The great majority of Vietnam tourists in Ha Long Bay get there by booking a tour from one of many, many travel agencies based in Hanoi. These businesses are mostly clustered around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter, and offer services ranging from budget to absolutely posh.
It’s tricky to definitively say which agencies count as “reputable”, given Vietnam’s Wild West of a tourism industry. We go into more detail in this article: Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Hanoi Travel Agency.
You can also try to cut out the middleman and go on a do-it-yourself tour of Ha Long Bay.
Choosing a Ha Long Bay Package Tour
Tourists to Ha Long Bay are spoiled for choice; they can do anything from a few hours' cruise on the bay to a multiple-night stay including a sleepaboard in a cabin on a tourist boat, outdoor activities in the vicinity of the bay, and accommodations in a resort on Cat Ba Island. Your choices are only limited by your budget.
Low End: Hovering about the $30-$50 range (per person), you can score a day trip to Ha Long Bay that may include the following:
A round trip ride via minibus or bus between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay;
A four-hour tour via tourist boat ride around Ha Long Bay;
Optional kayaks (about $5 extra);
Lunch aboard the tourist boat; and
Detours to a fishing village and a cave on an island in Ha Long Bay.
High End: Overnight or multiple night cruises can be yours starting at $100 per person.
This should get you:
Pickup and drop-off from your hotel in Hanoi;
One night aboard a deluxe tourist boat, inclusive of meals;
Outdoor activities like kayaking, cave visits, and bike rides (ask your travel agent about the specific inclusions); and
The services of an English-speaking guide.
If you're staying more than 1 night, accommodations at a resort in Cat Ba Island will be included.
As with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The more cash you pay up, the meatier the package tour you get. Prices will also vary depending on the season: Ha Long Bay's high season occurs between July and August, so expect the prices to be at their peak during this period. Ha Long Bay tours are cheapest during the low season from November to March.
Booking A Tour Through Your Hotel: Pros and Cons
Almost every hotel in Hanoi, from fleabag hostel to posh French Quarter hotel, offers tours to Ha Long Bay. The same rules above apply, but with less certainty: as the hotels tend to outsource these services to third party tour agencies, you have less control over what you get, while paying more for their services.
So choose wisely: the end product tends to be as professional as the hotel you hire the tour from, so you'll get better results (though not guaranteed ones) from three-star hotels on up. You're also more likely to get pick-up and drop-off right at the lobby if you book through the hotel.
If you're watching your budget, you'll be better served going straight to the tour company and booking your tour on your own.
Booking Your Ha Long Bay Trip - Tips
This is the key rule to remember: Ask about inclusions before you pay up, not after. Don't just assume something is part of the package because you paid top ticket for the tour. An unscheduled kayaking tour, if it's not part of the itinerary, can cost upwards of $50 per person.
- Ask about food and drinks. Drinks can also be quite expensive on board the tourist boat, like the equivalent of $2 for one bottle of beer. And the meals they serve as part of the trip might not be enough for your tastes. Find out what meals are part of the tour package, and check how much you'll need to pay per extra drink or meal if the inclusions don't meet your needs.
- Ask about pickup and dropoff. Does the tour include pickup from your hotel? Conversely, will the tour include dropoff at the hotel itself? Some tours offer hotel pickup but dropoff only in the Hoan Kiem district.
- Tours are not subject to refund. If the weather makes the tour untenable, tour agencies generally do not give you your money back. You've been warned.