Travel Vietnam

A Night Cruising Vietnam’s Stunning Ha Long Bay

THE BEST CRUISE IN HA LONG BAY

Planning out my time in Vietnam, Ha Long Bay was at the very top of my list. Located in Quang Ninh, a northern province of Vietnam was recognized by UNESCO in 1994, and again in 2000 as a World Heritage Site.

With 1,969 islands, only 40 of which are inhabited, the limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay range in size – some are tiny, others are massive.

Cruising Ha Long Bay for two days and spending an overnight on a boat floating in the midst of the bay seemed like an unforgettable experience.

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A 3.5 hours drive each way from Hanoi, you can see Ha Long Bay on a day trip (afternoon cruise), but with plans to travel that far, I knew I wanted to spend at least one night in the area.

Once I’d decided to do an overnight cruise, I started looking into cruise operators. I was interested in a higher end experience- I planned on treating myself- and preferred the older, traditional junk boats. The only other things I cared about- inclusive meals and free activities.

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I can’t recall exactly where I’d first learned of Dragon Legend, but the more I read about their cruise experience, the more I dreamed booking an overnight with them.

A Guide to Booking The Best Cruise in Ha Long Bay

Dragon Legend is a luxury operator- a night on their boat will set you back nearly $200 USD.

No matter your budget, you’ll likely be able to find a few cruise options to look into. I’ve even heard of people taking the public ferry to Cat Ba for only a few dollars, staying in budget accom on the island, and then ferrying back to the mainland to head back to Hanoi.

If you can afford it though, I would absolutely recommend Dragon Legend. It was quite the splurge, especially for my backpacker budget, but I justified it as truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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And, it was.

Jaw dropping scenery.
Sailing past small fishing villages.
Sipping fresh watermelon juice and reading in the late afternoon sun.
A luxe junk ship with one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept in.
Tai chi on the top deck while sunrise happened in the distance.
Soaking in a bathtub with one of the most epic views I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but it was pretty exceptional.

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Another reason I loved Dragon Legend?

Legend is one of the only operators that cruises to and docks overnight in Bai Tu Long Bay. This matters because Ha Long Bay, while beautiful, is crowded.

It was a surreal feeling being in Bai Tu- it felt like we were alone amongst giants.

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What’s a cruise with Dragon Legend look like? 

Day 1:

  • Early morning: Pick-up from your hotel in Hanoi in a luxe van
  • Late morning: Check in for your cruise. You’ll wait about an hour to board the boat. I treated myself to an iced coconut coffee, which turned out to be frozen coffee ice cubes served in coconut milk- delish
  • Noon: Board the boat, check-in to your room and have lunch
  • Early afternoon: Relax on deck or in your room, or read on the top deck as I did
  • Mid-afternoon: Stay on the boat to relax or leave to kayak or take a smaller boat to cruise around the area’s nooks and crannies
  • Early evening: Dinner, relax on boat. There’s usually an evening activity, like a movie,  but I chose to head to my room and take a bath. I actually wished I’d had more time to spend in the room- the bed was so comfy, and the view out the huge windows was unmatched

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Day 2:

  • Early morning: I’d planned on getting up at 5 am to watch the sunrise, but saw the weather was pretty cloudy. I decided to skip the Tai Chi happening on the top deck at 6 am, and instead, soak up every last minute lounging in my bed that I could
  • 7 am: Breakfast buffet
  • 8 am: Depart boat to go caving
  • 9/9:30 am: Return to boat, pack, shower
  • 10:30/11 am: Lunch buffet, check-out
  • Noon: Depart boat to head back to the cruise offices
  • 1/2 pm: Depart cruise offices to head back to Hanoi
    • There were two things I wished were different during this part of the cruise-
      • Less waiting for the shuttle back to Hanoi- this was just dead time. I understand it happens because they need to turn the boat over and are waiting for shuttles from people coming for their cruise
      • We stopped at a small village to see a water puppet show on the way back, and while lovely, I’d have much rather preferred a direct travel to Hanoi
  • 5/6 pm: Arrive back in Hanoi

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What made Dragon Legend the best cruise in Ha Long Bay?

  • Permission to cruise in more remote areas
  • A very friendly crew
  • Visible eco-preservation efforts
  • Staterooms that were seriously beautiful, spacious and comfortable
  • Fun activities, like kayaking, caving, swimming (there’s a pool on the ship)
  • An onboard spa, which I didn’t check out, but seemed like a great treat for anyone looking to further splurge
  • The vegetarian food at the buffets on day two- plenty of fresh fruit, veg and meal options to choose from
  • And, really, above all else, the scenery was the best part. Unbeatable

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What didn’t I love? 

  • Mediocre vegetarian food on day one- it was so disappointing, I wondered if I made a mistake booking with Dragon Legend. It was evident it was a complete afterthought on the fixed menu meals, which is unacceptable for the price tier this cruise falls in- especially since there were so many vegetarians on board
  • A solo traveller charge of $100 extra USD. I questioned this pretty aggressively, and in the end, Dragon Legend waived it for me. The price for my room would have been the same if it was 2 people in it, or just me. So, I didn’t understand why I needed to pay extra- it wasn’t like they’d discounted it for one person. They couldn’t explain the extra cost, and ended up waiving it
  • Not enough free time, too much time waiting in hot office rooms instead. I get it may be tough to improve this part of the experience, but Dragon Legend can at least do a better job of managing guest expectations
  • The second day itinerary was a bit odd- breakfast at 7 am and lunch at 10:30 am, then 6-7 hours without food or drink. Skipping the water show and taking people directly back to Hanoi would help alleviate this complaint if nothing else could be changed because of boat turn over times

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If you don’t want to do an overnight Ha Long Bay cruise, there are many hotels and homestays on the islands in the bay. You could do a day cruise instead, and explore some of other things to do in Ha Long Bay- like visiting the fishing villages, swimming, or hiking to the Bai Tho Mountain viewpoint.

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Whether you cruise overnight or just visit for a day or two, this is one part of Vietnam that should definitely be part of your travel plans.

It’s absolutely incredible.

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Have you ever been somewhere like Ha Long Bay that left you completely and totally breathless? Do you agree Dragon Legend in the best cruise in Ha Long Bay?

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