With so many options and styles of cruises to choose from to see Halong Bay, it’s important to know how each boat differs, and what is/isn’t included with each company. Here are my suggestions for choosing the perfect boat for you:
1. Tripadvisor is your friend
Before you start to suss out the market, jump onto Tripadvisor and search for “Halong Bay boat companies.” Not only will this give you an idea of what you can expect, it will also flag some good (and not so good) boats to look into that people have had positive experiences on.
2. Shop around
Just because one travel agent gives you one price, doesn’t mean that this is the standard rate for the boat. Many travel agents will add commission to their sales, so it definitely pays to shop around, and get a good idea of the different boat rates. Don’t book the first place you see because you’ll end up disappointed!
3. Suss out the price, then negotiate
As stated above, many travel agents will alter the price to try and get higher commission. After shopping around, pick a place that you felt offered a fair price, then negotiate from there. If they drop their price instantly, you know they were trying to take advantage, but if they don’t, chances are they are being honest and cannot lower the price any further.
When looking at boat prices, remember to ask exactly what is in included in the cost of the ticket. Then, when handing over the money, have the agent right down the inclusions on your invoice, so that you have proof to the boat staff in case they start demanding more money upon arrival.
4. Ask to see photos
While many companies will show you glossy travel brochures where the boat looks amazing and promise you the trip of a lifetime – the reality is that the boats just aren’t that fancy. Don’t get me wrong, they are lovely and comfortable, but don’t reflect the high gloss photos in the brochure. It’s still good to see a picture of what you’re working towards, so if the picture looks dodgy to begin with, choose a different boat.
5. Ask fellow travellers’ opinions
If you’re staying in a hostel with other travellers, its a good idea to see if anyone has already done the tour, and ask what they thought of the boat. Travellers advice is an invaluable asset so if you’re in a position to do so, it would be great to suss out what they thought and book your trip based on their recommendations. *Word of warning – be wary of asking the hotel reception for suggestions, as they will have a ‘preferred’ boat that pays them commission to recommend.
6. Read reviews before handing over any money
Before handing over the money, quickly check the online reviews for that boat. This will give you the most up-to-date and timely information about the boat, and will alert you to any important warning signs before it’s too late.
7. Ask about she age group/nationality of tourists on the boat
As many of the boats cater to different markets, it’s a good idea to get a sense of the demographics onboard. While some boats cater to a relaxed family experience, other boats cater to a younger crowd, with on board karaoke and cocktail hours for those that like to party. There is also variation in nationalities, as some boats will predominately cater for one nationality of tourists. Definitely important to ask your travel agent before booking, so you know what you are getting yourself into and can book accordingly.
8. Are mattresses included for sun beds?
Ok, this may seem weird, but for the budget boats, they won’t give you mattresses for the sun beds on the roof. This may seem petty, but if you plan to laze on the deck and read a book while sailing in the afternoon, you may be disappointed if they aren’t provided. Just ask, it doesn’t hurt knowing.
9. What additional excursions are included?
Kayaking, exploring the cave, and walking to the top of the lookout are all standard excursions, but the time they allow you at each may vary, so its a good idea to check with the travel agent before you confirm your booking, how much time you will be given for each of these activities.
10. Are all the meals included?
Seems obvious, but always good to know that you’re covered for all meals. You don’t want to be hit with unforeseen extra coats once you board. Also good to see a menu…..
11. Check the weather forecast
This is a pretty important one, and something many people overlook. Many travellers assume that if its nice in Hanoi, it will also be sunny in Halong Bay. Wrong. Quickly jump onto the local weather forecast site before booking, as there’s nothing worse that spending money on something that will end up cold and miserable, where your views of the bay will be limited due to clouds and rain.