It is possible to visit Halong Bay without doing an one or two night cruise, but it is much more relaxing to do at least an overnight cruise. Halong Bay is absolutely beautiful and there are a variety of cruise choices. Most of the cruises offer some similar activities such as visiting caves, kayaking, doing tai chi, and watching a cooking demonstration. All of the various excursions away from the cruise ship were wonderful, but just sitting on the top deck and watching the scenery go by was just as much of a highlight.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking a cruise on Halong Bay is an extremely popular tourist activity and you will be surrounded by many other cruise ships with similar itineraries. That means that when you are not on the ship, you will face large crowds at each of the various sites that you visit. It also means that there will be lots of other ships around you as you cruise along the bay. We went during a bit of an off-season and it was still extremely busy, so we can only imagine what it would be like during the high-season.
Meals are obviously included as well, with most cruise ships offering a variety of authentic Vietnamese cooking. Most of the meals on our cruise were multicourse meals with more food than we could possibly eat. One of the nice things was that they were served family style with everyone at a table sharing, which gives you a chance to meet some of the other passengers. There was also a reception at the end of the first day with specialty drinks available during a happy hour. Since the meals were included, the cost of having a drink or two is very minimal.
Seeing both a sunset and a sunrise during our trip was definitely one of the highlights of our overnight cruise on Halong Bay. Seeing the orange glow over the unique landscape that is the trademark of Halong Bay was truly spectacular. Since we spent almost every day during our time in Vietnam on long tours in order to see as much of the country as possible, having a couple of days with a more relaxed tempo gave us a much needed break from the hectic streets of Hanoi.