More tips on planning your trip to Halong Bay, Quang Ninh.
Most decent midrange Halong Bay cruises will offer an hour or so of kayaking. Paddling around the karsts allows you to experience the limestone towers from a completely different angle: up close, at sea level and without the constant thrum of an engine in the background. For more experienced kayakers, there are also kayak-only trips. These trips are run by a handful of operators based in nearby Lan Ha Bay (off Cat Ba Island) rather than Halong Bay itself, though Lan Ha’s islet-scattered sea has just as much wow factor as Halong Bay and is much less visited.
Full-day kayaking trips from Cat Ba Island cost between US$25 and US$30 per person.
Pros In one of southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, this is a way of escaping the crowds.
Cons On a full kayaking tour you’re only going to see a sliver of the area. To see more, it’s a better idea to take a cruise that includes a kayaking stop.
One of the most important reasons to steer away from the ultra-budget cruises is safety. Due to a boat sinking (and the loss of 12 lives) in 2011, new safety regulations were brought in for Halong Bay cruise boats, but scrimping on safety does still go on with some fly-by-night operators. In particular, check that any included kayaking stops are accompanied by a guide. Due to the variable and surprisingly strong currents close to the karsts, a safety-conscious operator won’t allow kayakers to paddle off from the boat by themselves.
Arranging a tour
Most people book their Halong Bay tours in Hanoi. Some recommended operators:
- Vega Travel offers good-value overnight and two-night tours with comfortable cabins, and kayaking included. Highly recommended by travelers.
- Cat Ba Ventures runs tours out of Cat Ba Island, taking in both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay.
- Indochina Sails has a traditional Chinese junk that’s been fully fitted out with all mod cons.
- Handspan Adventure Travel has a proper sailing ship, so you don’t have to put up with that pesky engine hum. Handspan also runs full kayaking tours in nearby Lan Ha Bay.
When to go
One of the best times for Halong Bay is November – there are blue skies aplenty, temperatures are moderate and there’s a good chance of calm seas. From May to September tropical storms can whip up without much warning. This is also the high season in Halong, particularly from June to mid-August when domestic tourism peaks. February to April is often cool and drizzly, and the fog can make visibility low, though also adds an ethereal atmosphere. Year-round, cruises and tourist boats sometimes need to alter their itineraries, or trips can be canceled with little warning depending on the weather and sea conditions. If you’re booking a cruise, check the fine print for what the refund procedures are in this case.
Hope you enjoy your time in Halong Bay!
For more Tips and guides, please return to our front page.