Finding a Vietnam itinerary that doesn’t include a trip to Halong Bay is as rare as spotting a camel in the city – it almost never happens! That’s the kind of popularity this attraction in Northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province enjoys. What’s all the fuss about, you may ask? Vast stretches of calm, emerald green water dotted with limestone islets covered in thick jungle bush, Halong Bay’s biggest pull lies in its pristine, natural beauty.
A UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the most visited attractions in Vietnam, Halong Bay’s interesting geography transports visitors into a world of its own. Imagine gliding through the ocean in your cruise ship, floating past jagged limestone peaks abruptly jutting out of the water. Once you’re deep inside the bay, hop on a kayak and go on a mini adventure of your own, exploring rocky caves and crevasses that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Typically explored on a day or overnight cruise, the reason Halong Bay is so popular is not just because it is beautiful, but it is also very easily accessible from different places in Vietnam. No matter what your itinerary looks like, it is possible to make your way to Halong Bay thanks to the well-connected road and transportation network in Vietnam. To make things simpler for you, we’ve already done the legwork of identifying some of the best routes to take you to this gorgeous destination.
Hanoi to Halong Bay
Being one of the biggest cities in Vietnam, there are multiple ways to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay. You can opt for a minivan, a shuttle bus or even a luxury limo depending on your budget and how much time you have on hand. Typically, most buses or vans take anywhere between 2.5 to 4.5 hours to reach Halong Bay from Hanoi and cost anywhere between USD 9 and USD 15 per person.
Another important thing to consider when choosing your mode of transport and the tour operator is the pickup and drop off points. For example, some minivan operators will pick you up from any hotel of your choice in Hanoi, while others will only pick up from hotels in Hanoi Old Quarters. Similarly, some operators will take you all the way to the Tuan Chau Harbor from where most cruise ships for Halong Bay depart, but some will just drop you in Halong City.
However, if a road trip is not your cup of tea, you can even take a train from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Although the travel time is almost 7 hours, it is one of the most economical ways to get to the bay, costing only USD 8 per ticket, in addition to being an enjoyable ride.
Sapa to Halong Bay
Despite a whopping distance of roughly 436 Km between these 2 cities, it is absolutely possible to travel from Sapa to Halong Bay, either by taking a bus or a private car/minivan. The minimum travel time on this route is 7.5 hours irrespective of which mode of transport you opt for, so the primary deciding factor, in this case, would be the costs associated with each option. The cheapest way to get to Halong Bay from Sapa is a bus ride, which will cost you about USD 19-25.
What we love most about a bus journey on this route is that all buses offer night time travel, which means you can get to your destination overnight without spending an extra day on commute. These ‘sleeping’ buses have reclining seats too so you can comfortably tuck yourself in for the night and not have to sacrifice on precious sleep!
However, if you’re looking for a little more luxury and don’t mind shelling out some extra cash, hiring a private car or minivan is the way to go. You not only get a more comfortable ride, but you also have the convenience of choosing any pickup and drop off location as you need. If you happen to be traveling with a few other people, the cost of a private vehicle also gets divided and the effective cost per person goes down considerably.
Ninh Binh to Halong Bay
Ninh Binh has recently picked up as a popular tourist destination in Vietnam, so in case you’re heading over, you can easily find transport to take you to Halong Bay from there. The distance between the two places is roughly 185 Km, which takes 3.5-4.5 hours to cover.
Bus, car, and minivan are the three modes of transport you can use to travel from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay. The most economical way to travel on this route is of course by taking a bus. Moreover, most buses on this route start early in the day so you can be sure to reach your destination by midday and spend the rest of the day at leisure in Halong Bay.
However, if you’re traveling with a few other people, it might make more sense to book a private car or minivan. Depending on which vehicle or operator you book and the number of people traveling, your cost will range from USD 85 to USD 160 per vehicle.
Tips for planning a trip to Halong Bay
Irrespective of which route you take to reach Halong Bay, it’s good to know a few things while planning your visit.
Day and overnight cruises both have pros and cons. While day cruises are great if you are short on time, they can be overly crowded and may not offer enough time to explore the region very well. On the other hand, overnight cruises are more relaxed and offer ample opportunities to explore. This experience comes at a higher cost so take your pick based on your priority.
The price range of cruises, whether day or overnight, can vary widely. In both categories, you’ll find tour operators charging varying amounts, leading to obvious confusion. No matter what your budget is, it is best to try and avoid the excessively cheap tours that seem to promise a lot, because you run the risk of getting subpar services and experience.
Before you zero in on a tour operator for the Halong bay cruise, shop around a bit for the different packages available to see which price and service offering suits you best.
Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to a cruise and should be one of the biggest deciding factors when picking a tour operator. Don’t skimp on safety in an attempt to keep costs low.
1. When paying for a cruise, check if the price includes the entry fee for Halong Bay (USD 13 per person for a day cruise and USD 25 for overnight cruises) or if you have to pay that separately.
2. Halong Bay’s scenic beauty has shot it to the kind of fame very few destinations enjoy. No matter which part of Vietnam you’re coming from, you should easily be able to find a train, bus or private vehicle to get you there. Once you arrive, book yourself a relaxing cruise and enjoy the beauty of the bay unfold all around you!