2-Night Halong Bay Cruise in Vietnam

2-night Halong Bay Cruise: Why one night is not enough

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My desire to visit Vietnam was ignited the first time I glimpsed a photograph of Halong Bay. It countered the image of Vietnam I had conjured in my head; the one where chaotic streets are overcrowded with motorbikes and stifled with pollution. The picture of Halong Bay showed a different scene entirely – one of tree-covered karst mountains rising from an azure sea. I was intent on traveling to Vietnam just to see Halong Bay with my own eyes. I didn’t know it then, but my expectations would be surpassed when we actually experienced the UNESCO World Heritage site on a 2-night Halong Bay cruise.

Karsts and boat on Halong Bay Vietnam

When we traveled to Vietnam during our yearlong journey around the world, we had less than a month to explore the country (due to a bit of misunderstanding regarding our visa application). Our time was limited, but beyond our first two night’s accommodation at the Serenity Hotel in Old Town Hanoi, we had made zero other plans. Our online research was highlighted by scam alerts, making us weary of booking anything in advance. Instead, we decided to allow our instincts from personal encounters guide our way through Vietnam. We hoped to gain insight from fellow travelers, but it was in our conversations with our hotel staff in Hanoi that led us to book a 2-night Halong Bay cruise.

As we waded through the mounds of glossy brochures while eating breakfast at the hotel, the staff helped explain our options from cheap to luxury – all of which were offered as single day trips or multiple day, overnight expeditions. We wre told that the differences in price would be apparent, not just in the quality of the boat but the food and the tour guides too. Most junk boat operators offered the full range of options. The hotel steered us toward the junk boat company of their choice (whether it was because a cousin worked there or honest feedback from fellow guests, we’ll never know). We quickly settled on a mid-range cruise that fit our budget; however, the biggest decision for us was the length of time: Should we go on a 1- or 2-night Halong Bay cruise?

AClass Opera, junk boat, 2-night Halong Bay Cruise

Our consideration was based on three factors: time, money and experience. How the 2-night Halong Bay cruise won us over was the opportunity for deeper exploration with a more intimate group of travelers during our second day on the boat. Halong Bay was what lured us to Vietnam in the first place, so we were willing to stretch our budget for an extra day on the sea amidst the giant landmasses. In the end, the second day of our Halong Bay cruise was one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam.

 

2-Night Halong Bay Cruise Itinerary

Day One

(Read a detailed account of Day One of our 2-night Halong Bay Cruise)

Halong Bay karsts and junk boats from Ti Top Mountain, Vietnam

  • Take shuttle bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay; tender to ship
  • Meet crew, review itinerary, check into rooms
  • Eat lunch
  • Spend free time on boat
  • Go kayaking in the sea
  • Go hiking on a karst
  • Go swimming at a beach
  • Drink wine on the deck
  • Eat dinner
  • Join in on karaoke fun
  • Try squid fishing

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Day Two

(Read a detailed account of Day Two of our 2-night Halong Bay Cruise)

Kayaking through a cave on Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • Take Tai Chi class 
  • Eat breakfast
  • Board day cruiser boat, meet guide and crew
  • Go hiking on a karst
  • Go swimming at a beach
  • Visit an oyster farm
  • Go swimming around boat (and diving from boat)
  • Eat lunch
  • Go kayaking through caves
  • Go swimming around boat (and diving from boat)
  • Return to our junk boat
  • Drink wine on the deck
  • Eat dinner
  • Sing a round of karaoke
  • Try squid fishing

 

Day Three

(Read a detailed account of Day Three of our 2-night Halong Bay Cruise)

Distant Karsts on Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • Take Tai Chi class
  • Visit Amazing Cave
  • Participate in hands-on cooking demonstration
  • Spend free time on boat
  • Eat lunch
  • Depart junk boat and take shuttle bus back to Hanoi

 

Details and Tips for a 2-Night Halong Bay Cruise

Towering karsts on Halong Bay, Vietnam

  • As we understand it, most of the junk boats carry 1- and 2-night Halong Bay cruise passengers on every ship. On our first night, there were about 25 passengers, only six of us were on the boat for two nights. In the morning, while we boarded the smaller boat that maneuvered deeper into the bay, the rest of the 1-night cruise passengers visited the cave and then sailed back to port (following what would be our Day Three itinerary). The boat then welcomed new passengers and sailed back into the bay. When our second day of exploration was complete, we joined them for wine on the deck, then dinner and subsequent activities.

 

  • The shuttle bus to and from Hanoi is included in the price of the cruise. It takes about 3.5 hours, once all of the passengers have been picked up from the various hotels. A guide rides the bus as well, which allowed us time to ask questions and learn more about Vietnam. Not everyone on the shuttle bus boarded the same junk boat. There is a stop mid-way through the drive for a bathroom break.

 

  • We paid $400 USD total for two people for the 2-night Halong Bay Cruise with Aclass. After we booked, we were informed by our hotel staff that we had been upgraded to a better ship without extra cost. We are not certain if we were lucky or how common this practice might be. The amount we paid was less than anywhere stated in the brochures.

 

  • Alcoholic beverages and other drinks are not included in the price of the 2-night Halong Bay Cruise. Price of a beer aboard the junk boat is about $2 USD.

 

  • A note of advice: Don’t get too caught up in the details. The iconic sails will most likely not be raised on any of the boats. Jumping from the big junk boats is no longer allowed – and may not be possible from the smaller boats either. Beautiful Cave might be visited instead of Amazing Cave. The guide on the shuttle bus may not be the guide on the boat. Last minute changes may occur. Like a lot of things in Vietnam, what is presented isn’t always what is delivered. Try not to agonize what is happening behind the scenes; instead focus on the big picture: getting to spend time on the water while marveling at the karsts.

 

Final thoughts on our 2-night Halong Bay Cruise

Red sunset on Halong Bay, Vietnam

Looking back at our experience on Halong Bay, we couldn’t have imagined spending only one night on the junk boat. We think we would have felt rushed – in and out and gone. On the first day of our 2-night Halong Bay cruise, we sailed into surrounding karsts, but we did so with about 20 other boats the same size as ours. Although the scenery was like nothing we had seen before, watching several boats all anchor in the same cove was a bit of a racket.

Perhaps if our visit to Vietnam had been limited to only one week, then one night might have sufficed. But, spending the second day on Halong Bay away from the crowds and in the hidden coves was exactly how I first envisioned visiting Halong Bay would be. We felt solitude amongst the quiet nature – just us and the karsts and the sea.

 

Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip

Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for the caves. I (Sarah) traveled with these shoes by Skechers and Reef. Kris prefered wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.

We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your 2-night cruise on Halong Bay. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).

We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for our complete packing list and other travel resources!


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2-Night Halong Bay Cruise in Vietnam

2-Night Halong Bay Cruise in Vietnam
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9 thoughts on “2-night Halong Bay Cruise: Why one night is not enough

  1. Jackie

    We also did the two-nights cruise and didn’t regret it. But we did it in 2009 during Chinese New Year in February, while we were living in India, and I’m very happy to tell you that we were just three couples on the boat and the sea was very clean and there was only another junk boat sailing with us. Also, the “upgrade to a better boat and cabin is pretty common and it mostly goes with where you come from. We were very surprised by how cheap booze was on the boat!, and food wasn’t bad at all (Asian food lovers here…)
    By the way, it happens that you guys stayed at the same place (Airbnb) we did in Mostar, and Tarik suggested we should get in touch since the four of us are doing the same gipsy thing g around the world.
    What else are you going to do in Vietnam? We spent a couple of weeks in Hanoi, the Mekong and Saigon and loved it. I hope you enjoy it as well.
    Happy travels!

    • Hi Jackie – So nice to connect with you! Sounds like you had a great cruise on Halong Bay – and a great experience in Vietnam. We were actually there in September 2014 (we just get asked about 1- or 2-night Halong Bay cruises a lot, so decided to write a post about it finally!). We are in Germany now and staying in the region for awhile. We have plans to head back to Mostar this spring or fall – and we are looking forward to seeing Tarik again! Where are you traveling at the moment?
      Travel well!

      • Jackie

        We’re spending three months in Italy now. Please send our regards to Tarik, he’s such a nice guy.
        We were in Germany several times, a heaven for beer lovers!, and always had a great time there. We did the Schwartzwald (Black Forest) and some amazing little towns along the Rhine (again, look up for the castles where you can have a pint of local beer for a few euros), pretty much all of Bayern and the west of the country. It’s a very interesting country and a little underestimated in my opinion. Besides that, money goes a long way in the south and there’re so many day trips you can do with Deutsche Bahn (the German railway, sorry, I don’t know if you speak German).
        Anyway, please feel to contact me (by PM, we follow each other on Instagram) if you need any ideas to have a blast in Germany.
        Happy travels and let’s stay in touch!

  2. We are going to Vietnam and Cambodia in September. I would love to do this cruise but I am a little bit afraid about the rocking of the boat because I get sea sick very easily. How was that?

    • We had calm weather and smooth seas when we were on Halong Bay, so there wasn’t any rocking at all. I get motion sickness sometimes if I sleep on a boat (or train), so I wear Sea Bands. The bands are worn on your wrists with a pressure point button to naturally deal with sea sickness rather than take medication. They worked great for me on the Halong Bay cruise. Perhaps another option for you would be to take the boat to Cat Ba Island – and spend your nights on the island, rather than the boat – but still get to spend time in less touristy parts of Halong Bay.

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