when we went: november 2022

Planning your trip to Vietnam? Head to this post first to read about some things to keep in mind as you prepare + see our overall itinerary!

HaLong Bay is a must see when you’re in northern Vietnam. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site of almost 2,000 limestone islands, and the way to see it is on a cruise ship. It’s a touristy activity but it is absolutely stunning. Read on for an overview of our weekend experience there! 

Our trip

After a 2.5 hour drive from Hanoi to HaLong Bay and a quick boat ride from the dock to our cruiseship, we started the experience with a buffet lunch & checking into our room as we set sail from the harbor. 

Our first stop was kayaking, where we were able to explore some caves nestled into the nearby islands. 

After kayaking, we had happy hour as the sun set — the view against the backdrop of the islands was absolutely stunning. They also did a food demonstration, where we learned how to make fresh Vietnamese spring rolls and make some ourselves.

Dinner was a multi-course affair, complete with more spring rolls, lots of fresh seafood, soup, and dessert. We were only about 3 days into our Southeast Asian adventure at this point and still pretty jetlagged, so I was basically falling asleep in my food & went straight to bed after dinner hahah. 

Thanks to said jetlag it was easy to wake up for sunrise, which was just as stunning as the previous night’s sunset. 

We then piled into some bamboo boats where we took a ride through some more caves. 

We had a buffet breakfast & checked out of our rooms while cruising back to the harbor, and the van got us back to Hanoi by around 3pm. 

It was a quick 1 night trip but it was the perfect amount of time for us! We had a lot of downtime to just soak in the beautiful views, but the kayaking and bamboo boats were great activites to see the islands and caves a bit closer up. 

looking to visit?

Planning, logistics, pros & cons

First up: I recommend waiting to book your HaLong Bay trip until you’re at your hotel in Hanoi. There are LOTS of cruise companies online so the options are overwhelming, and chances are your hotel staff can walk you through their recommendations and get you a deal on the price, too.

Overall, the cruises through HaLong Bay are either 1 or 2 nights, depending on how long you want to stay, and it is very much a get-what-you-pay-for situation. There are budget options and there are luxury options; there are options that are good for solo backpackers who want to make friends & party and options that are best for families.

Since cruise ships give me the heebies, we chose luxury with the company Le Theatre Cruise that was known to be better for families. We opted for 1 night instead of 2, because we were aiming to pack in a lot in our 5 week trip, and it ended up being a good amount of time for us. Here’s my list of pros & cons for going with a luxury option like Le Theatre Cruise: 


  • The ship itself and the rooms were really nice. Even the shower was a rainshower situation with abundant hot water. 

  • They took a slightly different route around the islands, so our views were less obstructed by ships—this was huge

  • The cost included tolls for the new highway between Hanoi & HaLong Bay, which takes 2.5 hours (instead of the old route that some buses still take, which is 5 hours). 


  • The nicer option is catered to couples and families (there were a good amount of kids), and everyone very much keeps to themselves. This may be a pro or a con depending on your preference. If you’re a solo traveler, this option wouldn’t be very fun & I’d recommend a company that caters more to that! 

  • This isn’t specific to our cruise company, but the Wifi on board was barely usable, and you’re in the middle of nowhere so you won’t have cell phone service. Make sure you go during a time when you can fully unplug. 

  • It was more expensive… about $200 USD/person for only a night (but everything was included except for drinks). It was the beginning of our trip and everything else in Southeast Asia was pretty cheap, so we felt it was worth it for a nicer experience. 

Overall, HaLong Bay is a must must must when visiting Hanoi. Next up we were off to Hoi An in central Vietnam—check out my post about it here!

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