But picking the trip is a nightmare as there are almost as many travel agents in Hanoi as there are islands in Halong. Here’s how to make the right choice and have the best time possible.
Allow Time
Don’t do a one-day trip, and if you can avoid it, don’t do a two-day one either. The three-day, two-night option is best, and gives you a chance to really soak in the atmosphere and scenery that makes Halong so famous.
TIP: Even though Halong Bay is less than 200km away, know that it will take at least 4 hours to get to
Reconsidering that one-day trip already?
Align on Budget
Don’t kill your budget for Halong, but don’t be a cheapskate. You could purchase a three day tour for $55, but know that everything—the boat, the food, the staff—will be mediocre. If that’s all you can spend, fine. But a good rule of thumb is to align your Halong Bay trip with your typical budget and round up a bit. For us, that’s $33/day/person in May. For our trip, we spent closer to $37/person, although we later realized that other people on our boat had bought the same trip for about $26/day. That got us a good boat, plenty of time on the water, and food that included grilled oysters and clam chowder.
TIP: Don’t be conned into spending more by pictures of wooden boats with beautiful sails
All the boats are now white, most don’t have sails, and the vast majority (in the <$50/day category) follow the exact same route.
The total cost should include all transfers from Hanoi, all meals, appropriate length of accommodation, and all activities and entry fees. The only thing you should need to pay extra for is drinks.
Pick Your Activities
The one must that your tour should provide is free kayaking. This is, rightfully, almost everyone’s favorite activity as it allows you to freely explore the caves and grottos carved out by the water. We kayaked into the “James Bond cave,” which was featured in Tomorrow Never Dies, and then spent another hour just exploring the various nooks within the rocks.
If you want a more adventurous trip, opt for a one-night on boat, one-night on island package. That way you can do some trekking and additional kayaking in a different bay.
If you want a more relaxing trip, opt for two nights on the boat. I actually wish we had done that, because all the transfers on the second day take a while and kill the atmosphere a bit.
Our trip, with Monkey Island Cruises, took us to Monkey Island the second day. It was okay, but the water around it was filled with trash and the “superior” bungalows were tiny and lacked any view. The pouring rain didn’t help matters.
Do Your Research
This is the hardest part when it comes to choosing the Halong Bay trip right for you. Even if you know your budget, how do you know you’re not getting put on that $55 boat and paying $100 instead?
The truth is you don’t, but the best thing you can do is ask as many questions as possible.
TIP: The most important question to ask the travel agent is, “What is the name of the cruise company?”
If they won’t give it to you, walk away. If they share it, get on the internet and do some digging. (FYI, that $55 cruise has less than a 1-star rating on TripAdvisor.) If you like what you see, haggle the price down a bit. If you don’t, move on to the next agent.
Unfortunately, if you book directly with the cruise, the price will be totally high so you’ll have to use a mix of intuition, internet searches, and other travelers to make your choice. Travelers who got the best deal on Halong Bay Tour used Halong Travel Agency, through website :
http://vietnamecotravel.com or via email :  info@vietnamecotravel.com