Cruising to Monkey Island Halong Bay – Land of King Kong

Halong Bay can be quite busy and touristy but it was one of my top reasons to visit Vietnam in the first place. These 1,969 karst islets have been awarded the UNESCO world heritage site status and once you see them for real, you will know why! The fact that King Kong Part 2Skull Island was filmed here, simply adds to the charm and chaos of this pretty destination. However, if you want to enjoy the beauty of this place minus the maddening crowds, head to the flip side of Monkey Island Halong Bay which boasts of the lavish Monkey island resort with their own private beach.

Choosing the Right Halong Bay Cruise

Choosing amongst thousands of types, styles and cruise itineraries for Halong Bay was a stressful job, to say the least. After talking to over 50 travelers and tour agents, I finally found the perfect match. There are several “fake” tour operators, websites and scams going around so be very careful while making your booking.

Choosing halong bay cruise

Cruising by the bay

After doing my due research and reading raving reviews on TripAdvisor, I headed to the office of Friends Travel Vietnam in Hanoi. This was the best decision I made. This Dutch owned company has excellent staff who take you through each and every tiny aspect of your itinerary in great details. They ask for your preferences and give options based on cost, activities, cruise quality, number of days etc. We spent around 30 mins talking to their rep who patiently explained all options, giving us realistic pros and cons which helped us make a decision on the spot.

Finally, we opted for a relaxed style with one night onboard a cruise and one night on private monkey island Halong bay with a few activities roped in for good measure like Kayaking, caving, short hikes etc. Our tariff of USD 160 per person, included accommodation (1N on cruise and 1N in an ocean front bungalow), all activities and delicious meals.

NoteI am not affiliated/partnered with Friends travel Vietnam in any way and I paid full price for my 2N/3D cruise with them. Their services were just so good, I simply had to mention them here for benefit of all readers.

sunrise halong bay

Sunrise from our cruise

For all the wild party lovers, I would highly recommend the Castaways island tour organised by Vietnam backpackers hostel on their private island. I spoke to the guy who organised these tours for 6 months plus several backpackers who had just amazing things to say about this getaway. Fun filled water activities, full board and non-stop partying is guaranteed if you opt for this ultimate party cruise. Priced at USD 219 for 2N/3D, this was my first choice. However, I realized it was better for solo backpackers and after 2 weeks of traveling solo in Vietnam, I finally met my hubby in Hanoi so we could use some relaxation away from the party crowds and spend some more “us” time.

Whatever you choose, be sure to read reviews first and talk to some people before you book. I would also recommend going to the tour office and booking in person vs. paying online.

Tip – Hanoi to Halong Bay takes over 6 hours one way, so don’t opt for the 1N cruises – you will just end up feeling tired and stressed at the end of it. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing, isn’t it? 

The Lovely Monkey Island Cruise Liner

We were onboard the fantastic monkey island cruise liner and loved every bit of it. Our room had an amazing view of the bay with chairs laid out on the patio. The cruise itself had a cozy dining area and a wonderful sun deck with lounge chairs offering ultimate relaxation. Its the perfect place to get work done so I got a chance to document my Vietnamese adventures.

Our cozy room in the monkey bay cruise liner

Our cozy room in the monkey bay cruise liner

Lovely balcony with stellar views of the bay

Lovely balcony with stellar views of the bay

halong bay views

Amazing dining area to binge gawk at Halong bay even while eating

Activities While Cruising to Monkey Island Halong Bay

You can enjoy an array on activities on your cruise and off it. From stunning deck views, cooking classes and chatting with fellow travelers, our monkey island cruise liner was cozy, comfy and relaxing – Just what the doctor ordered after two weeks of running around Vietnam, trying to explore as much as I could.

monkey island cruise

Relaxing at the sun deck and clicking pics like these 🙂

We had our fair share of activities which were easy and optional. So, if you just wanted to chill with a beer on deck, by all means – go for it! If you are like me and don’t like to miss out on anything, you will be making your way to the Sung Sot cave first.

Exploring Sung Sot Cave

After seeing the huge lines at the cave entrance, I was immediately disappointed. I am not a big fan of busy places (unless its a club, then I would like it to be crowded) so looking at hoarding of visitors struggling to make their way up the narrow staircases was a big fat turn off for me. When I entered the cave though, I knew what all the fuss was about. This beautifully lit up cave looks so alluring and psychedelic what I was drawn to it at first sight.

interiors of Sung sot cave

Psychedelic interiors of Sung sot cave

Not only the interiors, the view from outside the cave was one of the BEST Halong Bay viewpoints I had seen on the trip.

Kayaking Around Halong Bay

Even though it was overcast and the water was cold, kayaking along the bay was so much fun. It was incredible to be able to go right up to the karst formations or even inside caves – basically, you hop on a kayak and go anywhere you want! How cool is that?

Kayaking in Halong Bay

Kayaking in Halong Bay

The Lavish Monkey Island Resort

Finally our monkey island cruise docked at the lavish private resort which basks in natural beauty and is conveniently located on the other side of the busy monkey island.

monkey island resort

First look at the amazing monkey island resort

After gushing over our fancy ocean view beach bungalows, we had a lovely lunch with the stellar views of Halong Bay.

monkey island resort ocean view bungalows

Fancy, spacious 3 bed ocean view bungalows

Lunch with fellow travelers by the bay

Lunch with fellow travelers by the bay

If that wasn’t incredible enough, the private white sand beach was beautiful and monkey island resort offered many games to enjoy in your free time. You can choose from playing table tennis, pool, volleyball etc.

Lovely private white sand beach

Lovely private white sand beach

While at the resort, we also enjoyed one of the best (And steep) hikes on the island. We hiked right to the top of the island to enjoy surreal 360 degree views of the bay and hiked down over to the other side to feed the monkeys. The hike was quite tough but surely worth it.

top of monkey island

Enjoying the views after a steep hike to the top of monkey island

After 3 days of fun and frolic, our time at monkey island Halong bay came to an end. We were sad to bid adieu but excited for new adventures that followed.

Have you visited Halong Bay? Which cruise did you opt for and how was your experience? Tell me in comments below.

17 Comments

  1. great to read!!*im leaving tuesday to vietnam and your tips are really helpful! Wanted to go to Friends Travel also as I am Dutch so good to read it was the best decision 🙂

    • Great. Say Hi to Sidney (the owner of FTV) when you go 🙂 Oh and def visit dalat and danang – two of my top spots in Vietnam (blogging about them as we speak so stay tuned to the blog).

  2. I need to save this one for future so that I can remember which tour boat to take. So glad you provided such details as this will make my planning very easy. I know this is touristy but like you I believe it will be a highlight. And the Monkey Island resort seems amazing, great rooms and even better beaches. What an incredible trip. So glad you shared.

  3. This looks like so much fun!!! I like to take my time on trips, so I would have picked the relaxed style as well. That cave looks so awesome!

  4. We didn’t make that stop on our Halong Bay cruise! We did do the caves however. I was actually disappointed with how they do tourism in Halong Bay, for being such a beautiful and unique place they are really trashing the place and the boats were leaking oil, fuel, and littering 🙁 Even though we were bummed out about the way we saw Halong Bay, we still loved the breathtaking views! I wish we would have stopped at monkey island instead of the Pearl Farm or the island we stopped at with 60 other boats and a beach that was really meant for like 40 people not 400!

    • Arggh totally agree. Over touristy for sure and ruining the environment – thats why Monkey island (the other side of it, to be precise) was a highlight for us.

  5. halong bay is truly stunning and I had no idea that you could stay at a land resort there. Shows how much research I did. I did one night on a cruise and to anyone considering booking, it isn’t enough. Not ever! This bay is breathtaking and you need at least two nights to properly appreciate the gorgeous scenery and sunsets

  6. What wonderful places and the cruise liner is a great way to explore the Monkey Island Halong Bay. I’ve never done kayaking but I think that in such a beautiful landscape I would be able to try anything new even if I’m a bit afraid of deep waters.

    • You do get lifejackets – I am not a swimmer myself but feel totally safe on kayaks, tubes, rafts and the likes 🙂

  7. This place seems so idyllic ☺ It’s good to be fore warned about fake tour operators. It would awful to be scammed like that!

  8. I’m impressed, this is the first trip to Halong Bay I’ve read about which actually suits my travel style and inspires me to go – thanks for the tips on Monkey Island – we’re well past our backpacking party days, and I had heard that this is the main scene from most Halong Bay Cruises. Friends Travel Vietnam sounds like an incredible company though, so I’ve now realized it’s just about choosing the right cruise!

  9. Halong Bay is on my list of must-see destinations that I still haven’t made it to yet. With so many options for cruising, I am glad to read this recommendation. Your beautiful photos mirror the description, so at least my research will be a bit easier. Thanks.

  10. We went last year. I believe the boat we were on was The Jasmin. Loved every minute! The crowds and boat traffic were not as bad as I had expected. Maybe March is the slow season? Anyway, it was one of the highlights of our trip and as a bonus for me, the best croissants anywhere, hands down

  11. Hi Jo, thanks for this post! Getting overwhelmed looking at tours online!
    How far in advance did you book the tour? Were there many solo travellers on this cruise?
    Thanks!
    Hannah

    • Hi Hannah, I know how daunting it can be! I booked just 1 day prior and yes apart from me and another friend I made traveling solo, there was another solo traveler. However, this is mostly geared towards friends/families. If you want to meet other solo travelers def go for the vietnam backpacker’s tour esp if you want to party like there is no tomorrow ;p Let me know.

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