One of the more recent world heritage sites, Halong Bay is easily one of the most breathtaking places in Vietnam. Think dozens of traditional wooden junks, floating upon blue tranquil waters, with 2000 or more islands rising from the deep. I dare you to try to not be blown away by the atmosphere and beauty.
If you are in northern Vietnam, please do not miss out on Halong Bay. Yes it is a major tourist attraction, and yes it is often full of tourists on junks, but still – don’t miss it. And if you need a little more convincing, check out our photo essay of our favourite snaps from Halong Bay.
Where is it?
Halong City, from where the boats to Halong Bay depart, is due east of the capitol of Hanoi.
How to get there?
It is possible to travel to Halong Bay independently; regular busses run between Hanoi and Halong City, and from there you can negotiate your own day tour out on the bay, but I wouldn’t recommend a different option. As much as I advocate independent travel, when it comes to seeing Halong Bay, it is usually better value and a better experience to go on a guided tour.
Every tourist office in Hanoi will try to sell you a guided tour – some tours better than others. Guided tours will pick you up from Hanoi, take you straight to the bay, and straight onto your own traditional junk. Another benefit of guided tours is that the majority of guided tours are 2 – 3 days long, meaning you get to spend at least one night sleeping on the boat in the bay. The day tours available to your traveling independently are often crowded, full of karaoke style music, and do not often offer overnight excursions.
What to see?
You could spend your entire Halong Bay cruise enjoying the view from your boat, but there is a whole lot more to the region than just that. One major tourist attraction in the area is the multitude of caves in the region. Almost every boat tour will visit at least one or two of the most popular caves.
Another attraction is islands in the region. Most tours will stop at at least one island. The largest and most populated island is Cat Ba Island.
For those feeling adventurous there is Halong Bay kayaking. This is a great way to really get out and explore the karst islands up close and personal.
Where to stay?
The best place to stay in Halong Bay is well… on a boat. Some tours will offer two nights on a boat, or one night on a boat and one on Cat Ba island. This is a good option as it will allow you to explore the island of Cat Ba island, as well as it’s excellent national park. The easiest way to stay and play in Halong Bay is to book your packaged tour from Hanoi, but shop around, as quality can greatly differ between tour operators.