Vietnam is a beautiful country which is in bucket list of many travelers. Vietnam appears to be a young and dynamic country that you definitely should visit once. But when you open up your web browser and search for planning a trip to Vietnam, you end up with thousands of results and I doubt that you will start with Tripadvisor with hundreds reviews and comments. I’m not going to write a long blog about the whole Vietnam, only 1 destination that you have to visit while you are traveling to Vietnam – Halong Bay.
Why do I start with Halong Bay? Because it’s the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a national treasure. Now you have the destination, then by which? There are so many tour operators, agents, cruise in Halong Bay, which one is the best, what should you choose? There are 5 points you should consider before clicking booking button.
Doing GOOD research
The best source of research is your friends, asking for their recommendations, calling support from your friends, friends-of-friends, your fellow travelers who you might meet on the way. Asking them to share their experiences whether it was a fantastic or a terrible trip, it will help you narrow down your opinions. And, don’t ask a backpacker if you want a luxury stay.
Be careful with a too-good-to-be-true price such as US$60 for 2-day 1-night or you will get an old and crowded cruise with cut-short itinerary.
Consider 3 types: budget, middle range and luxury? What make them different?
While there is a huge difference between budget boats and middle range/luxury options, the gap between middle range cruise and luxury is quite small: better food and better services. From my experience, tour guide of budget cruise speak decent English while for middle-range and luxury options, the English of staff is really excellent. The room type and services have huge differences, for the budget trip, you get merely a bed and food and staff don’t care much about you. In middle-range and luxury cruises, you are severed better and the food is much more delicious. Keep in mind some big names for middle and luxury agents: Indochina Junk, Au Co, Bhaya, and Starlight. About the price, budget cruises offer price from US$70 per person for 2D1N, and middle-range cruises have price around US$170 per person to more than US$220 per person for luxury option.
Check itinerary: How long should you stay? Bai Tu Long or Halong bay?
There are 2 main areas: Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. The Halong Bay is well known, therefore, this area is usually crowded with tourist boats; there is no way you can take pictures without capturing other cruises. On the other hand, Bai Tu Long is much less huddled, only a few companies have cruise sailing in that area, the top operator is Indochina Junk, this company has an exclusive right to operate in many caves and beaches in Bai Tu Long Bay.
Now you have 2 options of the bay, how about the length of your trips, day trip, 2-day 1-night, 3-day 2-night, or longer. I recommend staying at least 1 night aboard, to have full experience of Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay. The main activities for any tour are kayaking, swimming, and visiting caves, for the day trip, you only have enough time for those 3 activities, so stay overnight and enjoy more extra activities. You can have chances to visit fishing village, squid fishing, BBQ on the beach or Dinner in cave.
Type of cruise: charter or joining, steel or wooden?
The cruises in Halong Bay all painted in white according to authority law, but personally, I love the old and traditional wooden color. Regarding the prince, there are 2 types, one is charter (means you rent the whole boat) and the other one is joining cruise where you join with other travelers. Charter cruises are suitable for couple and small family; usually vary from 1 double room to 2 double rooms or 1 double room and 1 triple room. And most charter cruises are made from wood; they called junk (a type of boat designed in Chinese style with sails). The joining cruises come with both wooden and steel options, the joining wooden boats have about 10 double/twin rooms and for steel joining cruises have more than 24 rooms, so if you love meeting many new friends, having more space and add-on service, I would suggest you choose steel ship.
Best time to visit?
While timing depends on you, whenever you can take leave and ready for a vacation. You should also consider weather during that time in the destination. The best time to visit Halong is from October to May. The ideal months are October, November, March and April, the temperature is cooler than in summer, your trip is less likely to be canceled due to typhoon, and the weather is not too hot like it is in summer but not too cold and foggy like winter’s weather. Avoid holiday of local people such as Independence Day, New year time and Lunar New Year, if you don’t want to be jam-packed in both van and cruises.