Take your pick from more than 500 boat operators that cruise Halong Bay. Standards vary from cheap “get ’em in, get ’em out” passenger boats to high-end luxury vessels that aim to make relaxing your main priority. Package tours usually include round-trip transportation from Hanoi, with bay excursions like kayaking, cave tours, and island expeditions. Overnight trips include the above, plus meals, a private cabin, a visit to floating villages, and a day at Cat Ba Island (two-night tours only). If you are paying less than $100 for a two-night, three-day trip, then expect some dodgy services. Day trips to Halong Bay are extremely rushed and should only be booked if time is limited. Ranging from 314,100 VND ($15) for budget tours to 1,675,200 VND ($80) for higher-end ones, these day trips are rather exhausting considering the four-hour drive from Hanoi. For those short on time and money, it’s possible to take a public boat from Halong City to Cat Ba Island for around 130,000 VND. This will give you a glimpse of the landscape and an afternoon on the island before returning to Halong or Haiphong City by hydrofoil. Although cheaper tours might be tempting, remember that the less revenue they’re making means their expenses have been cut in other areas, like maintenance, cleanliness, safety, and quality of service. The Heritage Line is the only company to take passengers further out to bay, offering unobstructed views far from boat traffic despite the extra fuel it costs them to get there.
Hadeco Speed Boat (Ben Binh Pier, Haiphong. 0225/382–2333. www.hadeco.vn.)
Heritage Line. This company operates two cruise boats on Halong Bay. The most luxurious of the two is the 12-passenger Violet, which parades the waters in royal Indochine-style by combining classical French design with Vietnamese allure. It offers tours from one to three nights, and destinations include Tien Ong Cave, the Cua Van fishing village, and Ti Top Island. Each of its six suites has a private balcony, Jacuzzi tub, hardwood floors, ornate furnishings, and a flat-screen TV. Set menus and à la carte cuisine are included in the rate, and there’s also a gym, sauna, library, sundeck, and spa on board.
The 30-passenger Sunset also offers a one-day excursion, subject to availability (check in advance), which explores the southern part of Halong Bay to Cat Ba Island. A restaurant on board serves brunch shortly after passengers embark. The highlight of the voyage is Cat Ba Island, where passengers can explore small coves, fishing villages, mangrove forests, limestone cliffs, and the main town.
Both vessels offer tai chi, cooking workshops, and spa treatments as part of the on-board activities. 22 Slot C, Cai Dam, Garden Villa, Bai Chay, Halong Bay. 0203/351–2446. www.heritage-line.com.
Hydrofoil Transfers (Ben Binh Pier, Haiphong.)