Wonderful Halong Bay is probably Vietnam’s most iconic travel destination. Famed by its glorious karst stones, visitors to Halong Bay can enjoy kayaking, swimming and learning about local life while witnessing the spectacular scenery from a luxury cruise liner. Halong Bay is a common addition to a Hanoi itinerary, as tours leave from the city daily and take one, two or three days.
But this area of Northern Vietnam does have distinct seasons; making the best time to visit Halong Bay debatable. While the summertime is typically rainy, it rarely rains all day – and as the weather can reach the late thirties, the water is just waiting to be jumped into.
But what about Halong Bay in winter – or more specifically, Halong Bay in December? Is it still worth the visit then?
The Weather in Halong Bay in December
The weather in northern Vietnam in November, December, January and February can be a little hit and miss. I spent three weeks in Hanoi/ the Halong Bay area from the 19th November until the 10th December. The first two weeks were warm, generally shorts weather every day and I had the A/C on whenever possible.
The last week was ab-so-lutely FREEZING. Well, I’m talking 15 degree weather – but at least 10 degrees cooler than what it was like before. I was told by locals that this is pretty usual and the temperature generally stays between 15-20 until March (when the entirety of the country, except the mountainous region of Sapa, resembles a furnace).
I was expecting cooler weather on my Halong Bay in December tour. What I wasn’t expecting was rain. All weekend. But that’s what we got!
Generally, it rains less in Halong Bay in December than in the summertime, but light rain is common. It is also generally quite foggy in the bay at this time of year. While this may sound like a negative, a bit of fog actually adds to the compel and intrigue of the landscape. It wasn’t so foggy that we couldn’t see everything on our Halong Bay cruise; we just had a touch of mist which gave the scenery an enigmatic air.
Of course, you won’t know what the weather in Halong Bay in December will be like for you until you’re there. You could get lucky and have three days of sunshine, you could experience rain for the entire time (like we did!) or you could have thick fog, making it hard to see the karst stones. It’s a lucky dip, but I can attest that experiencing rain for three days didn’t affect my enjoyment of cruising Halong Bay.
Activities in Halong Bay in December
The long and short of it is that you probably won’t be swimming in Halong Bay in December – unless you’re very lucky and get a hot sunny day and are British, so think that anything above 20 degrees is a tropical heatwave.
However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do in Halong Bay in winter.Here ares some other activities in Halong Bay that don’t discriminate against seasons.
While kayaking is generally suited to warmer weather, it’s still a good time in the cold and wet; rowing through mist to reach a karst stone that it seems like only you can see is quite a magical concept, after all. Plus, if it’s raining you’ll probably already be wet – so why not risk getting wetter by rowing around in the open seas?
Sightseeing from the Tender Boat
If you don’t fancy maneuvering yourself into a long thin boat that you have complete control of, just sit back and watch the scenery go by from the tender boat. This way you can still see the beautiful rock formations up close, but don’t have the risk of potentially getting lost in mist or capsizing into South East Asia’s coldest sea (which is still pretty warm). The tender is covered, so you won’t have to worry about getting wet if it’s raining.
The caves can be visited rain or shine; you’ll be able to climb up to a spectacular viewpoint and snap a great picture of your main boat, as well as marvel at the stagmalites and stalacites in the cave. Even if it’s cold you’ll get warm on the hike up, and the rain won’t put too much of a dampener on things!
You’ll be able to visit the floating fishing village come rain or shine. You might get cold, so do wrap up/ wear your waterproofs, as the rowing boats that you tour around on don’t have covers. But there’s no reason to miss this – it’s one of the best parts of the Halong Bay tour.
Water Puppet Show
This one’s after the tour, but is well worth a mention – many tours include a trip to visit a water puppet show on the way back to Hanoi. This is a traditional Vietnamese way of storytelling and is a great cultural experience. The shows are all in Vietnamese but are easy to follow along. The show uses a body of water as the ‘stage’ (the puppeteers are actually in the water) as puppets depict scenes from rural Vietnamese life.
The Boat Facilities
Of course, the activities and facilities on the cruise boat can be enjoyed whatever the weather. During our Halong Bay cruise in December, we got to experience the following.
• Cooking Demonstration – We learnt to make deep friend spring rolls on the boat – they were then fried up, ready for dinner!
• Tai Chi – this took place on the deck every morning
• Massage – there were masseurs available on the boat (for an extra cost)
• Amazing food – the food on our cruise boat was out of this world; they even had a full vegan menu (and everything on it was actually 100% vegan!).
• Beautiful Rooms – our rooms were luxurious, comfy and spacious with en-suite bathrooms, featuring baths overlooking the sea and karst stones
• Bar – there was a full bar service, with cocktails, beer, wine tea, coffee and soft drinks
Sounds like heaven, right? We went with Indochina Junk, a luxury cruising company with a great reputation. They are quite pricey, but they’re really a cut above the rest and also make the most conscious effort to be environmentally friendly towards Halong Bay.
So is Halong Bay in December worth it?
While I am very keen to revisit Halong Bay in warmer months, I do think that Halong Bay in December is worth it that’s the only time you’ll be in Northern Vietnam. The only activities that we really missed out on were swimming, chilling on the deck and a BBQ on the beach (which we just had on the boat instead!).
It’s also worth noting that there are many dry days in December (we just got unlucky); more so than in the warmer months. While in summer you’ll be graced with warm rain – so kayaking in the rain might seem a little more inviting – in December you may be so lucky as to have dry, cooler weather. Ya just never know! But if you pack accordingly you’ll still be able to comfortably enjoy the staggering natural beauty that is Halong Bay, whether it’s raining, shining, sleeting, fogging or anything else!
However, I would argue that Halong Bay in winter is only really worthwhile if you’re going to book with a good boat who has enough facilities to keep you entertained. I could have quite happily stayed on Indochina Junk’s boat for the entire cruise, it was that good. You’re going to want to make sure you have a boat that you feel comfortable in and that has enough room inside, in case it’s raining and you don’t want to go on deck.
Indochina Junk (I’m not affiliated with them at all, I paid full price for my tour, but I just think they’re rad) has my vote but if they are out of your price range, I’ve included some other tour providers below.
The Best Halong Bay Tours in December
Ha Long Dragon Gold Cruises is a 3* cruise company that offers two or three day cruises around the bay. Starting at $145 for a room for two people, it’s a great option to see Halong Bay and experience sleeping on the boat on the cheap.
Seasun Boutique Cruise offers small cruises of a 3* standard, with compact ships and friendly, accommodating staff. They visit all the main attractions in the bay and offer some activities on the boat itself.
Peony Cruises have huge, 5* rooms, some with their own private balcony. Each tour has a busy itinerary – perfect for those who want to see the most of Halong Bay. The boats also visit Lan Ha Bay.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to stay overnight in Halong Bay or are conscious of your budget, then you might want to take a day tour. Check out day tours to Halong Bay by clicking this link or by browsing the suggested tours below.
Halong Bay in Winter
The best time to visit Halong Bay is debatable, but I hope that this blog post has convinced you that Halong Bay in December, January or February shouldn’t be completely off the cards! If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it or follow me on Facebook.