3 Day Halong Bay Cruise – An Experience Report (with VIDEO)

Exploring and Relaxing Around Cat Ba Island – A Less Visited Part of Halong Bay

Cruising between the fascinating karst islands of Lan Ha Bay, swimming, kayaking, biking, hiking and drinking some beers on the beach of a private island with 20 other backpackers - this is what we experienced on the Halong Hideaway Tour, a 3 day/2 nights cruise to Halong Bay from Hanoi. Here is a review with a video and photos of this awesome little adventure in Vietnam. I wrote this article in partnership with the operator, the Central Backpackers Hostel. For more info and booking click here:

Our Video of the 3-Day Cruise in Halong Bay

Quick Facts

Starting point: Central Backpackers Hostel, Hanoi
Duration: 3 days (starting at 7.30am and ending at around 5pm)
Cost: 130USD (the package includes everything except drinks)
Activities: Cruising, Swimming, Biking, Hiking, Kayaking, Volleyball, Beer-Pong
Accomodation: Bunk beds in 8-person pavillions with sea view
Food: Good variety of rice, vegetables, egg, meat and fish in all-you-can-eat buffets

The rock formations rising vertically from the sea in the Halong Bay area are very unique.

The rock formations rising vertically from the sea in the Halong Bay area are very unique.

Day 1: Cruising and Swimming Amidst Cat Ba's 1000 Islands

Jill and I arrived back in Hanoi from the mountains of Northern Vietnam in the middle of the night. We went straight to the original Central Backpackers Hostel, with which we had arranged the 3-day cruise beforehand and slept in the waiting room for a couple of hours. After breakfast we were collected by a bus and met the rest of the backpackers at the other location of Central Backpackers Hostel in the old quarter. From there we went to the pier of Hai Phong, changed into a boat to Cat Ba Island and continued to Cat Ba Town by bus (in total about 3 hours). On board of our nice little cruise ship our Vietnamese guide Koo was joined by two expat guides (an American and an Australian). We took off past floating fishing villages and cruised through an incredible maze of karst islands for about two hours.

The fishermen here live in houses floating on the water.

The fishermen here live in houses floating on the water.

There were almost no other tourist boats. It was nice to chill on the sun deck with music and beer, to enjoy the view and get to know the rest of the crew. Halfway through we went inside for a delicious lunch buffet. The anquor was dropped in a beautiful lagoon in front of a little island with a tiny white-sand beach. The February air was chilly but it was sunny and two other guys and me jumped into the clear, cool water and swam to the island.

Me, chilling on a small white-sand beach, far from the hussle of Halong Bay.

Me, chilling on a small white-sand beach, far from the hussle of Halong Bay.

After relaxing in the sun for a while we headed back through the labyrinth of islands towards the Hideaway Island. We were excited to deboard on our private island for the next two days, dropped the backpacks in our designated rooms and played volleyball.

Playing volleyball on the Hideaway Island in Lan Ha Bay.

Playing volleyball on the Hideaway Island in Lan Ha Bay.

After an awesome barbeque dinner, we spent the evening watching the sunset on the beach and playing beer-pong and billiard in the beach pavillion.

Day 2: Biking and Hiking to Cat Ba Island's Highest Peak

At 10am we headed out by cruise ship to go to Cat Ba Island. At the Viet Hai Pier we took some of the many bikes and started a casual, scenic bike ride (5km one-way), first along the shore then through the rain forest of Cat Ba Island.

Our guide Koo riding the bike on Cat Ba Island.

Our guide Koo riding the bike on Cat Ba Island.

By foot we continued into thicker jungle, hiking up a steep path until we arrived at the top of the mountain after an hour. The views from up here were amazing. On the one side overlooking Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay.

The karst islands of Halong Bay

The karst islands of Halong Bay

On the other side the impressive jungle mountains of Cat Ba Island, layers upon layers up to the horizon. We stayed more than an hour before we hiked back down and biked back to the ship, where lunch was already prepared for us. After cruising back through Lan Ha Bay, we relaxed on the island the rest of the late afternoon and evening.

What a great viewpoint: Looking out onto the wild landscape of Cat Ba Island

What a great viewpoint: Looking out onto the wild landscape of Cat Ba Island

Day 3: Kayaking and Visiting an Abandoned Island

Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay

Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay

In the morning we started paddling from our beach in 2-person sea kayaks. After about half an hour we reached a bay with a crescent white-sand beach lined by bungalows and a beach bar. The island was abandoned a few years back. Bottles of rum, cocktail glasses and playing cards were still on the tables and it seems to be a mystery why they left this beautiful beach for good.

The view from the abandoned island – it is currently on sale for 1 million USD :D

The view from the abandoned island – it is currently on sale for 1 million USD :D

We continued over the clear, blue-green water of the bay towards a nice little lagoon, almost completely enclosed by a jungly island. After paddling back we had one last lunch on the Hideaway Island. Sadly our 3 day cruise of Halong Bay was coming to an end. We packed our things, cruised back to Cat Ba Town and returned to Hanoi in the late afternoon.

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If you have questions about our Halong Bay Cruise or have done one yourself please let me know in the comments.

I wrote this review in partnership with the Central Backpackers Hostel. But this is my honest opinion and we were really positively surprised by the tour and loved every part of it. Compared to what I read and heard about the standard Halong Bay Cruises (starting from Halong City) and how crowded it is there, visiting Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island appears to be a way better experience and the price seemed very fair. A shorter stay is also possible: Some people, who were on the island with us just opted for a 2 day Halong Bay tour, in which case you skip all activities of the 2nd day described above. You can find more information about all Halong Hideaway Tours here.

Full Gallery of the 3 day Cruise Through Halong Bay

VIEW FULL GALLERY

More pics and higher resolution!