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Lisa Owen


Halong Bay is one of the jewels in Vietnam's crown. Thousands of tourists flock to the emerald bay each year and it's easy to see why. It is bursting with picture perfect scenery as you glide past limestone formations and islands looming large in the smooth water.

Halong Bay means ‘descending dragon’ in ancient Vietnamese. The legend goes that in the very beginnings of Vietnam, the country’s people had to fight against invaders coming by sea. Dragons were sent to help the Vietnamese, and giant emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were used to fend off these invaders. These emeralds formed an impenetrable wall and eventually over time, they eroded and became the limestone cliffs and islands you see in Halong Bay today.

Boats sailing in Halong Bay

How To Get There

You can’t go far in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi without seeing a package for a Halong Bay tour on display. Hanoi is used by most people as the gateway to Halong Bay as it’s where most tours start. Most Halong Bay cruise packages will include the option for a transfer to and from Hanoi. Tour prices and quality vary greatly so make sure you shop around and ensure you are buying from a reputable company with reviews. The journey to the Halong Bay port is about a four hour drive from Hanoi, which includes a 30 minute comfort stop about halfway. Transfers will most likely drop you at your ship. Alternatively you can choose to head to Halong Bay independently and then pick up a ferry to one of the islands. A popular route I heard many backpackers take was out to Cat Ba Island.

Boats docked in Halong Bay

Cruising Halong Bay

There’s many Halong Bay packages on offer, ranging from budget to luxury vessels. You can opt to take a party boat with packages including drinks, or you can take a more relaxing option and cruise along in luxury and enjoy the scenery as you glide along the water.

room on cruise ship

Most cruise packages seem to include at least a cave visit and kayaking. I went on a mid range priced ship and my package included a visit to Surprise Cave, a cooking class, squid fishing, tai chi session, and kayaking. My Halong Bay excursion began in the early afternoon, heading out into the bay with a dozen other ships laden with tourists on the same trip. I was lucky to get a sunny afternoon to cruise the bay after Vietnam had been plagued with rain due to their wet season running a couple of weeks later than usual. So I headed straight for the sun deck on board to soak up some sun and enjoy the view.

sunset over mountains

Shortly after setting sail, the ship made a visit to Surprise Cave. We got on a small boat, donned our lifejackets, and sailed to the cave jetty.

Suprise Cave

A guide took us into the cave, pointing out key points of interest. Be warned that this is a popular cave and there will be lots of tour groups doing the same thing as you. There are many ships offering packages to less popular caves if you’re keen to get more off the beaten track. We were then back on the boat ahead of a Vietnamese cooking class, which was followed by a four course dinner – with two main meals! Then you could have a go at squid fishing.

cooking classes

The next morning, we packed a lot in. The day started with an early morning tai chi session for 30 minutes, followed by your choice of kayaking or a visit to a pearl farm. I chose kayaking and had a great time paddling across the bay even though the sky was clouded over with thick fog. Then it was back on the boat to enjoy a few hours of sailing on the bay as we made our way back to the port.


Taking a package one night cruise out to Halong Bay is a great way to see the beautiful area, but only spending what amounts to 24 hours on board the ship makes the cruise a little rushed. If you can afford it and have the time, I would recommend taking a two day cruise to see Halong Bay so you have time to enjoy the bay, and enjoy the activities on offer such as kayaking, visiting an island or hiking up to a viewpoint.

Halong Bay

Things You Should Know:

  • There are many agencies offering tours to Halong Bay. I heard many people get caught by travel agencies in Hanoi showing glamourous pictures of boats but when people arrived they were nothing like the pictures. Choose wisely. I ended up booking my cruise on Booking.com a few days before, reading the reviews before I booked. The cruise ship was beautiful and modern and was exacty like the pictures.
  • While the Halong Bay waters look inviting, we were advised not to swim due to lots of jellyfish in the water.
  • While many cruise ships offer the itinerary I did, some are slightly different visiting a different cave or doing a hike. Some are party boats, some are ships for those who want to relax and enjoy the sights. You can choose to simply do an overnight cruise or go for two or three nights. There are also packages which include visits to one of the many islands in Halong Bay such as Cat Ba Island.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.