The first thing you must decide when coming to Halong Bay is if you want a cruise at all. There are other things to do around here apart from floating on the water. However, most people are happy to cruise the waters of Halong Bay, and there are trips of varying budgets from which you can choose!
If you ask a travel agent or your hotel tour desk what the differences are between the various cruises to Halong Bay, they will all tell you the same: the more expensive it is, the better the boat and the better the food. But how different are they and what’s going to suit you and your budget? You should expect to pay between US$65 to US$185 per person, including transfers, so it’s seemingly not cheap.
I used the ultra-reliable tour company Indochina Junk on my visit to Halong Bay, which was perfect for all of my needs, but there are other reputable companies available, such as Paloma Cruise, Halong Bay Cruise and Jasmine Cruise. The tours all have some things in common. They all leave and arrive back in Hanoi at about the same time, all stop at a shop and café for a rest break, all include two lunches – dinner and breakfast – a bed for the night, a kayaking opportunity, plus a visit to a cave. All of a sudden, the price doesn’t actually seem quite as expensive now, does it?
Although there are no hard and fast rules, bear in mind that you will find different types of guests on different tours. In general, expect a younger crowd with singles on the budget boat, more couples on the flashpacker boat, and older, more affluent guests on the more luxurious cruises. You’ll also find a difference at the harbour, as for some reason, the budget tours leave the registration process until you are squeezed into the departure lounge, whereas for the more luxurious tours, the paperwork is completed in advance by the guide so you walk straight through to your boat upon arrival.
One final note is for solo travellers: consider the dreaded “single supplement”. Assuming you are happy to share a room on the boat, you may not have to pay anything extra. However, if you did want your own room onboard (pending availability), you should expect to pay a “single supplement” of at least $30 per night.
Just remember that – weather permitting – Halong Bay is a remarkable spectacle no matter which boat you’re on!