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Take your pick from more than 500 boat operators that cruise Halong Bay. Standards vary from cheap "get 'em in, get 'em out" passenger boats to high-end luxury vessels that aim to make relaxing your main priority. Package tours usually include round-trip transportation from Hanoi, with bay excursions like kayaking, cave tours, and island expeditions. Overnight trips include the above, plus meals, a private cabin, a visit to floating villages, and a day at Cat Ba Island (two-night tours only). If you are paying less than $100 for a two-night, three-day trip, then expect some dodgy services. Day trips to Halong Bay are extremely rushed and should only be booked if time is limited. Ranging from 314,100 VND ($15) for budget tours to 1,675,200 VND ($80) for higher-end ones, these day trips are rather exhausting considering the four-hour drive from Hanoi. For those short on time and money, it's possible to take a public boat from Halong City to Cat Ba Island for around 130,000 VND. This will give you a glimpse of the landscape and an afternoon on the island before returning to Halong or Haiphong City by hydrofoil. Although cheaper tours might be tempting, remember that the less revenue they're making means their expenses have been cut in other areas, like maintenance, cleanliness, safety, and quality of service. The Heritage Line is the only company to take passengers further out to bay, offering unobstructed views far from boat traffic despite the extra fuel it costs them to get there.
Hadeco Speed Boat. For transportation between Cat Ba Island and Haiphong City, Hadeco has speed boats that depart six times daily for around 150,000 VND per ticket. The trip takes about one hour and 45 minutes. Boats arrive and depart from Ven Binh Pier in Haiphong and the main port in Cat Ba town. Hadeco also has a bus–boat package that includes bus transport from Halong City for about double the price. Tickets from Halong City can be purchased from the Hadeco Office inside Luong Yen Bus Station. Ben Binh Pier in Hai Phong or Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay. 031/382–2333. www.hadeco.vn.
Heritage Line (22 Slot C, Cai Dam, Garden Villa, Bai Chay, Halong Bay. 84–33/351–2446. www.heritage-line.com.)
Hydrofoil Transfers. There are about four companies offering daily hydrofoil service between Cat Ba Island and Haiphong City. Tickets cost between 120,000 and 150,000 VND and can be purchased at the Ben Binhn Pier in Haiphong or the center of town in Cat Ba. Ben Binh Pier in Haiphong or Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay.
Sunset. This 30-passenger Heritage Line boat explores the southern part of Halong Bay to Cat Ba Island on a one-day excursion. A restaurant on board serves brunch shortly after passengers embark. If guests aren't catching some rays on the sundeck, they may be joining in Tai Chi classes or cooking workshops, or getting massages at the spa. The highlight of the voyage is Cat Ba, the bay's largest island, half of which is designated as a national park. Disembarking here, guests can explore small coves, fishing villages, mangrove forests, limestone cliffs, and the main town. The Sunset boat is generally reserved for guests cruising a minimum of two nights on other junks at bay, so contact Heritage Line in advance regarding availability for the one-day trip. 22 Slot C, Cai Dam, Garden Villa, Bai Chay, Halong Bay. 84-33/351–2446. www.heritage-line.com.
Violet Luxury Cruise. The most luxurious boat on Halong Bay, the 12-passenger Violet parades the waters in royal Indochine-style by combining classical French architecture with Vietnamese allure. It offers tours lasting from one to three nights; destinations include Tien Ong Cave, the Cua Van fishing village, and Ti Top Island. Each of its six suites features a private balcony, Jacuzzi tub, hardwood floors, ornate furnishings, and a flat-screen TV. Set menus and à la carte cuisine are included in the rate. Guests may participate in a cooking class and morning Tai Chi. There is also a gym, sauna, library, sundeck, and spa. Despite its luxury, the wooden floors are creaky, and you'll likely see floating debris and litter on Halong Bay. 22 Slot C, Cai Dam, Garden Villa, Bai Chay, Halong City, Halong Bay. 84–33/351–2446. www.heritage-line.com. 6 rooms. All meals.