Skip to Content

A Night and a Day in Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam translates to Bay of the Descending Dragon and is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world. And truly wonderous it is. A mystical landscape where thousands of limestone karsts burst breathtakingly skywards from the depths of the sparkling, emerald-green South China Seas.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, for qualifying purchases. More info: disclosure.   

A Ha Long Bay Cruise

We took a Halong Bay cruise and spent a day floating through this stunning scenery followed by a night moored amid the beautiful limestone formations before returning to port the following afternoon, via Vung Vieng, one of the bay’s four floating fishing villages.

Our Halong Bay cruise mini-bus collected us from our Hanoi hotel at 8 a.m. on a warm December morning and set off on the 2.5 hour drive. Time passed quickly as there was so much to look at en-route; seeing everyday Vietnamese life pass us by was fascinating.

Water buffalo waded through the fields while farmers in their coolie hats tended the vibrant rice fields, groups of school children in pristine uniforms cycled to school and scooters tooted at anything that came into view – there’d be no shut-eye with all that noise. Didn’t matter though, I was far too excited to sleep!

We approached the packed port where hundreds of boats were jostling and hoards of tourists were boarding. We drove straight past and stopped at a smaller quay around the harbour. Our Halong Bay cruise had permission to visit a different, quieter part of the bay from all the other tourist boats. Bai Tu Long Bay.

Halong Bay is the most visited because it’s slightly easier to reach but is much busier and more touristy than where we were heading. 

Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay (Baby Dragon Bay) is an extension of Halong Bay and takes up three quarters of the Halong Bay heritage area. It’s just as stunning but quieter, calmer and more serene. Bai Tu Long Bay retains a feeling of wilderness and remoteness and there’s less chance of running into other Ha Long Bay cruise boats.

After checking-in at the office we took a small boat out to four junks moored offshore.

Our junk, although you could hardly call it a junk with its teak panelling, crisp cotton tablecloths and ornate decoration, was called Dragon’s Pearl (below) modelled on the traditional Chinese junks that used to sail these waters – although I doubt the originals had sun-beds.

Book your Bai Tu Long cruise or compare other Ha Long Bay cruises

Halong Bay Cruise

Cruising through Halong Bay

We headed off away from the port and as we slipped deeper into the bay the waters became more aquamarine and translucent. We relaxed on deck taking in the peacefulness and breathtaking beauty of our surroundings. As we drifted onwards the towering limestone, almost vertical, outcrops loomed towards us, their lofty tops covered in dense foliage as they stretched into the horizon and beyond.

Book your Bai Tu Long cruise or compare other Ha Long Bay cruises

Bai Tu Long Cruise, Vietnam

Food on Board our Halong Bay Cruise

We dropped anchor and lunch was served on the top deck – a seafood banquet. Red bean and lotus seed soup and a succulent vegetable salad for starters. This was followed by clams in pineapple sauce, deep fried prawns with garlic butter, Vung Vieng minced oyster with herbs.

There was more; steamed fish with soya sauce, stir fried vegetables and fragrant steamed rice. Dessert was fresh fruit.  The food was amazing and if it carried on like this they’d have to wheel me off that junk…

Food on our Halong Bay cruise

That afternoon we stopped off at a small island where there was an opportunity to kayak, visit Thien Canh Son Cave with its stalactites and giant cauliflower-like stalagmites or swim and chill out on the beach.

A game of football kicked off on the sand and we stayed, nicely mellowed, and watched the turquoise waters turn amber as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Kayaking around the karsts in Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

Dinner on board

Dinner that night was another never-ending feast – it just seemed to keep coming and coming. Eight mouth-watering courses in all interspersed with amazingly intricate fruit carvings which the waiter presented with a flourish to much applause.

There were 19 guests on board of varying nationalities. You’d have thought they were feeding 50 of us. There was even cake as a Belgian guest was celebrating a special birthday. We sat up chatting over a few glasses of wine with some of the other guests while an American guy strummed away on guitar and the moon cast a silver sheen across the water.

Book your Bai Tu Long cruise or compare other Ha Long Bay cruises

Food on our Halong Bay cruise

Our Cabin

Our cabin on our Ha Long Bay cruise

After a sound night’s sleep in our cute little cabin (above) but only after locating the blanket, we were up early to catch the sunrise.

A steaming Vietnamese coffee helped get us going; dark, strong and sweetened with condensed milk. Perfect at 6.30 a.m. The mists had come down overnight and it was chilly but the sunrise more than made up for it.

Misty morning on our Halong Bay cruise
Sunrise on Bai Tu Long Bay, Halong Bay

Vung Vieng Fishing Village

After a breakfast and more coffee and croissants, the junks started their engines and we gently chugged towards Vung Vieng Fishing Village.

We transferred in twos to sampans, each rowed by a woman from the village. They were very petite but incredibly strong women. That 40-minute row was no mean feat and I take my Non La hat off to them.

Book your Bai Tu Long cruise or compare other Ha Long Bay cruises

On our way to Vung Vieng Fishing Village

As we neared the village we saw small, brightly painted, wooden houses built on rafts and buoyed up with large, blue floats. Some had balconies and wooden porches planted with herb gardens.

Laundry was strung out to dry and children played, just like any other neighbourhood. It surprised me to see not just dogs but many cats around the village. It figures – there’s a lot of fish around!

Vung Vieng Fishing Village

Vietnamese flags fluttered in the breeze as the villagers rowed from house to house, prepared food or fished. A small school housed tables, chairs and a blackboard – no children though, maybe it was lunch-time.

Members of this small community survive by fishing and cultivating fish and pearls; some are sold to passing junks, tourists and, of course, the mainland. The villages are becoming smaller as the younger people leave to work in the city and I wonder how much longer these communities will survive.

Growing up on the water at Vung Vieng Fishing Village
Vung Vieng Fishing Village

After the visit to the village it was time to head back to our junk and then to shore. As we slipped back through the mystical landscape towards land we soaked up the last of the scenery trying to gather memories to last a lifetime.

As I looked back the karsts seemed to continue into infinity, shrouded in mist whilst the dragons undulated through the deep, still waters. A different world to the busy Hanoi we were returning to.

Final thoughts on our Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Cruise

I highly recommend our Bai Tu Long Cruise experience. The cost is from $160 per person for the 2-day, one night cruise with lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch and transfers to and from Hanoi. You’ll get a first class, and more importantly, safe experience.

You’ll visit the quieter parts of the bay and avoid the noisy, fume-filled flotillas that descend on the waters nearest to the port – over 400 boats daily. There are bargains to be found, of course, but at what cost?  This tour has developed a sustainable business associated with environment protection, to help the families who live in the Bay.

Green Halong Bay

In co-ordination with the Halong Bay Management Board, they have developed a programme ‘For a Green Halong Bay’ ensuring that rubbish does not contaminate the bay surrounding the Vung Vieng fishing village. They have also helped set up a school for the village and are involved in community tourism; employing locals to provide job opportunities instead of just using the area without compensating.

A Day Trip to Halong Bay

We have visited Halong before but our first trip was a different story. It was planned as above but cancelled due to a typhoon. We took the 3-hour journey anyway from Hanoi and peered listlessly from the deserted, windswept beach at the few outcrops near to shore that were vaguely visible through the mists. The next day we were able to go out for half-day boat trip along with hundreds of other vessels.

It was so busy we had to climb over 3 boats to reach ours and the smell of diesel stays with me still. The queues into the caves moved at a snail’s pace and once inside we could barely move it was so crowded. Very much a tourist trap and an entirely different experience to the one above.

How to get to Halong Bay

Most people will visit Halong Bay from Hanoi on a tour with transfers. If you’d prefer to book transfers independently from another part of Vietnam Bookaway is an excellent resource. You’ll find timetables, routes and other useful information to help plan your travels around Vietnam.

Travelbunny tip: Typhoons are a regular occurrence in the summer season (May to October) they arrive, blow some and go again all in a day. But the authorities will not let any boats out until the winds have passed. If you’re going to visit Ha Long Bay as part of your Vietnam itinerary don’t plan it the day before you move on. Give yourself time to re-schedule if typhoons hit.

So there you have it – two ways to experience Halong Bay – which would you choose…?

Book your Bai Tu Long cruise or compare other Ha Long Bay cruises

Liezl le Roux

Sunday 18th of September 2022

Hi - Just want to check - do i book through Bai Tulang Cruise? Your blog was very informative. Thanks Liezl

Suzanne Jones

Monday 19th of September 2022

Hi, I'm glad you found it useful. You can book either here or

Take a Boat around Halong Bay, Vietnam - thedepartureboard

Saturday 25th of July 2015

[…] skywards from the depths of the sparkling, emerald-green South China Seas. We spent a…click here to read full article. TIPS - Do you have any tips or recommendations for someone visiting?Be the first to recommend. […]

Travelbunny Trips in 2012 | the travelbunny

Thursday 27th of December 2012

[...] forget and Vietnam was an amazing way to start my travel year.  We also spent time in Hanoi and Halong Bay but Hoi An is the place that stole a piece of my [...]

Alyona (@alyonatravels)

Wednesday 24th of October 2012

Very interesting post and really nice photos! Haven't been to Vietnam yet, but hopefully will visit this lovely place soon :)


Wednesday 24th of October 2012

Thanks Alyona. I understand the visits to the floating villages have been temporarily postponed but even without this aspect it's a wonderful trip. I hope you get to visit soon...


Tuesday 9th of October 2012

nice photos! going to hanoi next week! soo excited. can you recommend clothes i should pack? thanks


Tuesday 9th of October 2012

How envious am I! It should be warm. If you're heading to Hue and Hoi An you may get some downpours. Have a wonderful time and let me know what your thoughts are when you get back.

Comments are closed.