A boat cruise in Halong Bay is an absolute must on your first trip to Vietnam. Words can do little justice to the scenery that awaits you during a cruise to Halong Bay. Almost 2,000 limestone rocks, some of them more than hundred meters high, jut out of the water. It’s an unforgettable family adventure to sleep a night on a typical wooden cruise boats, waking up in the morning to the sight of the mist-shrouded peaks.

But you need to chose your tour operator wisely which leads you outside the touristic tracks. A wrong pick can ruin the whole experience. Good cruise operators who provide a nice luxury cruise boat are obviously more expensive but it is worth the money. However, it is not only about the price but you should also get informed about the different activities, the accommodation, the food and the current boat itinerary.

Most of the cruise boats stay in the crowded Halong Bay. More than 10 million visitors a year arrive aboard day or overnight cruises. Concerned about overcrowding, water pollution and litter, the Vietnamese government has imposed strict regulations concerning boat routes. Swimming is only allowed on a few designated beaches.

If you don’t mind the Halong bay “brand” but care about the experience, you can follow our track and take a cruise to the Lan Ha Bay. Not many visitors are aware that the limestones karsts and islands go beyond the actual “Halong bay park”.

We had the chance to discover a part of the Lan Ha Bay, lying south and east of Cát Bà Town. The islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha Bay are just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay and have the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches.

Kajaking, Swimming, Fishing

On our first day, the cruise boat stopped at a small peaceful bay where we had some time to swim, jump from the boat in the emerald-green water or take a kayaking tour.

Kayaking in the middle of the bay was a magical moment! Our guide showed us around the small islets. It is spectacular when you paddle around the impressive limestone rocks and see them up close. You can feel the grandeur of the bay, spot animals and stop at tiny white beaches.

TIP: Not all of the activities are suitable for the younger ones. We opted for a bike tour instead of the cave visit which many of the operator have included in their tour. Get informed about all the activities during the trip before you book the cruise, especially when you travel with kids.

A bike cruise through the jungle

On our second day, when we arrived at the East end of Cát Bà Island, the bikes were already prepared for us (Kid bikes and baby seats were available).  The ride led us through the impressive jungle with a loud background sound of insects, birds and other jungle inhabitants. If you are lucky, you can spot Squirrels, snakes, frogs and huge butterflies. It’s a 30 minutes ride to the small fishing village Viet Hai.

Many houses were built or reconstructed since the village decided to welcome tourist and tour operator. All houses are open day and night and you can visit some of them and learn more about the daily life, work and the culture of the inhabitants. The village is quiet and very peaceful and you won’t see any tourist buses or cars. Only bikes are allowed….what a great example of eco-tourisme!

We booked our cruise through the Hotel Maison d’Orient. They work together with Perla Dawn Sails and Garden Bay Legend Cruises. We can recommend both tour operator. The prices depend on the number of nights you plan to stay on the boat and the type of cabin.

We opted for a the middle range at 140 Euro/person for 1 night/2 days. The boat had only 4 cabins which was a perfect size.

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