Halong Bay in the northwest Vietnam is known for its spectacular scenery. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and consists of 1969 islands of different sizes. These islets are all made of limestones; some having majestic caves.
Two days and one night cruise in Halong Bay is the most popular cruise option for tourists in Vietnam.
When we started researching for our Vietnam trip, everyone recommended Halong Bay cruise. There is an option of 1N/2D cruise and 2N/3D cruise. While the itinerary is available for these cruises on the websites, we could not find any more details. This post is for those looking at details on what to expect in a 2D/1N cruise in Halong Bay.
Is Halong Bay worth a visit?
I can count Halong Bay among the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. There are hundreds of limestone mountains of all sizes and the view is breathtaking. I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Vietnam to plan a visit to Halong Bay.
Keep in mind that Halong Bay is THE MOST VISITED place in Vietnam (by both locals and tourists) and keep your expectations in check about the crowd. We visited in December which is a non-peak season because of the rains and cold. However, we were blown away by the crowds. The selfie obsessed crowd on TiTop island summit and pushing and shoving can get on your nerves! I can only imagine how bad it would be in peak season when the weather is good!!
How long should one stay in Halong Bay?
Halong Bay tour operators do day tours as well as overnight cruises for 1N/2D and 2N/3D. 1 night and 2 day tours are the most popular. The day tours have different options; with some covering only the surprise cave while others doing surprise cave and kayaking. I will recommend atleast one night on the cruise to get a feel of the place. You can read my review of Halong Lavender Cruise on Tripadvisor.
Halong Bay cruises start and end at the jetty on Tuan Chau Island. The island itself merits a day or two if you have time.
What attractions are covered in Halong Bay cruise?
Most of the 1N/2D cruises do a standard itinerary; sharing space in the central Halong Bay. Some of the luxury cruises go to Bai Tu Long Bay; which is also part of the World Heritage site; but slightly different location. Bai Tu Long cruises go further into the same area; where lesser number of cruises are permitted.
A typical Halong Bay 1N/2D cruise would involve:
- Climbing Titop island mountain to get magnificent 360° view of the Halong Bay
- Spending time on the Titop island beach / snorkelling
- Kayaking / Boating around Luon cave
- Exploring Hang Sung Sot (also called Surprising Cave)
- Cooking classes / fishing / dancing / board games
- Tai chi exercises on the deck
The cruises which go to Bai Tu Long Bay skip all these attractions and head to a Thien Canh Son / Dong Thien Cung cave (also called the paradise caves). It is smaller than Surprising caves but has similar structure. They also do kayaking and snorkelling around an island close to this cave and do not go near the Titop island / Surprising caves.
What happens in the 1N/2D cruise?
Day 1: Morning
The overnight Halong Bay cruise start from pick-up at Hanoi between 7:30 am – 8:30 am. If you are already in Tuan Chau island, the tour operator will pick you from your hotel there.
The bus stops for half an hour in Hai Duong Province at a souvenir shop. They promote the shop saying it is run by people with disabilities. The prices are atrociously high; even by tourists standard. There are beautiful marble statues, silk garments, embroidered clothes, jewellery and framed art pieces.
The bus reaches jetty at around 12:30 pm and you are taken to the cruise ship on a smaller boat. This small boat is tied to the cruise boat throughout the trip and is used to explore the attractions.
Day 1: Afternoon
Kayaking / Boating to Luon cave: After check-in, lunch and enjoying the landscape for a while from the cruise ship, the small boat takes everyone to the Bo Hon island. This island is the hub for kayaking. You can take a kayak and go to Luon cave, which is an open air cave accessible only by small boat/kayak. To enter the cave, one has to pass under a 100 meter long arch. Those who are not comfortable kayaking can also opt for bamboo boats; each of which can accommodate 12 people at a time.
This activity was something that we did not enjoy much; not because of the nature of the activity but because of the crowd. There was pushing and shoving all around. Because it was cold, most of the guests opted for boats. The ones who opted for kayaks got to start earlier because kayaks were easily available. I cannot even imagine what this place would look like in the peak season!!
Titop island: After Luon cave, the small boat takes all guests to Titop island; which is only 1 km away from the Bo Hon island. If you have seen the breathtaking photos of Halong Bay; there is a good chance they are from the mountaintop on Titop island. The island has a clean beach where you can see tourists playing beach volleyball and football. It also has an observation deck on the top of the mountain. You need to climb 427 steps to reach the top, but its definitely worth the effort. The steps are little steep but not very difficult; and our 8 yr old managed them very easily.
We went in December when it was cold. If you are in Halong Bay during a better season, you can also snorkel in the afternoon.
Day 1: Evening
Cooking Class / Fishing / Dancing / Games: You are back in the cruise by 5:30 pm. The guide then organises activities inside the cruise for entertainment. This involves a small cooking class. Our Lavender cruise guide Alex taught us how to make spring rolls. Depending on which cruise you are in, the in-house activities may differ. You can then have dinner and relax with board games or meeting other fellow travellers.
Day 2: Morning
Tai Chi classes: After you get up early to enjoy the beautiful view, you can join Tai Chi classes on the deck. Tai Chi is a Chinese martial arts which is practised both for health benefits and self-defence.
Hang Sung Sot (Surprising Cave): After early breakfast, you are taken to Hang Sung Sot, also called Surprising caves. This is one of the largest cave in Halong Bay with thousands of stalactites. The cave has some natural light filtering from outside; but is well lit by artificial lights. There are some easy 80 steps to climb up to reach the cave. The entrance and exit to this cave are separate; so there is no coming back once you start. Your guide will help you identify stones that look like animals, swords and many other things. The cave is beautiful and if it wasn’t for a guided tour, we would have spent much more time here (one of the reasons why we don’t prefer group tours; but there is no option here! You can read more about my views on if tour packages are worth it on https://coveringmiles.com/are-tour-packages-worth-it/).
Day 2: Late Morning
After you are back from the surprising cave, you are supposed to check-out and spend rest of the time on the deck. The crew needs to keep the rooms ready for next set of guests. Lunch is served early at around 11 am and then you check-out by noon.
Those who are headed back to Hanoi are taken by bus. We had decided to stay back in Tuan Chau island for a night and were dropped back to Moon Bay hotel on the island.
What happens on a 2N/3D cruise?
Most of the operators also offer 2N/3D cruise. On the 2nd day of this cruise, you are taken for a day-long tour in the small boat. You can see small islands like tortoise islet and man-head islet. You can also explore Trong Cave (popularly known as Drum cave). Guests have lunch on the boat itself; followed by a visit to the Pearl farm. They can see the entire process of harvesting pearl. This is followed by visit to another cave called Me Cung cave. It is supposedly much smaller than the surprising cave but as interesting. It is also much less crowded, understandably because not many guests opt for 2N/3D cruise in Halong Bay. The guests are back on the cruise by evening to join the others for dinner / evening fun.
Have you been on a Halong Bay Cruise? What did you love about it? Do you have any suggestions for those headed to Halong Bay?