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February 9, 2011 12:37 AM   Subscribe

What's the best tour company for a trip to/within Halong Bay, Hanoi, Vietnam?

I'm looking to do 2 days/1 night or possibly 3 days/2 nights as a single traveler. Willing to spend good money for a nice tour, but I'm more interested in what I'm going to see and explore rather than the quality of the linens or the housekeeping on board. A few drinks might be nice, however.

What companies did you have a good experience with?

Thanks in advance!
posted by bardic to Travel & Transportation around Hanoi, Vietnam (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're interested in heavy drinking on a boat with under-25 folks, these guys do overnight tours and have a hostel:
The bay is incredibly beautiful and the experience was great, however it sounds like you want something that caters less to gap-year types.
posted by sninctown at 12:50 AM on February 9, 2011

I live in Vietnam, I'll ask around and see if I can get some recommendations for you.
posted by hasna at 1:14 AM on February 9, 2011

Sadly, I did not have a great experience. I did the Emeraude cruises one-night trip about two years ago. It was pretty lame and I can't say I'd recommend it. The area we went was essentially a tourist trap on the water. In fact, I took this picture of the crush of tourist boats all trying to dock at the cave we visited. The crowd was mostly on the older side and fairly inactive. The main activity was a visit to a cave that's all built up with a souvenir stand and a snack bar. The cave was pretty, but it's not going to be a highlight of your trip. I was the only one who went for the kayaking option, which seemed to involve being handed a sit-on-top and being sent out for an unsupervised paddle by myself. Actually, getting away from the crowd and looking at the rocks up close was rather relaxing (minus the lingering question in the back of my mind as to whether anyone would bother to rescue me if I didn't come back). All told, the cruise was really one of the worst parts of my otherwise fantastic trip to Vietnam.

So, I hope you can do better then that :)
posted by zachlipton at 3:11 AM on February 9, 2011

I've had great experiences as a single traveler with Intrepid Travel. I did three weeks in Vietnam and the Halong Bay cruise was a highlight. Local guide, swimming, kayaking, cave hike, etc. Here's their 2 day/1 night option.
posted by jicinabox at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2011

I got back from Vietnam a few weeks ago. I went to Halong Bay, but I took a bunch of local buses and a boat so I'll be of no help answering your question. I wasn't a fan of the town, but when we hired a local fisherman to take us around, we saw how amazing the area is once you get out of the town.

You didn't ask for this, but here's my Vietnam advice - eat everything you see that looks delicious. It doesn't matter if you just ate a meal, stop and get what ever smells good. I can't get over how delicious the food was. Also, don't be scared by the raw herbs since they are such an important part of the flavor of a meal. I ate them everyday, and I didn't get sick. (I did bring a bunch of antibiotics just in case though.)
posted by toddst at 11:36 AM on February 9, 2011

edit: ooops, I meant months ago...
posted by toddst at 11:41 AM on February 9, 2011


I used them in June, and it was amazing. 6 guests on the boat, with 8 staff. Dinner was seriously one of the best meals of my life. Something like 7 courses of seafood caught off the back of the boat.

Most Halong Bay tour operators don't own their own boats. They just fill spots which get filled on big shared boats.

I did the one-night trip, didn't spend the extra day and go to Cat Ba island. They're a bit more expensive than other providers, but totally worth not being rammed onto a big boat and eating crappy food.
posted by krunk at 1:23 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your trip invariably includes a 4 hour minibus ride to and from Hanoi, with the unavoidable stop at some crappy art factory. Every tour in SE Asia has this, so you just have to suck it up.

Out on the bay, our trip visited a cave inside an island, went sea kayaking, and visited a floating village that farms pearls. The boat had a cash bar (expensive by Vietnamese standards but still cheap). It was great fun jumping off the roof of the boat into the sea.

Bring some snacks and water to save money. You can probably bring beer, too. I can't remember if my cabin had a fridge or not.

If you have a chance in Vietnam, do an Easy Rider motorcycle tour. It was the highlight of my entire 6 month trip around Asia. Msg me if you want more info.
posted by krunk at 1:29 PM on February 9, 2011

I can second Krunk's recommendation for Handspan. I went on a Halong bay trip with them in 2007, and while they charged more than other tour operators, after comparing notes with other travelers, I was very happy I paid the extra. Handspan's kayak trip was the better part of a day on the water with guides who knew the bay (and, in a rarity for that part of the world, gave a safety orientation at the beginning) and included a visit to some cool hidden caves, a trip through through the floating village, and a lunch stop on a small island.
The boat was nowhere near as crowded as some I saw, and spent a lot of time cruising around the bay rather than just docking at the obvious sites that all the other boats dock at. And - no small thing, there were sufficient deck chairs on top for all the passengers. Some boats will have 50 passengers fighting over perhaps a dozen chairs. A big part of the trip is just lying back (perhaps with a Tiger beer) and watching the otherworldly scenery pass by.
posted by zombiedance at 2:40 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

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