Cruise Halong

Halong Bay, Hanoi & North, Vietnam

Cruise in style through Vietnam’s most famous bay, where floating villages huddle at the foot of mountains that rise sheer from the sea
Imperious Halong Bay - a Unesco World Heritage site that resembles the set of a James Bond movie - has 1,500 forested limestone karsts rising sharply from the azure waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. You zip up from Hanoi early in the morning, then decant onto one of these wonderful junks for a rather good lunch while sailing through magical landscape, stopping off to check out beaches, snorkelling in crystal clear waters, cruising past floating villages, then anchoring up amid magnificent scenery before tucking into a 5-course dinner.

After a nightcap on the top deck, drop down to your cabin for a good night’s sleep and find comfy beds, shiny wood, huge views and fancy showers. Sleep with your curtains open and wake to magical views. In the morning there’s tai chi on the deck (your teacher’s performance is quite sublime) and a trip to mountain caves for the best views in the islands. Then you jump back on board for a leisurely brunch before heading onwards. Choose Halong Violet or Jasmine for a traditional, great-value Halong Bay experience, or the snazzy new Ginger for an upmarket junk experience through less-touristy Lan Ha Bay.

Why we chose this partner

  • Of the many Halong cruise operators, we found these guys the most comfortable and the most innovative: they have hosted ambassadors and travel journalists, and feedback has been superb
  • Our own experience with them was excellent
  • The newest vessel, Halong Ginger, is very upmarket, with a plunge pool, live cooking demos and a spa on board
  • Ginger cruises through the less-touristy Lan Ha Bay, with a stop to cycle on Cat Ba island - perfect if you want to get off the beaten track; while Violet and Jasmine offer 2- or 3-day classic Halong Bay experiences

Please be aware

  • Halong Bay is increasingly busy with cruise boats, but you can get away from the crowds on these smaller boats, especially Ginger, which ploughs a different route
  • The 2-day itinerary on Violet/Jasmine is pretty packed - we'd strongly recommend the 3-day one if you can afford it
  • The 3-hour drive here from Hanoi is somewhat hectic, but unavoidable

Best time to go

The rainy season here is at its peak in July and August; September is also wet. July is the hottest month, January the coolest. The dry season runs from November to April.

Our top tips

Nights can get chilly, so bring a sweater. Also bring a pair of walking boots, a lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain, and your swimmers.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Room:

Lodging

Halong Violet is a small but luxurious wood-clad craft, built to resemble a traditional Asian junk. It has just 6 cabins: 2 unique Junior Suites (main deck with balcony) and 4 decadent upper-deck Imperial Suites, complete with large windows and private balconies for expansive views of the bay.

Halong Ginger is slightly bigger and the most upmarket, with a swimming pool, steam bath and spa facilities. There are just 12 Suites, spread over its 3 floors: all beautifully elegant with shiny wood floors, bamboo panelling and dove-grey tiles - so all attention is drawn to the huge views of sea and rock through big windows and from private balconies. Excellent mattresses are covered in crisp white linen, sparkling shower rooms come with robes and potions. The 2 Regent Suites have Jacuzzi tubs, too, and are more flamboyant in decor with scarlet mural walls.

Halong Jasmine is the biggest boat of all with 24 cabins and a sophisticated, luxurious interior - 1930s Indochine style. The shiny wood floors and pressed bamboo panelling is still present, but there are additional comforts - private balconies with curved chairs; spa baths that overlook the ocean and bathtubs. You can choose from 3 categories: Premium (fairly standard); Deluxe (with private balcony) or the decadent Suites (with private balcony and Jacuzzi).

FOOD

You certainly don’t starve on Halong Cruises. You embark for lunch and the junk cruises through the islands while you eat. Course after course comes to your table: Vietnamese chicken soup, fresh spring rolls, Halong Bay squid, grilled prawns with lemongrass, chilli chicken, stir-fried beef, steamed rice topped with sesame, then tropical fruits and yoghurt. If you're sailing on Halong Ginger, you can watch the chefs at work in the live kitchen.

Dinners are equally indulgent: pumpkin soup, mango salad, char-grilled beef skewers, prawn cocktail, lamb masala with coconut rice, then chocolate cake. In the mornings, you may rise early for a trip to some caves; coffee and patisseries are served before the trip, then, when you return, a buffet brunch is served as you sail onwards. You’ll find cereal and yoghurt, rolls and toast, freshly-sliced fruit and freshly-squeezed juices, then a hot buffet for Vietnamese noodles or bacon and eggs. Both junks have lovely indoor and outdoor dining areas.

Activities

  • Make land at a small beach, where you can stop for a drink or swim in the sea
  • Snorkel in clear blue water or set sail on a sea kayak and check out the caves
  • Cruise past floating villages that shelter in the calm waters at the foot of mountains
  • Go cycling on Cat Ba island or discover the caves of Sung Sot - they resemble a set from Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • Before anchoring for the night, you decant into a punt-like bamboo rowing boat for a stunning dusk journey that takes you across looking-glass waters, under limestone tunnels, into hidden lagoons and then back to the boat as the sun sets
  • Wake for tai chi on the top deck. Your performance might be hopeless (ours certainly was), but the on-board master will show you how it’s done with seamless perfection; it is worth getting up simply to see this

Activities include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Cooking demos
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
Activity:
Kid Friendly: Violet - sun deck

With Kids

Children under 5 stay for free in parents' room (only applicable if cabin already contains 2 adults); 1 child max per cabin. There are also 2 extra beds per junk for a supplement cost.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available

Transport

There are 3 vessels, and a choice of 2- or 3-day itineraries.

Halong Violet and Jasmine each offer 2 cruises (one 2-day trip, one 3-day trip) through Halong Bay. Halong Ginger offers a 2-day trip through less-touristy Lan Ha Bay. All have pre-arranged schedules, which include set departure days.

Transport: Jasmine

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 5 independent reviews from i-escape guests

9/10
Room
9/10
Food
9/10
Service
9/10
Value
9/10
Overall

This is a fabulous must-do experience in Vietnam. Don't expect exclusivity, there will be dozens of other boats doing similar things. However the service and style of this cruise is something very special. Rooms are small but beatific and comfortable. Nothing can beat sitting on your private balcony watching the amazing scenery go by. The crew is dry safety conscious and make you feel extremely well looked after. Worth every penny.

9/10,

Our cruise in Halong Bay was a very nice experience - everything (room, food, service) was excellent

10/10,

A great experience! Because the boat has only 10 rooms, it is a small number of guests which became friends after a while.The scenery during the trip is spectacular and the service on the boat is perfect

10/10,

Fantastic experience. We only went for 1 night (2 days) but I would recommend going for longer. They cram a lot into the 2 days with a full program with little time to relax and take in the sights/enjoy the ship. Try to take a 2 night cruise and do not feel obliged to attend all the events on the agenda.

9/10,

Particularly liked the 2nd day excursion to the bigger island, cycling, kayaking & swimming from the boat, all wonderful. They need to improve their English language skills across the board as we struggled to comprehend. The tour guide Chi was the exception.

7/10,

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Itineraries