How to discover Halong Bay out of mass tourism

Halong Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in the northern part of Vietnam. It is around 170km East from the Hanoi Capital. The site is considered a major and unavoidable landscapes for any trip to Vietnam, classified by UNESCO as the World Natural Heritage. Halong Bay receives over 10 million of passengers every year. Its spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam's number one tourism hub. Let’s me just introduce you some of the best well-known attractions in Halong Bay, several prestigious travel agencies as well as the suggested accommodations for your trips here.

I.    Cruise tours on Halong Bay

1. Bai Tu Long Bay (East) and Lan Ha Bay (South)
These two bays are on routes of less borrowed navigation and although it is difficult to differentiate them visually, the attendance is therefore less on these two zones. You, thus, have the advantage to privilege the cruises and the agencies offering you more original and authentic itineraries and integrate its zones less loaded in tourism. Many activities are proposed during the cruises including visiting caves (on foot) on some islands, inland lagoons on the islets, floating villages, sea kayaking, etc. However, the agencies offering these routes are also a little more expensive as they pay different fees to be able to sail all year round.

2. Halong Bay
If your budget does not allow you to sail in the busiest areas of Halong Bay, these are many other areas with beautiful landscapes for you to admire. 

II. The junks' least mass tourism companies in Bai Tu Long Bay?

1. Special recommendation to Indochina Junk
This old (about 10 years old) and reliable company operates various ships on the bay. It is very well rated on Trip Advisor, its friendly and well trained crews, well-maintained vessels and above average cuisine make it a preference company. Some vessels operated by Indochina Junk include:
  • 1.1. L’Amour Cruise (4 stars): the rate starts from $313 / night depending on the period of hiring. For couples looking for romanticism, nothing is better than a private cruise with only one cabin inside and some crews for serving.
  • 1.2. The Prince Junks (4 stars): rate starts from $186 per night depending on the period of staying. There are currently 3 "Prince" junks on duty, one of which has 2 cabins and two others have 4 cabins. Prince Halong Junks are, therefore, ideal for small groups or families.
  • 1.3. Red Dragon Cruise: rate starts from $340 per night depending on the period of staying. There are two ships with 5 cabins each. The cruises are possible to be privatized or shared. Comfort and intimacy are their crucial advantages.
  • 1.4. Dragon Pearl Cruise (3 stars): from $150 per night depending on the period. Dragon Pearl Team serves 3 medium junks with 11 cabins each one. Note that the dinners with the candles in a cave of Halong that made the reputation of these ships a few years ago do not happen anymore because this activity was prohibited by the authorities. It's a shame because, for having experienced it, it was very nice and original
  • 1.5. Dragon Legend Cruise (5 stars): rate starts from $206 per night depending on the hiring period. Two large metal vessels offer 24 cabins each which are spacious and comfortable. 
2. Other most reliable companies:
  • 2.1. Amira cruises (4 stars): from $158 per night depending on the period. Each vessel with 3 cabins only including 2 Family Suites. This brand is well appreciated on trip advisor which is ideal for being privatized by groups of friends or families.
  • 2.2. Swan Cruise (3 stars): from $111 per night depending on the booking period. There are 3 similar ships from 8 to 12 cabins for groups. Especially, Swan Halong Cruise offers to you a friendly and dynamic tour guide as traveling partner.
  • 2.3. Signature Halong Cruise (5 stars): from $180 per night depending on the staying period. This 5-star-cruise is famous for comfortable room, tasty cuisine. Everything cannot be perfect but rarely disappointed tourists when choosing this company.
  • 2.4. Treasure Halong Junk (3 stars): rate starts from $107 per night depending on the staying dates. Beautiful traditional vessel of 15 cabins which provides shared cruise, services is your option. 
  • 2.5. Huong Hai Junk (3 stars): rate ranges from $106 per night depending on the period of staying. This company provides old wooden junks with 5 cabins each which are quite fast.
3. Indochina Junk Company
The company provides tourists with: 
  • 3.1. Bai Tho Junk (3 stars): rate from $115 per night depending on the type of the junk with 5 7, 10, 13, 15 or 18 cabins.
  • 3.2. Victory Cruise (3 stars): from $158 per night depending on the period of staying. This vessel provides more than 21 cabins, group cruises
  • 3.3. Petit Victory: with vessels of 2 cabins costing from $202 per night depending on the period of staying. This one is proper serving as a private cruise for a maximum of 4 persons
  • 3.4. Victory Star Cruise (5 stars): rate starts from $183 per night depending on the period Two boats of 24 cabins and 32 cabins, private cruises
  • 3.5. Petit Victory Star Cruise with 2 cabins per one: its price is from $174 per night depending on the staying period. The 2-cabin- junks are suitable for small groups and families with 4 to 6 people.
4. Oriental Sails Company
Medium sized traditional junks and more than adequate services:
  • 4.1. Oriental Sails (3 stars): rate from $108 per night depending on the period of staying. With 16 cabins, these vessels are suitable for big groups or people who is willing to join in a sharing cruise.
  • 4.2. Calypso Cruise (3 stars): rate ranges from $136 per night for vessels of 12 cabins which are best for groups.
5. Off-the-beaten cruises in the area of Lan Ha Bay
Unlike cruises in the bays of Halong and Bai Tu Long that take their clients to Halong city, the cruises on Lan Ha Bay start from Cat Ba Island which can be accessible by hydrofoil from the continent. The services offered are generally private on small junks. Smaller boats may be less comfortable but their routes are more special in general, without visiting some caves for example, but are closer to the fishing villages. Some of the companies valid on this sector include: 
  • 5.1. Ma Jong Cruise:
    • Private Cruise "Ma Jonq" costs from $220 per night with one large cabin for a couple or a couple with two children.
    • Four Seasons Junk: costs from $205 per night for 4 cabin-vessel with air conditioning, which is able to board up to 8 people.
  • 5.2. The Eco Friendly Company: costs from $121 per night. Different traditional wooden junks are able to board from 4 to 6 travelers, the tariffs are a little more economical than those of the previous company and the services are sometimes less professional.
  • 5.3. Tuan Sailing Junk Company
    • Tuan Sailing: costs from $212 per night for a small junk with very basic condition. Pay attention that there is no air conditioning. This kind of vessel is for private cruises only.
    • Moonlight Cruise: costs from $178 per night for a nice junk of 2 cabins, with air conditioning. The rate is from $145 per night for a group of 4 people.
  • 5.4. Oriental Sun Junk: costs from $188 per night. Small junk of 2 cabins that can accommodate 6 people.
  • 5.5. Khanh Sinh Company: Jewel cruise: costs from $190 per night for a junk of comfortable 4 cabins and from $190 per night for a double cabin.
 
  • 5.6. Cat Ba Sailing Junk Company: 4 fairly similar junks, with a higher level of comfort, which is ideal for families or groups of friends, including
    • Cat Ba Legend: 2 cabins, without air conditioning. Starting at $ 170 per night (group of 4). Privatized cruises.
    • Cat Ba Princess: 2 cabins, with air-conditioning. Starting at $176 per night (group of 5-6). Private cruises.
    • Cat Ba Prince: 3 cabins, with air-conditioning. Starting at $ 176 per night (group of 5-6). Private cruises.
    • Cat Ba Imperial: 4 cabins, with air-conditioning. Starting at $ 170 / per / night (group of 7-8). Private cruises.
 
  • 5.7. Orchid Cruise (new 5 star brand): from $176 per night. The very beautiful 5 star ship for group cruises. It can be quite expensive for a shared boat, but nice overall benefits.
6. My favorite experinces with Halong Bay
It is the most visited part of the bay, but it also has the largest number of islands, so the area has, beyond its attendance, an undeniable landscaped interest.
  • 6.1. Indochina Sails (4 stars): starting from $186 per night. This company organizes group cruises, great comforts, 5 stars (and therefore quite expensive). The onboard services are excellent, the rooms very comfortable and the restoration upscale.
  • 6.2. Bhaya Legend (4 stars): starting from $210 per night. It is a beautiful traditional wooden boats with 1 to 4 cabins and recommended for a private or small group. Nevertheless, you must have a substantial budget to try on the Bhaya Legend 3 cabins with the rate from $210 per person per night. 
7. Tips for reservations 
It has been 7 years since I lived in Hanoi for my work and so I often had cruises directly with junk companies for my family or friends. I often found that everything was not necessarily very transparent, especially at the level of the supplements once on the boat. More often, there is nobody to give you advice on the rates and the service, and it was even harder in foreign language rather than Vietnamese. 

Experience has taught me that it is better to entrust your booking to a specialized online agency. The advantage of going through a receptive is that the service is clear from the start and that they will show you different kinds of vessel, their standard, their itinerary and their activities (included or not) on board. Do not hesitate to ask them all the questions you have about the cruise (schedules, meals, drinks, luggage ...) and make sure you specify in advance what is included. 

Consultants follow your file and inform you all the information about your cruise. You can even choose a small extra private transfer by private vehicle from Hanoi to Halong city or Cat Ba to avoid crowded minibuses at peak hours. Among the most renowned agencies in Hanoi for your reservation on the bay I have enjoyed the services of Far East Tour, a local agency with headquarters in Hanoi. Their official website: https://www.fareastour.asia/ It is advisable to reserve in advance if you have chosen a cruise in particular, especially the one with few cabins, because they necessarily have faster completions during the period loaded.

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