There are hundreds of tour companies offering boat cruise service in Halong Bay and you may get confused about which one is suitable. The answer is you get what you pay for, some people argue "cheap is not good and good is not cheap" however if you are wise enough you can find a cruise which is both cheap and good. Cheap Halong bay tours
Actually there are only 2 classes of cruises in Halong Bay, deluxe class and budget class, is it worth 1000 usd for just a couple of days on board with a join group tour? Some newer boats built recently such as Violet, Au Co claim to have luxury 5 star service, and their price is also 5 star.
Most travelers to Halong Bay look for middle class cruisers, this way guarantee them a decent trip without paying too much, there are many cruises of middle range and there is not much difference between them. Travelers can pay less than 100 usd/person for typical 2 day Halong bay tours, with full meals on board, entrance fees, guiding service included, but you have to pay for your drinks on boat, the food is pretty good, mostly seafood like crabs, sentinels, squid together with local specialities such as Spring rolls, beef fried with vegetable, chicken eggs, boiled morning glory plus 1 soft drink during meals
Most Halong bay cruisers have 10-12 cabins, or bedrooms, provide accommodation for 20-22 guests, some boats such as Poseidon, Helios have only 6-8 cabins catering for 12-16 passengers only. The cabins are rather large, about 18 square meters, passengers can have a double cabin with 1 big bed or a twin cabin with 2 single beds, this should be arranged when you book the tours, the cabins are equipped with good and clean pillows, blankets, some water and fruits, and there is 1 western toilet in the bathroom...in other words it is like a 2-3 star hotel room.
All Halong bay cruises start from Hanoi, passengers are picked up between 8.00 - 8.30 from different hotels in the Old Quarter or the centre area, travellers staying at hotels in the outside area have to catch a taxi to the cruise office to start the trip, it is sometimes annoying as the traffic in Hanoi in the morning is really heavy and you may have to wait 1 hour to get picked up.
Most people arrange their trip before coming to Vietnam, however you can keep the cost down by booking the trip when you are in Hanoi, there are plenty of booking offices in the Old Quarter and you can have a good deal if you book the trip in the last minutes, though sometimes it is risky as your favorite boats may have been fully booked. You can also arrange the trip through the hotels you are staying, most hotels have a travel desk at the lobby arranging trip for guests of their hotels.
Travel time from Hanoi to Halong bay is about 4 hours, with a 20 minute stop at a shopping complex in Hai Duong town, this is where visitors have a chance to go to toilets and buy souvenirs, most complexes like this provide job for the disability and prices are more expensive than average, and most of the profits go to local charity houses. Stuff in the complex is of high quality and all made by hand, here you can buy an embroidered picture for 50 usd or a marble Buddha statue at 40 usd, if you are not interested in buying souvenirs just have a window shopping or take a seat and enjoying the specialty of this town: Green Bean cake with Vietnamese tea, all for free.
Most cruisers stop in Bai Chai area of Halong city, other boats pick up passengers from Tuan Chau island, it takes about 30 minutes to get permit and finish all paperwork travelers get on boat and start sailing towards the sea...