Is Halong Bay Worth Visiting? Things to Consider + the Best Cruise

Halong Bay is one of the top destinations in Vietnam and is an incredible UNESCO World Heritage site.

It’s undeniably famous, but with that popularity comes a lot of tourism, which can make people wonder: Is Halong Bay actually worth visiting? Or is it too touristy and overrun? If I go, will it be a good experience, or should I spend my precious time in Vietnam elsewhere?

It’s a good question to consider, because there’s just so much to see and do in Vietnam. Unless you have 4+ weeks in the country, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions about what to see and do.

These are all things that we considered before visiting Vietnam as well! At the end of the day, we decided to go for it, we booked a tour for Halong Bay, and ended up having an incredible experience. It’s truly one of my happiest memories of traveling in Vietnam.

short on time? here’s the tl;Dr:

Halong Bay is definitely worth it… if you’re on the right cruise. I’m convinced that this is the hands-down best cruise in Halong Bay.
It’s 2 days/1 night, takes you away from the crowds into neighboring Bai Tu Long Bay, has excellent food, fun activities, beach time, a beautiful wooden boat, and a fantastic tour guide.

Is Halong Bay Worth It? 8 Reasons Why It Definitely Is

In the following sections, I’m sharing a bunch of aspects to visiting Halong Bay that definitely made it worth the time, effort, and money to visit.

The Scenery is Truly Breathtaking

2 tall sheer grey and yellow rock islands sitting in the middle of Halong bay with multiple rock islands in the background.

Truly, it was just insane to look out the window of your Halong Bay cruise boat and see these massive cliffs rising up out of the water everywhere you looked. It was a little bit foggy when we started, so it almost felt like something out of a fantasy novel, with the outlines of ridge after ridge of sheer cliffs rising out of the fog.

It’s a Bucket List Destination

An aerial view of Halong By at the top of the large rocks with lots of boats cruising in the bay taking in the sheer rocks with the sunrise.

Look, in some ways, this type of bullet point gets a bad rap, sometimes particularly among travel bloggers, where the idea is that it’s cooler to not like the big attractions and only like going super far off the beaten path where no one else is.

And I love a secluded, unknown destination as much as the next person.

But also, the big, bucket list destinations can be fantastic. And while I don’t travel JUST for the “check mark” on my list, I do love being able to go to a bucket list spot, experience it, enjoy it, and then be able to say “I’ve been there!

I’m sure some of that satisfaction comes from being a person who gets enjoyment from making a list and checking things off (where are my other list makers at?). But some places live up to the hype, and I think Halong Bay is one that does.

That being said, no one really likes visiting a place and being with a million other people all crammed together, which brings me to my next point…

It’s Totally Possible to Get Away From the Crowds in Halong Bay

A woman in a white floral dress leans on the outside railing of the cruise looking at the rock islands in Halong bay with lots of ferns and overbrush covering the islands.

Depending on the cruise you take, you can DEFINITELY get away from the crowds in Halong Bay.

If you just go for an afternoon and take a 3 hour cruise, you’re never going to get far enough into the bay to really get away from other boats.

However, an overnight cruise gives you the time to really go deep into the bay, getting away from other boats. But some overnight cruises still keep you very close to dozens of other boats, not giving you the feeling of being isolated in nature.

Neighboring Bai Tu Long Bay and Han La Bay are both virtually indistinguishable from Halong Bay, and see far, far fewer visitors. Only a few cruises go into these bays, making it a fantastic option for anyone wanting a serene nature experience, away from crowds, and surrounded just by water and mountains.

The 2 day/1 night cruise that we did went into Bai Tu Long Bay and it was perfection – most of the time we were by ourselves, cruising in and of out the karsts in calm, quiet waters.

It’s Easy to Get There

While some may say that this is one of the downsides, for many travelers, an easy way to get to a destination is a big plus.

There are a whole host of tours that run from Hanoi to Halong Bay, a journey that takes approximately 4 hours by bus. You can easily join a tour group going to Halong Bay that will take care of all transportation logistics for you.

If you prefer to arrive in Halong Bay yourself, or your tour doesn’t offer round trip transportation, it is easy to hop on a bus or a luxury van yourself and get taken to Halong Bay from destinations in northern Vietnam.

Additionally, many hotels in Hanoi will store your luggage for you if you want to leave some bags behind while heading to Halong Bay.

It’s Actually Remarkably Clean

A picture of the clean teal water along the side of the rocky, grass overbrush on the sheer rock islands.

Only a few years ago, Halong Bay had the reputation of being extremely dirty, with a ton of trash floating in the water, especially right in the port.

Thankfully, in 2020, the city of Halong made a concerted effort to clean up the bay, and today there continue to be boats out picking up any trash that might have dropped into the water.

During our boat cruise in Halong Bay, the water was incredibly clean – we saw maybe 1 or 2 pieces of trash in the water the entire time we were on our cruise.

It’s important to note that the water in Halong Bay is naturally murky, but not due to pollution. Instead, it is because the limestone from the cliffs runs off and dissolves in the water, creating murkiness.

So although there are coral reefs in the bay, you actually can’t see them very well when snorkeling. On a clear day, though, the water is still a beautiful turquoise color.

You Will Enjoy Fresh Seafood

A specialty seafood dish with shrimp on a cup like dish and flowers and peppers on the side.

Of course, it’s really not a big surprise that a coastal destination would have good seafood, but it’s worth mentioning here, because the seafood you can eat in Halong Bay is both varied, high quality, and delicious.

You can find many fish and seafood restaurants on shore, but the cruises also serve top of the line seafood. As someone who likes some fish and seafood, but not everything, I was really impressed with the quality and variety offered on our Halong Bay cruise.

We tried everything from prawns, to oysters, to fish soup, to sea bass, to squid, to stuffed crab. Everything was undeniably excellent quality, and I really appreciated the opportunity to sample so many types of seafood available in the bay (even if every type of seafood wasn’t my most favorite).

Ready to Book? Check prices and availability for this Halong Bay cruise here

Plenty of Exciting and Interesting Activities

A woman with a gray lifejacket sits in a canoe looking at a large sheer rock formation.

An overnight cruise in Halong Bay will give you the chance to experience quite a few activities in and around the bay. Most common activities include kayaking, swimming, visiting caves, visiting floating islands, and fishing.

On our cruise to Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, we kayaked through the bay to a small, private beach, where we had the chance to relax on the beach and swim for an hour or two.

A man and woman hold hands on the shore of one of the floating islands with sheer cliffs and lots of green ferns on the sides.

We also visited a cave in Bai Tu Long Bay that was used long ago by villagers to shelter in during storms. This cave has beautiful rock formations covered in glistening, ancient coral.

We got to enjoy activities on board the boat, such as sunrise tai chi, a cooking demonstration, and storytelling about the legends of Halong Bay. And we even were able to try squid fishing off the boat at night.

Halong Bay Cruises Are Quite Affordable

The room along a Halong Bay cruise with a king size bed with white sheets and a deck that shows view of the teal a water and floating islands.

Okay, so I’ll start this section out by saying that our Halong Bay cruise was definitely the most expensive thing we did in Vietnam travel budget. Compared to prices in the rest of Vietnam, Halong Bay cruises are comparatively expensive.

However, if you live in the United States or Europe and are visiting from there, the cost of an overnight cruise, particularly when you consider everything that is included in the price, is an excellent value and very affordable.

Potential Cons when Visiting Halong Bay

While I definitely think exploring Halong Bay is worth it, these are a few of the negatives you may experience:

There Are a Lot of People in the Port

When you arrive at the Cruise Port, there will be a lot of people, there’s no getting around it. There’s one main hall where a whole bunch of cruises gather their passengers and depart from, so when you arrive, you will be with many other people.

The Cruises Had a Very Specific Itinerary

The cruise we did, and it seems like most cruises are this way, definitely had a very specific itinerary that they followed. Thankfully, our cruise staff and the tour guide were so friendly and made sure that everything we did felt special and new for us.

The Cruise You Book May Not Be Your Style

Be sure that you’re booking the right cruise for your travel style. If you want serene, quiet, and immersed in nature, this cruise is absolutely the right option for you.

However, if you want to party and enjoy a more boozy cruise, then the cruise we did isn’t going to be a good fit (although our cruise did have alcohol available).

No Matter How Long You Stay, It Won’t Be Enough

Whether you do a one night or multi-night cruise, I can assure you, it won’t be enough time! I loved cruising through the bay and was sad to leave.

The Wrap Up Is Halong Bay Worth Visiting?

I definitely think that it’s worth the time, effort, and money to visit Halong Bay… but with the caveat that the cruise you choose to do is going to impact your experience greatly.

For that reason, I’d highly recommend the 2 day/1 night cruise into Bai Tu Long Bay that we did. I can 100% vouch for the route, the itinerary, activities, food – really, everything was perfect.

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