Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are two of the most picturesque and renowned bays in Vietnam. In this article, we’ll delve into why an overnight cruise in these bays is an experience you shouldn’t miss in Vietnam and what you should consider when choosing a cruise. You will also find a comprehensive guide on what to pack for your cruise in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. We hope you will find a lot of useful tips and details.
Overview of the Bays
Ha Long Bay, located in the northeastern part of Vietnam in Quang Ninh Province, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its breathtaking beauty. The bay is characterized by thousands of towering limestone islands topped with lush vegetation over emerald waters.
These dramatic karst formations, together with the calm waters, create a mesmerizing landscape that has drawn travelers from around the world. In addition, Ha Long Bay also offers recreational activities, from exploring magnificent caves to kayaking amidst the limestone pillars.
Lan Ha Bay is a hidden gem in Cat Ba Archipelago of Hai Phong City, my hometown. Situated to the south of Ha Long Bay, this bay boasts a similar stunning karst landscape with around 400 limestone islands and calm waters. In September 2023, the UNESCO extended the heritage title to also include Cat Ba Archipelago.
While it shares the ethereal beauty of its famous neighbor, Lan Ha Bay generally provides a quieter and less crowded experience. Activities like kayaking, visiting fishing villages, and trekking in the nearby Cat Ba National Park further enhance the allure of this serene bay. Here’s my detailed travel guide for Lan Ha Bay if you are unfamiliar with this destination.
Ways to Visit the Bays
Visiting Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay can definitely be a memorable experience, and there are several ways to explore these stunning destinations. The two most common ways are taking day tours and overnight cruises.
Day tours are short boat trips that typically last a few hours to a whole day. They give you a glimpse of the bays’ beauty, covering major attractions and sometimes including activities like kayaking or cave exploration. These tours are suitable for those with limited time.
Ranging from one to three nights, these cruises offer a much more immersive experience. They often cover more secluded areas of the bays and include additional activities, such as squid fishing, tai chi sessions, cooking classes, and more. Accommodations on cruise ships can vary from budget-friendly to luxury cabins.
Generally, these cruises are more expensive than day tours. However, I think they provide the best way to explore Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. As locals living in Vietnam, it is an experience we’ll gladly repeat from time to time. For foreign visitors, it is among experiences you shouldn’t miss when visiting the country.
Why An Overnight Cruise Is Worth It
During our childhood, we often visited Ha Long Bay with our families on day tours. Those trips were not memorable at all, and they left me with an impression of subpar service and ordinary landscapes.
Our recent one-night cruise in Lan Ha Bay completely changed my mind. Probably for the first time ever, I was captivated by the scenery of those towering limestone pillars rising over the emerald waters in the bay. I cannot recommend this experience highly enough, and here’s why an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay is worth it.
More Sightseeing Time
The scenery is best enjoyed from the water, and a cruise allows you to truly appreciate the scale and majesty of the bays. Spending more time on the water allows you to explore more of the bays’ beauty and soak it all in.
On an overnight cruise, the trip will be less rushed, and you will have time to visit more islands and beaches. You can also partake in activities like kayaking or swimming in less crowded spots.
Unparalleled Scenery at Different Times of Day
Additionally, on an overnight cruise, you can experience the bays at different times of the day, at sunrise, under the midday sun, and at night. One of my favorite times in Lan Ha Bay is when dusk falls. All the cruise ships illuminate their lights and gather in the designated anchoring area for the night.
Relaxation and Unique Accommodation Experience
An overnight cruise provides ample time to relax, unwind, and immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of the bay. The cruise ships usually have large decks for sightseeing, elegant dining rooms, bars, and various types of cabins to suit different budgets and preferences.
The standard of accommodation and services on overnight cruises is generally superior. The cabins are well-appointed, often offering panoramic windows or private balconies for an unbeatable view right from your room. Amenities such as en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning, and quality linens are all provided just like in a hotel. With such comfort, we could sleep very well in our trip.
Overnight cruises often have a wide range of activities and destinations within their itinerary. These may include evening fishing, cooking classes, morning Tai Chi sessions, and more time for swimming and kayaking.
Some tours may take you to Cat Ba’s fishing villages, such as Viet Hai village, one of the most well-known ones. Here, visitors can go cycling and get a glimpse of the traditional way of life for many of Vietnam’s small coastal communities.
As Vietnamese natives, we find the landscapes more impressive than the dining options and cooking classes offered on overnight cruises. For foreign visitors, I think those activities also add an interesting way to enjoy local cuisine.
Many overnight cruises offer comprehensive packages that include meals, activities, and guided tours. This means you can get a full experience of the bays without the hassle of planning every detail.
You may find a variety of cruises in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay catering to different budgets and preferences, from luxury liners to more budget-friendly options. We highly recommend Ginger and Ylang by Heritage Line, which are the top-tier cruises in Lan Ha. Here is our detailed review for Ginger cruise in Lan Ha Bay.
What to Consider When Choosing A Cruise
There are currently many cruise ships operating in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. Here are some key factors to consider to ensure you select the best cruise for your needs and preferences.
Determine your budget first. There are cruises catering to various price points, from luxury to budget-friendly. Knowing your budget will help narrow down your options.
Cruise duration can range from one night to several nights. Decide how long you want to be on the water and choose a cruise that matches your desired duration.
Personally, we find that one night may still feel a little rushed. However, if you are short on time, a single night still provides a wonderful snapshot of the bays’ highlights.
Itinerary and Activities
First, decide whether you want to tour Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay. The scenery is generally similar, but at this moment, Lan Ha Bay is still slightly less crowded than Ha Long Bay.
Next, review the cruise’s itinerary and activities offered. Ensure the cruise covers the spots and activities you are most interested in, such as specific caves, islands, or villages. Also check what’s included in the cruise package.
Ship Size and Capacity
Some travelers prefer larger ships with more amenities, while others might opt for smaller, more intimate vessels. For example, Elite of the Seas has 35 cabins while Ginger has only 12 cabins. Consider the number of cabins and the overall capacity of the ship.
Given the fragile ecosystem and worsened pollution in the bays, it’s essential to choose a cruise line that practices sustainable tourism. This can include waste management practices, and uses of eco-friendly products. We also avoid choosing cruises with noisy music and entertainment on their deck which disrupts the serene ambiance of the bays.
Other Things to Consider
Different cruise ships offer different cabin types, interior decor, and facilities. Some ships can have pools, spas, and gyms onboard.
Make sure to read reviews from previous travelers for recommendations. This can give you insights into the quality of service, food, cleanliness, and overall experience. It can also give you an idea whether a particular cruise may have a vibe that aligns with your travel preferences.
What to Pack for the Cruise
Taking an overnight cruise is a delightful experience. To ensure you’re well-prepared, here’s a list of items you should consider bringing on a Lan Ha Bay or Ha Long Bay long cruise.
Ensure you have your passport and, if required, a valid visa for Vietnam. Some cruises may ask for these documents during check-in.
You should bring lightweight and breathable clothing when visiting Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay. If you travel during wintertime in Northern Vietnam, also bring a light sweater or jacket. Pack your swimwear if you plan to swim or kayak.
Bring comfortable walking shoes for excursions and a pair of flip-flops or sandals for onboard use.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, and maybe a wide-brimmed hat to protect against the sun are necessary.
You should also pack any personal medications, and motion sickness pills if you’re prone to seasickness. In normal conditions, the water in usually very calm in the bays.
Electronics and Accessories
Bring your camera or a good phone to capture the stunning landscapes. Also bring chargers and power adapters for your electronic devices if needed.
We didn’t have internet for almost the entire duration of our cruise in Lan Ha Bay. Definitely consider bringing a book, an e-reader, and some board games for leisure time onboard. Our favorite family board games to bring when traveling are Sushi Go!, 7 Wonders, and Azul.
It actually pains me to write this, but it may be a good idea to pack earplugs for your overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. While the bays are generally serene, there can be party boats anchoring nearby with loud music that might disturb your peaceful rest at night.
While many cruises accept credit cards, having some Vietnamese dong on hand can be useful for small purchases or tips.
Can I cruise both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay?
Despite their geographic proximity, visitors must book separate cruises if they wish to explore both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, unfortunately. The administrative boundaries separating Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh and Lan Ha Bay in Hai Phong have created unique challenges for cruises operating in these areas for years. Cruise ships are not allowed to cross over between the two bays, making it impossible for visitors to tour both bays within a single cruise journey.
As a result, Lan Ha cruise operators circumvent this limitation by using high-speed boats to pick up guests from Tuan Chau Port in Quang Ninh. These vessels then transport passengers via the national inland waterway to where Lan Ha Bay cruise ships are moored. This is a workaround since ships and boats operating in Lan Ha Bay are not permitted to dock at Ha Long.
The workaround creates additional travel time for guests visiting Lan Ha Bay. For example, our transfer to Ginger cruise ship was roughly 15-20 minutes which was not too bad. Negotiations and discussions are underway to ease these restrictions, and hopefully one day, we can tour both bays with a single, uninterrupted cruise journey.