Halong Bay: The Ultimate Party Cruise!

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Halong Bay is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. Thousands of giant limestone islands fill the bay, and when it’s misty, it gives off the feeling of a haunted Jurassic Park.

I knew I had to visit Halong Bay, and there are plenty of tour operators offering different cruise packages.  But over and over, I kept hearing the same refrain from fellow travelers:

“You have to do the trip with Hanoi Backpackers.  It’s expensive, but so worth it.”

Plenty of Halong Bay tour operators run two-day tours for about $25 and three-day tours for $35.  The Rock Long, Rock Hard Tour of Halong Bay from Hanoi Backpackers costs $70 for two days and $120 for three.

I decided to go with the two-day tour – and everyone was right.  It was so worth it.

We stepped on board and our tour leader, Sebastian, gave us a brief overview of the rules.  “Do not climb the rope ladders – they won’t hold your weight.” Check.  “Do not swim after dark – you’ll freeze and nobody will pull you out.” Check again.

Then came rule #3:

“Do not, under any circumstances – and people have been sent home for this in the past – drink from your right hand.”


“If anyone does, you may shout, ‘Buffalo!’ at them and they must consume the rest of their drink in its entirety.  The person who called Buffalo gets to then draw anything they want on that person’s face.”

This wasn’t our parents’ cruise, that’s for sure.  (Also, see the above photo.)

“If anyone uses the words drink, drank or drunk, that person must immediately drop and do five push-ups.”

Oh, I was so in the right place!

Amazingly, for the first time in my nine days in Vietnam, the sun came out. The sun warmed our faces, the sea looked like a smooth piece of jade, and it was absolutely glorious.

People jumped in from the top floor of the boat!

Next, we went kayaking around the bay.  The scenery?  Incredible. I paired up with the only other American on the boat, a girl from Philadelphia, and we paddled our boat while cheering, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

We even paddled through a cave.

But after dinner, the party really got started.

“You’re going to need a lot of drinks for this one,” Sebastian warned us.  It was time for an elaborate, enormous game of King’s Cup.

King’s Cup is a drinking game played by a large group with several decks of cards on the table.  People turn over the cards, and there is a rule for each card turned over.

Every time we turned over a 2, we jumped up and screamed, “F*CK YOU!” at the top of our lungs, forcing the other table to drink.  (“We usually hear complaints about that from the other boats,” Sebastian told us.)

My first card that I turned over was a Queen, which stood for cross-dressing – so I had to swap clothing with the first guy on my left.  I was SO glad I wore my hippie pants!  Don’t they look good on him?

The two best and most creative cards?  The troll and Stephen Hawking.

If you were the troll, you had to sit underneath the table – but you could tap people on the feet, and they would have to feed you their drinks!  One of the girls became an evil troll and drew all over everyone’s feet.

Poor Mike was stuck as the troll for 20 minutes.  (I wanted to be the troll!!  I kept getting the God card and had to make up rules for the other team to follow!)

If you were Stephen Hawking, you had to sit motionless – the only way you could signal for a drink was to tap your finger on the table.  That went for smoking, too!

It was a crazy, crazy night. Before long, everyone at my table had to kiss the person to his or her left on the cheek before drinking, and all the guys at the other table were sitting in their undies.  (Big surprise — I came up with the latter rule.)

Nothing made me laugh as hard as when the Stephen Hawking on the other team was chosen for cross-dressing — and had to be undressed and redressed by his teammates!

The game came to an abrupt end when a guy was pantsed by his mates…and then refused to pull his pants up, swaying in the breeze.  “I don’t even care!  This is fine!  Do you like it?”  In fact, his look-at-me-I’m-naked-from-the-waist-down speech went on so long, his mates had to “unpants” him.

But it was fine – because the boat turned into a dance party.

All of us who had been in Vang Vieng led the party in the Americano dance!

What a night.

The next morning, we cruised peacefully through the bay, admiring the stunning cliffs before us as we returned to the mainland.  The sky had turned gray again, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

Would I recommend this Halong Bay cruise?  Absolutely. My friends and I are still talking about this cruise, nearly a month later.  We keep running into friends from the cruise as we travel through Vietnam, and each time, we reminisce about Stephen Hawking and the troll.

It was worth it to be on a cruise that was well-run. I’ve heard lots of stories about cruises being overbooked, and whenever this one overbooks, they tie on another boat and sail in tandem!  Every moment was well planned and executed.

It was worth it to be on a cruise with cool people. While other Halong Bay cruises are filled with “newlyweds and nearly-deads,” this cruise was filled with young people – many of whom were already our friends from the hostel!

It was worth it to be on a cruise with organized fun. Yes, I’ve had loads of fun everywhere I’ve been, but having crazy games was a nice change from the usual low-key hanging out at the hostel.

My one regret?  Going in January. I do wish I had decided to travel in chilly northern Vietnam during the summer months.  Had that been the case, I would have signed up for the three-day cruise, complete with camping on the beach and wakeboarding!

Here’s something I learned later: the first day of the Halong Bay cruise was my 100th day on this trip. I could think of no better way of celebrating 100 days of travel!

Find a hotel for the night before or after your cruise here.

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57 thoughts on “Halong Bay: The Ultimate Party Cruise!”

      1. Does anyone know where I can book this tour?! There are so many scammers and I am struggling to find the right people! Thanks for any help.

          1. I don’t get it. Why would anyone travel all the way to Vietnam with it’s immense history and then party with White people with the sole purpose of getting drunk? Could’ve done that back home. Weird.

  1. it seems you find the coolest parties – really envious 🙂 – looks like you’re having the time of your life, as you should…oh, here’s an idea of a drinking game (maybe you know this, maybe not) – get in a large group and start counting; when you get to 3 or any number divided by 3 or has number 3 in it you have to shout a code word and the direction changes. If someone gets it wrong, he/she has to drink…it’s so much fun – have to pay attention to number 12 and 13 😉 but after a while it just doesn’t matter anymore!

    Keep us posted with your adventures!

  2. I just read Todd’s post over at Todd’s Wanderings today about his horrific experience braving the storm that hit Halong Bay back in 2000. This was such a contrast, two completely different experiences in the same place! Looks like you had an amazing time..loove the Kings Cup rules your tour group implemented….will be stealing!

  3. OMG!!!!! You should have seem my face when I read your post! We play the buffalo game here in Quebec!! I was so shocked (and happy!!) to read that they know this game in Vietnam as well! Wow!! I’ll def take the tour with the same compagny when I’ll go to Vietnam! You get so used to this game that after a while you fear to drink anything with your right hand and switch to left hand without even noticing!

    We also play King’s Game but with different rules and it’s called F**k you Game. Stephen Hawkin rule should be added to our version haha!

    You made my day with this post!!

  4. Sounds like such a good time! I’m reading this at work, and laughed out loud and got funny looks when I read about The Troll in King’s Cup. OMG, hilarious. I’ve played similar card games (Asshole, Captain Dickhead), but never King’s Cup… It sounds awesome!

    As always, so happy to see you’re having such a great time. And happy 100+ days on the road!

  5. Awesome post! Def. gonna do that tour. I introduced some Swedes/French/Spanish girls to Kings last night and we all got hammered. And now I have some new rules! (Queen can be dancing queen, meaning that person can start dancing at any time and the last person to start drinks; it’s a fun one!)

  6. Sounds like such a great time! I’m totally digging the new King’s Cup rules. I have had many hilarious nights with King’s Cup and I only see adding these rules as making it better!!

  7. While the trip to Halong Bay is memorable in itself, I couldn’t say the same about all those drinking games and getting smashed. I counted myself out. Most woke the following morning – saddos with disillusioned hangovers. There are plenty of places in Hanoi itself for that kind of thing. H B as a place for it just encourages the Vietnamese to rake in more money. Watching some jump in for a swim and react to the freezing waters had me rolling about laughing. And a lot thought the Western tour guide a complete arse.

    Next time – if there is one – I’ll be in search of a quieter cruise. Sorry folks

  8. We did the three day version of this and it was well worth it! It was raining and absolutely freezing but we had such a good time. There was more kayaking, wake boarding, beach volleyball, truth or dare and skinny dipping. At night the water has phosphorescent plankton that lit up as we shivered and swam around. Then in the morning we got up, returned to the Jolly Roger and proceeded to get drunk again at 10 am. By the end Mike and I kind of wanted to die but it was all well worth it!

    Thanks for the reccomendation Kate!

    1. I am SO glad that you went with Hanoi Backpackers! Amazing. I did want to do the three-day trip, but it was just too bloody cold!!

      I still can’t believe you guys went straight to Snake Village after…insane!

  9. I did this cruise back in July and was sadly disappointed as it was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing as I loved the craziness of the full moon party, nha trang boat cruise etc! A massive group of 30 who all knew each other previously joined our tour which made it hard to get to know anyone..also had a rude guide! It had great potential though, think we just got unlucky with a bad group! Also we never got to kayak through the caves cause there was too many people on our tour!!!

  10. That sounds immense!

    I thought it was actually much more expensive than $70 for a 2-day trip. Definitely liking the sound of Hanoi Backpackers! Were you staying in that hostel?

  11. Hi Kate.. heading to se asia for 7-8 weeks with a mate there in less than 3 weeks. Cant wait! Since coming across your site I have been pretty much using it as my basis for planning most of what we want to do… This cruise being one of those things!

    Can you tell me what the name of the hostel is that organises this and where it is?

    Also, in one of your other posts you mentioned something about offering to write reviews on a travel blog in exchange for free excursions and whatnot!… Did this blog as part of a college project on travelling… do you think it would be sufficient to wing some free stuff??


    1. Hi, Kevin — it’s all organized through Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. (There are multiple similar-sounding hostels, but it is definitely Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. It has two locations.)

      To be honest, you need to show companies that you’re a worthy investment — that your post is going to get a LOT of views. In your case, I don’t think you should be pitching. If you grow your blog and work your ass off for at least six months or so (and that means a LOT of work) and grow your audience, I think you’ll be ready to start pitching.

  12. Wow after reading this, it’s defiantly on my to-do list when I get to Vietnam. Hopefully it will be a warmer month when I make it there.

  13. Kate can I first of all thank you your blog has been a terrific source for me in planning a trip through SE asia with a friend at the beginning of 2013. unfortunately my companion and i have time restraints so we will only be able to engage in a 2 day/1 night cruise, however on the hanoi backpackers website they only advertise a 3 day/2 night cruise which we would not be able to attend before our flight home. are you aware of whether the backpackers still run a 2d/1n tour?

  14. Hey,

    I am a female traveler and am going to Vietnam for work. So i will be alone. did you feel safe on this cruise and would you recommend it for someone traveling alone.

  15. Hi kate,

    I know its been a few years since you did this tour, but i would like to do it in august and am unsure whether to book in advance or not. If i do not and miss out because it is fully booked I will be really disappointed but also am not sure if I trust booking it online.
    I just wondered your opinion on this, would you say it is safe to book a tour online in a country like vietnam? I am worried of getting scammed.
    Also do you think it would even be necessary in august to book?

    Thankyou in advance your blog has been amazing to help me plan my trip!

        1. Shayla, this was five years ago — I can’t guarantee that this even still exists. Take a look at Vietnam Backpacker Hostels for what they’re offering for Halong Bay these days.

  16. Hi there, im interested in this party cruise but id just like to find the website of the hostel you mentioned to book it through, ‘Hanoi Backpackers’ – the link you posted is broken. Are they on hostelworld or hostelbookers? Could you please respond to this to my email as I wont see your reply if its on here. Thanks so much!

  17. I just got back from Halong Bay and that party cruise is still going strong. It’s pretty infamous, as is the hostel. Haha. The prices have definitely gone up since you must have last been there, as they quoted us $220 for the 3 day/ 2 night cruise.

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