. Just maybe a slight variation!
What To Pack
You will sweat. If you are thinking a cruise to the Bahamas where you are going to look cute, don’t. I wish I had just brought workout clothes if I’m honest with a nice outfit for dinner. I also would have bought more t-shirts as you get them wet either from water or sweat and they can be hard to dry in time. Also, there is nothing worse than putting on a sweaty bralette because it is all you have. I would also make sure to either bring a good book for the night and or download a film on one of your electronic devices.
Things To Know In General
Customer Service Is Different
I can’t speak for every cruise or experience but customer service is different here, especially if you consider the price you are paying for a night. Most cruises hire a guide in addition to the boat crew. These guys work around the clock almost every day of the week, week after week. It won’t be uncommon to see them trying to catch a quick nap here and there. They serve meals efficiently and the guides are incredible. They will mention some tough topics that as a foreigner might seem out of place or make you sad. This includes the fact that many of them don’t see their family very often because of this job followed up with asking to leave them a good review so they can get a day off.
That being said, sometimes communication is a bit hard. For us personally, they switched our original booking from one ship to another just two days before and then switched us AGAIN for our 2nd night. That was very frustrating as we already had unpacked. We weren’t told of these changes until after dinner and we were then told to pack a day bag and the rest of stuff would be taken to the new boat. This presented a problem as we were doing 3 different activities on the 2nd day. We had to completely re-arrange our bags to then have both bags with us ALL day…
We had a big issue with our second boat. The boat was actually a completely different company that was nowhere near the quality of the first boat or the boat I had booked. I called them out on it and the customer service representative was very nice. Reviews are massively important to them, it is how they get their business. I made it clear, I was not impressed and when we got dropped off at our hotel on day 3, a representative was there.
Now, normally I would be impressed but I personally felt it was a bit much. We had just had a 4-hour bus journey, 3 days of early morning wake ups at 6 AM and lots of activities. I wanted to shower and sleep, not talk to this lady. We talked a few minutes and after a bit of help with Booking.Com, they offered me the difference in price of the boat quality for the second night. It took a lot to get there though but for $115 refund, I’ll take it!
To Cruise Or Not To Cruise
Honestly, I would do it again. I’m not sure I would go with the same company but this seems to be a common thing when I talked to other people who have done a cruise. Be aware and try to get confirmation that you’ll stay on the same boat if you’re doing a 2-night cruise. It’ll make a difference, not feeling like you are being shipped all around. Read the terms and conditions!
If you are looking for a bit more control you can look into staying at a hotel and planning excursions daily including kayaking but if time is limited this might be your best bet. Any questions, leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them!