Visiting Halong Bay With Kids

The reason to visit Halong Bay with kids is… very simply… it is so beautiful. 

This area of karst limestone islands has the most entrancing views, and gorgeous colours at sunrise and sunset too. In Vietnam, this UNESCO World Heritage Sire is always referred to as Ha Long Bay, by the way.

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The view from the entrance to Sung Sok Cave at Halong Bay

Although we had seen many photos of Halong Bay, we didn’t really know much about what the experience would be like as visitors.  We did think that our twin 13-year-olds would enjoy a Halong Bay cruise, especially when we saw kayaking and visiting caves on the itinerary.

NB: Read more highlights of our Vietnam holiday with teenagers here.

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The photo above shows the view from the top of  Titop Island, taken on our last morning at Halong Bay, and it’s one of my very favourites from our visit. There’s just something about the mistiness and muted colours that makes Halong Bay feel really ethereal.

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This was our fine vessel, not too big and not too small

Planning A Halong Bay Trip With Kids

Our entire holiday in Vietnam was organised for us by local travel company Vietnam Paradise Travel, based in Hanoi.  I can highly recommend these guys, they made the whole holiday very easy. Always good when you have kids with you!  For the Halong Bay part of our holiday, we were picked up from our Hanoi hotel and driven the three or so hours to Tuan Chau harbour.

We were booked onto one of the Alisa Cruises vessels, and I must say it was very luxurious. The twins were in a double cabin and my husband and I were in a king cabin, with interconnecting doors between the cabins. 

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The balcony was very welcome.
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The cabin was pretty large – top views!
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But the bathroom was the standout – massive! There was a big spa bath, which we all used, and a separate shower
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The ship’s upper deck was excellent for reading

The scenery as we steamed along was really very special.

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We did a two-night cruise and kayaked twice.  Small tenders took passengers to floating pontoons amongst the islands where we were fitted with lifejackets and then we hopped into the kayaks. We saw a monkey as we paddled by one small island which was exciting for us… the monkey was unmoved as it padded its way across the rocks.

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Kayaking amongst the towering islands.
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On our first night, towards the late afternoon, we visited Sung Sot Cave, the biggest cave system in the Bay. First, tenders took us to Bo Hon Island.  Then we climbed up MANY STEPS to get into the caves, OK not that many but they were steep. There’s a one-way system, where everyone starts at one place and then walks through the caves and comes out at the end then walks down the steps and along the shore to meet the small tenders again.

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The caves are massive, with huge stalactites and stalagmites. Because the caves were only entered by outsiders in 1901 and have only recently become a major tourist attraction, they seem very untouched.

The steps and the pathways through the cave look new and are in great condition. It is terrific to see that tourists can only walk on specific pathways. The lighting is well done too, and, although the caves did have lots of people within, it didn’t feel too crowded.

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The next day we spent most of the day visiting places on a day boat, with lunch served after a kayaking trip, on another boat.

We visited a smaller cave too and this was much more adventurous with our guide leading us into black caves, which he lit up for us. We had to clamber under low entrances to get into some of them.

It was fun to go into less busy caves, and they were really interesting too. Nothing like a geology lesson in the caves themselves.

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Myself and Ms13 posing in a smaller open cave.

As we got back to the ship on that second evening, we met a floating shopkeeper, paddling her wares out to sell to the ships at anchor.  We had no cash with us so we missed out on stocking up on snacks ourselves. Shame!

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On the final morning of our short voyage, we were awake early and off in the tenders to Titop Island. There is a very steep walk up many, many steps to get to a lookout at the top. The steps and path are very well maintained, but this is not a walk for anyone who is not fairly fit.

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The views over the nearby islands were sublime.
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Rare family selfie with everyone looking cheerful, a miracle after that climb.
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Check out how steep the steps are… good exercise.
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There’s a netted swimming baths and a little beach on Titop Island, and I did fling myself in for a cool dip, no-one else in the family fancied it though.

I had hoped that Halong Bay might have loads of lovely beaches and crystal clear waters and be wonderful for swimming. In fact, the water is not at all clear anywhere that we saw. There’s a fair bit of pollution in some places too, especially around oyster farms.

The islands rise up steeply from the water, so that little beach at Titop Island was the only one we saw.  There may be other wilder places that we didn’t see, of course.  (I do know that a UK company runs swimming holidays based on Cat Ba island which is not too far away.)

The twins tried their hand at squid fishing both nights… to no avail, luckily for the squid. But the teenagers enjoyed it.

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Some other activities were offered on the ship, like simple cooking demonstrations and cocktail and snack parties on the deck. 

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Scenic sunsets over the islands
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Now, I must also note that the food aboard the ship was absolutely terrific, and there was plenty of it. Two of our party are vegetarian and never eat any meat, chicken or fish. They were very well catered for, we all were.

The crew were very jolly and helpful, and their English was good which was helpful as our Vietnamese is terrible. With the large and really luxurious cabins, great grub and beaut views, this cruise really was a highlight of our Vietnam holiday.

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There were many ships on the same route as us.
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Here is another grand one which we anchored alongside.

I would, of course, have loved to venture further into the islands, maybe to have gone to more remote places. If I went again to Halong Bay, I might look for that.

We went in December when the weather was cool, and that was good. We occasionally needed cardigans. I wouldn’t love it in the summer when it is boiling hot.

Many families do a one-night Halong Bay cruise, but I am glad we did the two nights. We had time to relax in amongst all the activities. I am a firm believer in soaking in the views… which often means staring vacantly into the beautiful distance… or reading a book with the odd gaze over the scenery. Holiday heaven.  With the three-hour drive to and from Hanoi, one night away wouldn’t have suited us. Many people do do that though.

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On both nights we anchored in amongst a big crowd of other boats. Halong Bay is very very popular and full of tourists. Our boat probably only had 40 guests aboard though – a real international mix too.

Our kids found this cruise a highlight of our long-planned holidays in Vietnam.  I did too, each view was striking, the geography and the geology of the islands were really interesting. I am a lover of caves and so hugely enjoyed both the small and the large ones.

Alisa Cruises ran the trip like clockwork and our friends at Vietnam Paradise Travel got us from Hanoi to the port seamlessly. We were collected from the cruise bang on time too and taken straight to the airport to catch our flight to Danang then minibus to Hoi An… but that is another story!

So farewell Halong Bay, you treasure. I would go back tomorrow.

And we are very happy to recommend Alisa Cruises and Vietnam Paradise Travel


Click here for more tips on planning a family holiday in Vietnam.

Click here to see the entire itinerary for our Family trip in December 2019.



Vietnam Holidays With Teenagers: what we enjoyed the most has more info on the other places we visited and things we did in Vietnam.


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