Halong Bay, how to choose an agency

Halong Bay is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World established in 2011. And for good reason… This set of karst rocks offers landscapes unique in the world… Spending a day or more there is definitely part of your bucket list. It remains to choose the right agency.

Why go to halong Bay

I hesitated for a long time before I decided to go there. The echoes of other travellers telling me that tourists flock there en masse and that it makes the experience unsym happy have cooled me. I also thought that halong Bay must be very similar to the landscapes of El Nido in the Philippines where I was a few weeks earlier.

And then I thought it was a shame to miss it by being so close. So I ended up going.

The 'No.

  • The landscapes are beautiful and really unique (similar to El Nido but I didn't have the same impressions… Same same different goal as they say in Thailand!).
  • Spending the night in the middle of its rocks makes the experience exceptional.
  • We quickly forget the other tourists once on the boat.
  • Depending on the agency you choose, you can multiply the experiences: kayaking, visiting caves, sunset from the top of a rock, floating village, visiting a farm of cultured pearls, cooking classes, relaxing on a beach, swimming, fishing, karaoke…

The –

  • There are actually many tourists at the pier and in the caves.
  • The water can sometimes seem questionable, especially near one of the beaches where boats drop off tourists.
  • The price may seem high (but it's worth it).

Choosing an agency

There are a number of questions to ask agencies to avoid unpleasant surprises. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • What exactly is included in the tour (kayak, floating village…)
  • What cave are you going to visit? There are two of them. Personally, I went to the Surprising cellar, the one I wanted because it is the most beautiful, it is it. I was told that most of the time, those who visit Halong Bay on a single day go to Dragon cave and those who stay sleeping on the boat go to Surprising Cellar. Often they will tell you that the choice of the cave is only made once on the boat.
  • How many people can hold the boat? For my part, we were a group of 18 and it was good. I think more than 20/22 is starting to be too much.
  • Do you sleep on the boat or on the island of Cat Ba?
  • What comfort on the boat? Size of the rooms, bathroom, upper deck with sunbeds… Ask for pictures.
  • Is a kayak tour included? Is there enough kayaking for everyone?
  • Is it possible to fish from the boat?
  • Are there any activities planned on the boat? Cooking classes, karaoke…?
  • What do the rooms look like?
  • Does the guide speak good English?

I advise not to choose the cheapest. In general, cruises are of poor quality and unsecured (accidents have occurred)… the food tasteless and sometimes insufficient, the guides not always speaking English, sometimes not enough kayaking for everyone, questionable cleanliness. In particular, I heard stories of rats on the boat.

I also recommend spending at least one night on site to really enjoy the experience and avoid driving 8 hours during the day.

If you are alone, like me, you can either choose a room alone with a supplement or ask to share it with an unknown person. It's a risk, but we often have nice encounters. This was my case with Maïwenn.

My experience

After going around a few agencies, I was convinced by the managers of my own hostel. They offer me all the ranges of fares. I opt for the 2 day tour / 1 mid-range night for $85. The range still above tempted me well because it was hardly more expensive but unfortunately it was already full for my dates.

The service was in line with what was explained to me at the time of booking. Our guide spoke very good English and answered all our questions. He even gave us a lot of information about life in Vietnam and the essential words to know. It took us a long way, in a humorous tone!

Once at the port, it's the hustle and bustle between tourists, guides and boats… but our guide handles the situation well. The boat on which we will spend 2 days is quite correct. Nothing exceptional either, let's not exaggerate anything, but it's clean, pretty, the beds are comfortable, the bathroom in the room and the upper deck is nice with sun loungers in the sun or shade, a baby football and, of course, a 360 degree view of the bay!

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

The bedroom

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

The bridge

We are told everything and we are allowed to quietly take possession of our rooms before lunch.

In the afternoon we visited the Surprising cave, then we had the choice between climbing to the top of a rock to watch the sunset or resting on a beach and swimming. We did both! The sunset was definitely worth it! On the other hand, I advise against swimming because the cleanliness of the water left something to be desired!

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

A small part of the Surprising

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay


Sunset from one of the peaks

We also had to kayak but we ran out of time. So our guide suggests that we do it in the early hours of the next day, which we accepted.

The night I spent on board the boat was the night of the Super Moon! I didn't find the Moon bigger than usual, but brighter yes. Difficult to take a picture with my lens not suitable …

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

The reflection of the Super Moon

Very pleasant evening with a cooking class (very simple: spring rolls), a dinner more than garnished and delicious, then karaoke and various games with the group. Great night!

The next day, I get up very early for the sunrise on the bridge. A little disappointed because it's very cloudy … but the color changes are beautiful and seeing the rocks appear as they go along was magical. Immediately after, we went for the kayak. It's my best memory. We were given 30 minutes and we could go wherever we wanted. In the very pleasant freshness of the early morning, I explore the surrounding islets.

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

Early morning kayaking

A well-deserved breakfast… Again, there's too much to eat! Then we go to visit a farm of cultured pearls.

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

Visit a cultured pearl farm with a very funny and mischievous guide!

Back on the boat, king lunch and very slow return to the port. Time to enjoy the view of the bridge under a beautiful sun.

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

Last babyfoot with the bartender before leaving

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

he bay of halong, a hell of a panorama!

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

Our guide and the great group that accompanied me over 2 days

In short, I really enjoyed my stay on the bay of halong and I do not regret my choice of agency. The advantage of asking the right questions is to avoid unpleasant surprises.

The company

The agency I chose is papaya Cruise, rather well rated on Agoda, which I booked directly to my hostel.

If you also want to book with them, you can do so at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel reception. The staff are super nice and smiling! They speak very good English and will answer all your questions.

Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

Peter, the manager of the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, among his ladies

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Choosing an agency in Halong Bay

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