Absolutely everything you need to know about visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi in 2023, including a comprehensive guide on how to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay on a day tour, overnight cruise, or DIY.
Halong Bay (Hạ Long Bay) is Vietnam's best-known and most-visited tourist attraction. More than 6 million people flock to the area every year to cruise around on wooden boats, known as junks.
What makes Halong Bay so unique is the 2,000-odd limestone islands and islets that emerge from the waters off the coast. These range from towering karsts with deep caves, to tiny formations ringed by white-sand beaches.
In 1994, Halong Bay was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ever since then, it’s featured near the top of every traveller’s bucket list.
Tuan Chau island, the jumping off point for Halong Bay, is located roughly 153 km (95 miles) from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
WHERE IS HALONG BAY?
Halong Bay is located off the coast of Northern Vietnam. It is part of Quảng Ninh Province, which borders on China. The nearest major city is Halong City
Most boats and cruises depart from Halong Bay cruise port, also known as Tuan Chau Gateway. It is located on the island of Tuần Châu, 13km or a 20-minute drive from Halong City via land bridge.
The heart of Halong Bay, where boats cruise around the karsts and you get those amazing photos, is approximately 20 km off the coast from the port.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HALONG BAY TOURS
When booking a Halong Bay tour, you’ll need to enter your details including your full name, passport number and visa expiry date. If you don’t yet have your Vietnam visa, you can note this down. Remember to bring your passport with you on the day! You’ll need it in order to check in at the dock.
Some tour operators will only pick you up from a hotel, not an Airbnb. That doesn’t mean you have to organise your own transport, it just means you need to get yourself to the nearest hotel for the scheduled pick up.
Similarly, most tour operators charge an additional fee (around $10) for pick up from a hotel outside of the Old Quarter.
Most lunches are seafood-heavy, but can be customised. If you’re veg/vegan or you have dietary requirements, give the company plenty of advance warning.
It’s customary to tip your guide provided you were happy with the service. How much you leave depends on you – and the size of the group, length of the tour, etc. A small tip for your skipper or driver is also appreciated. If you visit a floating village, you often have an opportunity to leave a donation at the local school or library, etc. Do not hand money straight to children.
Most buses and vans will stop at ‘souvenir’ shops or craft workshops on the road from Hanoi to Halong. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything; it’s perfectly OK just to smile and walk through. Save your money for Hanoi's shops instead!
Be very careful to note what’s included in the tour price and what’s not. Most day tours include lunch, but some don’t include drinks. Equipment hire for kayaking is often an optional extra that you have to pay for in cash on the day.
Overnight tours often have a holiday surcharge (around $20) for Christmas, International New Year and Tet (Lunar New Year). Some companies also add a peak season surcharge to the price for bookings between October 1 and April 30.
Halong Bay tour itineraries are always subject to change. Boats will still sail if it’s raining, but if the weather is bad enough, there’s a chance your tour might be altered or even cancelled.
BEST HALONG BAY OVERNIGHT CRUISES
Top choice: Genesis Regal Cruises
With its turmeric-coloured sails and an impressive hot tub on its bow, Genesis Regal is certainly one of the flashiest boats on the bay! Their cruise itineraries cover both Halong and Lan Ha, with one of the highlights being a visit to the Dark and Light Caves by sampan boat.
Suites are positively palatial, with floor-to-ceiling windows for uninterrupted views of the water. Generously proportioned ensuites feature freestanding clawfoot tubs that also look out over the bay.
Transfers to/from Hanoi by limousine van are standard. 5-course meals (Vietnamese and French cuisine) come included. You can opt in for a range of great off-boat activities including kayaking, visiting floating villages, and cycling in Viet Hai village.