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Best Halong Bay Cruises for All Budgets

A statement of nature’s artistry takes the form of over 1700 beautiful limestone islands and islets poking out of the emerald waters of Vietnam, which have made their way onto the bucket lists of travelers across the globe.

Joining a Halong Bay overnight cruise and exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site is part of most Vietnam travel itineraries. However, we have met many people who changed their plans because they were only presented with luxury Halong Bay cruise options, which are not accounted for in many travel budgets. But let us tell you, the only thing you can’t afford is to miss the chance to visit Halong Bay.

Looking for a Halong Bay luxury cruise? We've got you covered! Trying to find a cheap Halong Bay cruise? We have an alternative for you! Discover the best Halong Bay cruises for all budgets and all the tips and tricks for the most memorable experience.

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halong bay

Nestled in northeastern Vietnam, as part of the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay has provided the backdrop for many movies that have captured our imagination and inspired dreams of faraway lands that one can only hope to visit one day. From serving as Neverland on the movie Pan, to representing Skull Island in Kong, the limestone islets that rise dramatically from the sea are surrounded by a mystical allure steeped in legends and history, both from movies and reality.

Vietnam's Halong Bay view from above

The best way to experience Halong Bay and understand why it has earned the title of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is by boat. Whether you opt for a day trip or a Halong Bay overnight cruise, you will be able to immerse in this stunning scenery, explore local villages, swim in its beautiful emerald waters, and visit caves by kayak.

Where To Stay In Halong Bay:

If boats aren't your thing and you prefer to stay on dry land, or if you need a place to crash before embarking on your Halong Bay cruise the next morning, you will find plenty of accommodation options in Halong City, the main town where to stay in the Halong Bay area. Here are some accommodation options for you:

Ha Long Seasun best budget hotel in Halong Bay
Citadines Marina Halong best hotel in Halong Bay Vietnam
The Yacht Hotel by DC best luxury hotel in Halong Bay

Halong City can be a bit of a ghost town outside of the high season. Keep that in mind if you are booking a hotel for extra days with the intention of exploring the area beyond the cruise days.

lighthouse near where to stay area in Halong Bay

Best Time to Visit Halong Bay

Halong Bay is beautiful year-round and can be visited at any time. But just because you “can” doesn’t mean that you will want to. We have visited in both high and low seasons, and it is doable. However, while it is true that you can find some fantastic deals if you go during the low season, boats and water activities match better with warm and dry months.

visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam in the best time to visit

That being said, the best time to visit Halong Bay is:

Late September to November - the weather in Halong Bay is perfect for activities under the sun, with low humidity and clear skies.

Shoulder season from March to May - usually pleasant temperatures and fewer tourists.

How to Get to Halong Bay

It is possible to get to Halong Bay by bus or private car from cities such as Ninh Binh and Sapa, but the vast majority of travelers choose to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay, considering its distance and the variety of transportation options available.

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How to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay:

Shuttle Bus or Private Car: From Hanoi to Halong Bay is about a 2.5 to 3.5-hour drive, and it's the most straightforward and comfortable option. Click here to book the bus or car that suits your needs*.

ticket to best transportation option to Halong Bay and Cat Ba in Vietnam

tour package:

If you've booked a Halong Bay day trip, most packages include pick-up and drop-off from Hanoi. If you've booked a Halong Bay overnight cruise of one or several nights, usually the Hanoi to Halong bay transfer is provided for an additional fee. If you are short on time, day trips from Hanoi are an amazing alternative to tick the Halong Bay cruise off your bucket list. Here are some of the best Halong Bay day trips:

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Public Transportation:

Traveling from Hanoi to Halong Bay by public transportation is a budget-friendly option, but it may not be as comfortable as the other options. While you can enjoy scenic views from the train, expect a long journey with potential transportation changes before reaching your final destination. Do it for the experience if you wish, but considering the affordability of shuttle bus prices, this option is not recommended.

If you are looking for an airport near Halong Bay, you have Cat Bi International Airport (HPH), and Van Don International Airport (VDO). If your sole intention is to visit Halong Bay while in Vietnam, these might be interesting options for you.

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Best Halong Bay Cruises

That image on your mood board is about to come true. A memorable cruise experience awaits you in one of the most beautiful seascapes on earth: Halong Bay. Indulge on delicious meals, wake up to the stunning views of limestone islands, swim or kayak in the one of a kind emerald waters, and explore popular attractions such as caves, grottoes and floating villages. These are just a few of the activities included in a Halong Bay overnight cruise.

halong bay view during a luxury cruise
floating village in Halong Bay visited during cruises for all budgets

There is a variety of boats available, ranging from the classic luxury Halong Bay cruise to the traditional junk. No, we're not throwing shade on the budget options😅. The traditional junk is a beautiful Chinese sailing ship with fully battened sails.

Some Halong Bay cruises depart on specific days and offer limited flexibility in the duration of the stay on board. The most popular package is usually the 3 days/2 nights, which allows you to make the most out of the experience. Here are some of the best Halong Bay cruises:

Erina Cruise best luxury cruise in Halong Bay
Stellar of the Seas Cruise best luxury cruise in Halong Bay
Genesis Luxury Regal best luxury cruise in Halong Bay

Note that while meals are usually all included in the total package value of Halong Bay cruises, beverages may not be.

Whom do we recommend the Halong Bay overnight cruise to:

If this has been your dream for as long as you can remember, and you have been saving money for the real deal, or if you don’t have a budget that will restrict your decision to do this, go for it! It is a beautiful and luxurious experience. So if you can splurge a little on yourself, go for it.

Halong Bay Cruises from luxury to budget in Vietnam

Budget Alternative to Halong Bay

Visiting Vietnam and not exploring the Halong Bay area is borderline criminal. But if those cruise price tags weren't factored into your travel budget and you are now having second thoughts or already changing your plans…don’t! We have a solution for you😊.

floating village in Vietnam during a budget cruise in Halong Bay
small house in Halong Bay viewed from a cruise tour

While visiting off-season or opting for a Halong Bay day trip are valid options that can save you a significant amount of money, the most budget-friendly option is: Cat Ba Island.

Stay in Cat Ba: The Alternative to Halong Bay

Cat Ba is the largest island of the Cat Ba Archipelago and of Halong Bay. With a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, it is not only the perfect gateway to some of the best Halong Bay cruises, but a lovely destination in itself. What Cat Ba has to offer:

Less crowds: While part of the same UNESCO heritage area, Cat Ba is less well-known than Halong Bay, attracting a smaller number of tourists and providing a more intimate experience, without the crowds.

Affordability: From accommodation for all budgets, to good restaurants at decent prices and all the same activities you can find in Halong Bay for a fantastic discounted rate. Yes, including the cruises!

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man eating at a seafood restaurant in Cat Ba, Vietnam

Diverse attractions: You can visit Cat Ba for a cheap Halong Bay cruise alternative, but also to relax, and explore its stunning karst formations, caves, National park, or beaches (Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2 or Cat Co 3. Yeah originality was not their strong suit when naming these😂). There is also a Hospital Cave which was used secretly during the Vietnam War.

Gateway to Lan Ha Bay: Cat Ba is located near Lan Ha Bay, a less touristy and equally breathtaking extension of Halong Bay. Most day cruises explore both bays and you won’t even realize when one starts and the other finishes, as they are part of the same karst landscape.

Vietnam cruises on a budget in Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay
fishermen see from a cruise tour in Lan Ha Bay Vietnam
Halong Bay in Vietnam seen from above during the best time to visit

Easily reachable: You can get to Cat Ba using the exact same methods as described for Halong Bay, and the travel length is approximately the same. Check here the best transportation alternatives to get to Cat Ba from Hanoi*.

Where to Stay in Cat Ba:

Cat Ba offers a range of accommodations suitable for all types of travelers. Stay in Cat Ba town for proximity to a wide variety of restaurants and shops, Cat Ba National Park to disconnect and be surrounded by nature, or at the Cat Co Beaches so you can jump into the water as soon as you wake up. Here are some of our suggestions for hotels in Cat Ba:

New Horizon Hotel best budget hotel in Cat Ba
Blue Lagoon Cat Ba best hotel in Cat Ba Vietnam
Hotel Perle Dorient best luxury hotel in Cat Ba

If you are looking for a unique experience and want to have a glimpse of what it is to stay in a floating village, while disconnecting from the world for a day or two, check out  Lan Ha Floating Homestay*. Some people do a one day cruise and then enjoy the overnight experience here.

lan ha bay cruises

With Cat Ba being a less developed area than its neighbor Halong Bay, the number of tour operators and cruises available is inferior. But that won’t stop us from exploring its precious limestone karts on a budget!

Halong Bay in Vientam from above during cruise season

Book a cheap Halong Bay cruise from Cat Ba:

Most tours are easily arranged at one of the many tour agencies on the island upon arrival or in advance through your hotel. It is common to receive a message from your hotel upon booking a room offering their partner services and tours (some hotels receive a larger commission than others, but there is often room for bargaining regarding prices).

Nevertheless, you can also book online to guarantee a smooth sailing experience, mainly during the high season or if you have limited flexibility with dates. Click here for a 1 Day Tour* and for a 2 Days/1 Night Tour*.

fishermen in Cat Ba Vietnam

Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay

Both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay offer stunning natural beauty, but the main differences lie in their level of development and the degree of seclusion they provide to visitors. Depending on your preferences for crowd size, available amenities, and the kind of experience you seek, you might find one more appealing than the other.

floating village in Lan Ha Bay near Halong Bay in Vietnam

Planning Time

If you are ready to start planning your next trip, here you have all the usefull links you need to make it happen! By using them you are supporting our work as we might get a small fee from it. But hey! You pay the same (or might even get a discount), so is a win-win situation!

This applies to all the links in this website marked with a *

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