Recently titled one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it is understandable Halong Bay was high on our Vietnam bucket list. However, with over 500 tour companies visiting the area PER DAY and with so many Halong Bay cruise recommendations, it was an overwhelming task to choose the best Halong Bay Cruise.
We had strict criteria for choosing the best cruise in Halong Bay – we wanted a cruise that cared about the natural surroundings and promoted sustainability over the need for profit.
We wanted to avoid the booze cruise boats that offered karaoke late into the night and instead wanted to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this incredible bay, away from the crowds.
Lastly, we hoped to find a cruise that offered kayaking in Halong Bay as we could not imagine a more spectacular location. Luckily, we found the best Halong Bay cruise that not only ticks all the boxes but went above and beyond our expectations – Bhaya Cruises.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHOOSE BHAYA CRUISES FOR YOUR HALONG BAY CRUISE
1. THE BEST CRUISE IN HALONG BAY FOR SUSTAINABLE PRACTISES
In a fragile environment like Halong Bay, it is vital to travel with only ethical and responsible tour operators. A quick Google search found that Bhaya Cruises are not only pioneers in their approach to sustainable cruising in Halong Bay but in their conservation efforts of the Langur on Cat Ba island. We were sceptical however, that this may just be clever marketing on their website – were the staff and tour as environmentally friendly as they claim?
Yes and MORE.
Within minutes of arriving onboard, we were given a passionate speech from the boat’s manager about the future of Halong Bay and the sustainable efforts they were making. From the replacement of plastic bags and straws with paper alternatives to even the shower gels being made from natural product.
Each process of the tour is considered with sustainability in mind, from sourcing ingredients from local communities to equipping the boats with the highest standard waste treatment systems.
There were signs throughout encouraging all passengers to reduce water & electricity usage and during our cooking class, staff even asked us to share plastic gloves to avoid unnecessary waste. Bhaya Cruises ensure staff receive training on Halong Bay eco-systems and responsible cruising which was evident throughout our Halong Bay boat trip.
Bhaya Cruises have been an active partner of IUCN in “The Fight for a Healthy Ocean” campaign and Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project for years. They established and encourage regular “Clean The Bay” initiatives, where thousands of kilos of trash were removed from Halong Bay, with many members of staff wearing T-shirts during our trip that promoted this green initiative.
It was inspiring to witness their passion to protect this incredible area first hand and be assured that the future of Halong Bay is bright when tours such as Bhaya Cruises are in operation. Their efforts are certainly paying off, during our trip we witness no trash in the sea and enjoyed a tranquil swim near Trinh Nu cave where we learned Bhaya Cruises even employ someone specifically to ensure the beach is kept clean for visitors.
2. FOR THE PEACE & QUIET
The main attraction of Halong Bay is the approximate 1,969 islands and limestone karsts that tower over the jaded green waters, however, with so many boats entering the bay we envisioned this tranquil natural phenomenon being interrupted by roaring engines and backpacking booze cruises doing karaoke – thankfully, we could not be more wrong.
We found ourselves constantly surprised when the boat began moving as we simply could not hear the engine. At one point Darren turned to me and asked: “Do you hear that?” I was confused. “silence” he smiled. True enough, it was a literal breath of fresh air from the chaos of Hanoi as sailing through Halong Bay with Bhaya Cruises was such a relaxing experience, allowing us to absorb every drop of the beautiful nature that surrounded us.
Unlike other cruises, during our Halong Bay boat trip, we moored in a secluded area for the night, away from noisy neighbours, rewarding us with one of the best night’s sleep we’d had in weeks. Better yet, when we (eventually) woke up, we had uninterrupted views of the striking limestone karsts and sunrise over the water.
3. THE BEST HALONG BAY CRUISE FOR SAFETY
Halong Bay has not only fallen victim to environmental issues but safety issues also. Did you know there are rumoured to be Halong Bay cruise operators who are not even correctly licensed?
This means, they still take tourists day in day out without the correct safety procedures or fire regulations in place. After an incident in 2011 regulations are now enforced to ensure staff have the correct first aid training and fire safety regulations, but there are companies who are still cutting corners with safety.
Bhaya Cruises staff, on the other hand, could not have made us feel more at ease – there were life jackets under every single seat in the dining area as well as the wearing of them enforced each time we went on the tender boat.
We were provided with a safety briefing as soon as we were onboard which informed us of the correct procedures and where to find the relevant safety equipment both in our room and around the boat. We also noticed first aid kits dotted regularly throughout and even onboard the small tender boat.
There was also a PA system onboard with speakers in every room to alert us as well as 25 members of staff to assist should anything go wrong – however, we were absolutely confident we were in safe hands.
When we were kayaking in Halong Bay we were made to feel super safe thanks to the private route so no other big boats could obstruct our views or kayaking ability. Staff provided clear instructions as well as having a guide at the front and back of the group who used clear hand signals to ensure everyone was okay.
When we arrived at Trinh Nu cave, staff remained on the beach to keep an eye on swimmers. The recent renovations of Trinh Nu cave provided safety barriers and handrails to enjoy the natural beauty of this area as safely as possible.
4. THE BEAUTIFUL ROOM
Our room onboard Bhaya Classic was breathtaking. Over and over we could not believe we were on a boat and not a luxury hotel resort. We also couldn’t believe this wasn’t the most luxurious Halong Bay cruise that Bhaya offer, there is boats even “fancier” than the Classic!
The room was crazily spacious with a large, comfortable bed topped with fluffy pillows – so comfortable we fell asleep and woke up in the exact same position the following morning.
The bathroom was equally spacious and we could not believe the powerful water pressure or perfect temperature of the shower considering we were moving on a boat. There was also a bath, complimentary toiletries (which we were delighted to see were NOT wrapped in plastic) and environmentally friendly shower gel and shampoo.
The grand finale was the stunning terrace, which offered panoramic views of Halong Bay. It was complete with comfortable sun beds and a table, ideal for relaxing with treats from the mini bar.
Our only regret from our Halong Bay Cruise was that we didn’t book another night, we loved every precious minute we spent in that room, hopefully, our photos do it justice.
You can download the full fact sheet on the interior & exterior of the Bhaya Classic here.
5. THE DELICIOUS FOOD
Included in our 2D1N Halong Bay cruise package was lunch, dinner, breakfast and brunch. That’s right, not just one breakfast but TWO.
The food onboard was amazing and we were constantly treated to delicious, fresh local dishes as well as familiar pastries and desserts. For lunch we had a buffet style menu with endless options suitable for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Favourite dishes included sea bass and the pork & sweet potato stew. Darren was delighted that despite a sold out cruise, there was enough for us to return for more platefuls.
The crew happily catered to vegetarian or vegan diet and asked earlier in the day for any dietary requirements. For dinner, there was a set menu with a choice of a seafood BBQ or beef main course – both were so beautifully presented, we nearly didn’t want to eat it, but thankfully both dishes were as good as they looked.
The following morning, we enjoyed a “little” breakfast which was a continental array of pastries, cereals, muffins and fresh fruit followed by a full cooked brunch before we disembarked.
Alongside the delicious food was a wine and cocktail menu to match, with happy hour offering a buy one get one free deal which we were more than happy to take advantage of. We will never forget sitting on the top deck, a delicious Dalat wine in hand completely in awe of the views as the sunset.
6. THE ACTIVITIES ONBOARD
You might be thinking with all the eating and drinking it might be difficult to squeeze in some activities in our Halong Bay itinerary but there surprisingly was. To be honest, it was difficult to drag ourselves away from our beautiful room but we’re so glad we did as we enjoyed the following onboard activities.
Our first activity onboard the boat was a cooking demonstration from the boat’s chef. We were shown how to make our own spring rolls, carve the vegetables to create unique decorations and even sample traditional rice wine.
The demonstration was hilarious, with the staff’s infectious enthusiasm encouraging Darren to take part in the “Masterchef competition” needless to say, he didn’t win but it was so fun to watch (and laugh) at his attempt.
Bhaya Cruise Spa
If cooking competitions are not your thing or instead of the cave visit you can indulge in a relaxing massage in the boat’s very own spa. We did promise the most luxurious Halong Bay cruise and what’s more luxurious than on onboard spa!?
Although we didn’t have time onboard to enjoy the spa facilities, Bhaya Cruises did organise for us to visit SF Spa in Hanoi after our cruise which was such a treat. We enjoyed an amazing foot reflexology package which was so good, Darren fell asleep and woke himself up with his loud snoring. It was the cherry on top of an incredible two days, which we cannot recommend enough.
Traditional Squid Fishing
Following our dinner and a few glasses of wine, lots of giggles followed as the passengers were invited to try some traditional squid fishing at the rear of the boat. We were provided with a bamboo stick rod and some fishing tips before hopelessly trying for ourselves.
Needless to say, we had no luck but our neighbours caught two squids in only 20 minutes. It was a unique activity especially as it was dark and a memorable experience which we will unlikely ever get the opportunity to do again.
Tai Chi Lesson at Sunrise
The following morning, we were given the option to take part in Tai Chi. Thoughtfully, the boat does not offer an alarm to allow those who want to continue sleeping, however, we are so glad we set an alarm and dragged ourselves away from our comfy bed to witness the sunrise from the top deck and sample Tai Chi for the first time.
It was both relaxing yet energising and our instructor made the lesson fun yet informative. Although I don’t think Darren was quite awake – he nearly fell over twice but it was one of our favourite experiences from our Halong Bay itinerary.
7. THE ACTIVITIES NOT ONBOARD
We feel our experience was not just the best Halong Bay cruise because of the activities onboard but the activities not on board too. Despite the limited time we had, we managed to leave the boat not once, but twice during our Halong Bay boat trip and visit two separate caves as well as go kayaking in Halong Bay.
Kayaking in Halong Bay
The first cave we visited shortly after lunch on the first day had the option to reach it via the tender boat or by kayak. We 100% recommend kayaking in Halong Bay – the route is around 30 minutes (give or take if you’re as slow as us ha) and you won’t need to kayak all the way back, you return via boat.
As mentioned earlier, instructors were patient and equipment was safe, clean and very well kept. The breathtaking views were an added bonus. After kayaking in Halong Bay you will reach Trinh Nu cave which is exclusive to Bhaya Cruises passengers – further reason we found this the best cruise in Halong Bay as we were treated to a crowd-free beach.
The Exclusive Trinh Nu Cave
The cave itself has been beautifully yet cleverly renovated, allowing safety barriers and handrails to be installed but in thoughtfully chosen materials and colours so as not to distract from the natural beauty of this famous Halong Bay cave. Towels were provided for a relaxing sunbathe or swim, with the swim being the most popular choice to refresh from the warm afternoon sunshine.
There is a viewing platform just outside the cave which offered epic views of the bay with no noisy tour boats in sight as currently, Bhaya Cruises is the only cruise operator allowed to visit the area where Trinh Nu Cave is located, due to unique authorisation from the Halong City government.
The following morning we were treated to a second Halong Bay cave – Surprise Cave. As the name describes, it surprised us for many reasons. Firstly, with it being one of the most magnificent and largest caves in Halong Bay we expected it to be very busy. To our surprise, we were the only tour group thanks to the thoughtful timing of our Bhaya Classic cruise.
Secondly, when you enter the tiny passageways (and narrow 140 steps up) you may be surprised when it transforms into two giant chambers, with ceilings up to 10+ meters high in parts. Decorative stalactites act like chandeliers and towering stalagmites made us feel as if we were on a movie set.
Our guide offered insightful facts and answered our questions with a smile. Although the numerous steps were a tough climb, the views were just as rewarding outside the cave as they were inside. On a clear day, it is believed you can see up to 70% of Halong Bay from the viewpoint. We could’ve stayed there for hours, but instead, it was time to head back onto the boat for one of our favourite activities – Brunch.
8. THE STAFF
It is understandable when searching for the best Halong Bay cruise, that with every website claiming to have friendly, professional staff how can you be sure? We cannot thank the Bhaya Cruises staff enough – from check-in to the chef, each member of staff was happy to help, answer any questions and make us feel safe and comfortable onboard. It genuinely felt like the most luxurious Halong Bay cruise because each passenger was made to feel like royalty.
Their passion for the natural beauty of the area was evident and we genuinely felt they cared that we left our cruise with a positive impression and happy memories from the best Halong Bay cruise possible. Nothing was too much trouble and service could not be faulted. We also loved the staff uniforms that switched from traditional attire in the evening to advertising their green initiatives on the second day, adding to their enthusiasm to promote a sustainable cruise.
9. THE PRICE
Like any tour, you get what you pay for. Your Halong Bay cruise price depends if you want to witness this incredible wonder of the world alongside 70 other booze-fuelled backpackers, if so, then expect to pay a far cheaper amount but this may also mean your safety is compromised and food quality will be far, far lower too.
By investing a little more, you will be rewarded with a much higher quality cruise which is also far less damaging to the environment. Considering the numerous activities within our Halong Bay itinerary, how much delicious food we consumed and the incredibly peaceful route, we feel Bhaya Cruises are exceptional value for money that we would recommend again and again.
Better yet, they offer numerous deals and discounts if you book directly including family focused packages or even private cruises. For an even more exceptional experience, Bhaya Cruises offer The Au Co, which is the longest continuous overnight cruise across all three bays in the Gulf of Tonkin and is considered the most luxurious Halong Bay cruise.
10. BHAYA CRUISES GO ABOVE & BEYOND
Finally, our last reason why we feel this is the best cruise in Halong Bay is that Bhaya Cruises genuinely go above and beyond. They can even organise your transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay which was in the most comfortable minivans we have ever had the joy of sitting in.
There were two birthdays onboard during our cruise which the crew celebrated with cake, flowers and complimentary cocktails. It was evident they went out of their way to make each passenger feel as special as possible.
The friendly environment also meant the entire cruise were friends by the end of the two days with nationalities from all over the world enjoying drinks and stories from their travels together. We made friends with a Danish couple who we later met up with in Hanoi for food and drinks and hope to meet again in Scotland – lifelong friends thanks to Bhaya Cruises.
We felt the staff not only cared about the passengers but genuinely enjoyed their role with Bhaya Cruises. Their passion for sustainability and first class service was evident from the minute we stepped on board and we would return again in a heartbeat.
Have you been on a Halong Bay Boat trip? Let us know in the comments below how your experience was or if you’re searching for the best Halong Bay cruise hopefully we’ve helped you make your decision and get ready for the trip of a lifetime.