We ended our summer of slow travel through Asia in Vietnam. One of my long time “Bucket List” destinations, my family was excited to visit the lush and beautiful Ha Long Bay. We weren’t let down.
We flew in and out of Hanoi and spent a few days there, staying at the Hilton Hanoi Opera and later passing on the Sofitel, (though I’d love to go back and visit that beautiful property.) We were using Hanoi as our starting point as it was the closest and easiest spot for us to start our journey to Ha Long Bay. I recommend spending a couple of days exploring Hanoi if you have the chance, we enjoyed our time spent mostly in the Old Quarter.
Transfers from Hanoi
If you book a cruise around the bay, it’s likely that your transfer will be included as part of a package, however, if you need to book a way into Ha Long there are a few other options. Getting from point-to-point takes around 4 hours by land.
- Bus: There are inexpensive bus options available from the Giap Bat Bus Station. Reports indicate that from the bus station fares are as low as $3 and the Mini Bus from Gia Lam (Hanoi) to Bai Chay (Ha Long) fares start at $6
- Hire a shuttle: There are many affordable shuttle options that will cost you around $10-$20 per person. Most shuttle buses will pick you up at your hotel or an agreed upon meeting location along with picking up other passengers.
- Hire a private car: Depending on the size of vehicle needed you can hire a private transfer starting around $65 for a car up to around $100 for a private luxury van.
- Hotel in Hanoi: We asked our hotel concierge for transfer options to Ha Long Bay thinking that they might have a hotel car for hire. The hotel prices were from the same companies found online and the prices were all comparable to the $80-100 each way price point (for 5 pax + bags) plus a small hotel surcharge.
- Fly: The fastest and most unique way to transfer is by seaplane. You can fly in and out of Ha Long Bay with an added 15 minute aerial tour for $175 per person each way.
What We Booked
We ended up booking our transfers online ourselves and found private vans with a/c and wi-fi for $90 each way. We used Hanoi Transfer Service out of Hanoi and An Binh Travel out of Ha Long Bay. Our return trip was upgraded to a fancier “more kitted” out van unexpectedly and I worried that we were going to be charged for the VIP version after our arrival into Hanoi, but the driver assured us there was no additional cost.
Hiring a Junk Boat
In the search for accommodations in Ha Long Bay, options for rooms aboard a boat will likely appear in your results. For some reason I had convinced myself that an overnight on a small boat might not be a good idea with a three-year old. If she didn’t have her sea legs, or didn’t do well on the small cruise in general, then we were still committed to our floating hotel. I assumed that staying in a hotel and booking a day cruise was a much smarter option for our purposes.
I was wrong.
We ended up booking a room at the Novotel in Ha Long Bay and while the website sold us beautiful views and modern rooms, the reality was slightly different. A full review of this property will follow in a later pos,t but for now I will say we probably will not stay there if given the chance to visit again.
My concerns for seasickness would have been understandable even on a large cruise ship in the Caribbean, but the large rock formations jutting out from the water keep it calm and still. Gliding out on the water in our boat was as smooth as coasting down a freshly paved hill.
Private Boat or Group Tour
When booking a boat in Ha Long Bay there are numerous options for different types of experiences. Some boats offer a very private approach with just 1-2 rooms, a sundeck and your own personal boat crew (chefs, guides and captain). Other boats have dozens of rooms, restaurants on board and planned activities on the schedule. The most common scenario when booking a Junk boat is either 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights.
There are also options for day cruises through the bay both in a private or group tour setting. For those who are staying in a hotel, this is a great way to explore this UNESCO Heritage site during your stay. The biggest consideration is whether you want to stick to a schedule or have the flexibility to cruise at your own pace and stop where you please along the way.
Costs may also dictate private or public, though we hired our boat for the day including meals, a private bedroom with excellent air conditioning and a staff of five onboard for $400 USD.
Hotels and Airbnb properties in the area are limited and even though we personally missed out, I would still recommend that others try the room and board cruise options during a trip to Ha Long Bay.
Stay tuned for my full review of our private tour on the Indochina Junk Boat, coming soon.
Have you been to Ha Long Bay? What suggestions do you have for city transfers and boat tours?