Get Inspired

Looking for ideas to have an unforgettable Halong Bay trip? Whether that or just uncertain about traveling Halong Bay, here are some inspirations you may need. Rest assured that this UNESCO World Heritage Site won’t let you down.

An Interview with Worldwide Travel Bloggers: Does Halong Bay still Hold its Charm?

Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay with its stunningly picturesque scenery, is an excellent choice for a getaway you will never forget.

However, after all those years welcoming hordes and hordes of tourists, you may wonder: does Halong Bay still hold its charm and stand out?

To find the answer, we have interviewed popular travel bloggers, who are experienced in traveling and have left their footprints breadth and width, by asking them these questions:

How was your trip to Halong Bay and what made you most impressed at when visiting this place? How is Halong Bay different from other bays that you’ve visited?

Let’s hear their thoughts and sharing about their trip to Halong to see what of Halong Bay impresses them and sets itself apart from other famous bays worldwide.

Robb & Marie-Carmen – a travel-blogger couple from TheOrientExcess

“Some places in the world offer a good view, some offer luxury accommodation, some offer exciting adventure, and others, cultural delights. But we reckon that if you book yourself on the right Halong Bay cruise, you’ll get all of it in one place” – Robb & Marie-Carmen

It took Robb & Marie-Carmen long time for consideration before they decided to give Halong a try. After their trip, they come to terms that Halong Bay deserves to be one of the most stunning examples of natural beauty they have ever confronted:

“Halong Bay was actually the place I’d chosen many months in advance to propose to my partner. I’d never been there before, but I’d seen enough photographs of the spectacular scenery to judge that it would be something a little beyond the ordinary and worthy of such a momentous occasion. I’d chosen well. Despite several years of constant travelling, Halong Bay remains one of the most stunning examples of natural beauty I’ve ever encountered.

The fact that this amazing place is only accessible by boat means that no towering hotels or resort complexes are able to blight the landscape. In fact, once you’re out on the water and the coastline has vanished from the horizon, there are very few signs of civilization of any kind, beyond the odd fishing boat or floating pearl farm. Just the clear water, the blue sky, and the deep emerald green of the forested islands”

Halong Bay weather in July feature image
No towering hotels or resort complexes are able to blight the landscape

Halong Bay is indeed a special masterpiece created by Nature:

“What really makes Halong so different is the islands. Hundreds upon hundreds of jungle-covered limestone karst hills that burst from the sea and create a natural maze. Almost all of them are uninhabited, and there is so much opportunity for exploring as well as sightseeing. You can sit aboard your boat, marveling at the strange rock formations that the seas erosion has created. Or you can hop in a kayak and paddle out for an up-close look.”

halong bay weather in june feature image
What really makes Halong so different is the islands – hundreds upon hundreds!

When it comes to cave exploring, Robb and Marie-Carmen suggest two ways to enjoy yourself with this activity:

“Many of the karsts hide breathtaking caves within, some of the more impressive caves are included as a part of regular tour packages, so often your boat will drop you at a small wooden pier and you can make your way inside without getting your feet wet. But for the more adventurous, there are hidden wonders to be found by equipping yourself with a kayak and a waterproof flashlight. Though, if you’re planning this kind of endeavor, make sure you have a good guide and don’t lose your proverbial trail of breadcrumbs, some of these caves quickly become labyrinths once you’re inside.”

Sung Sot Cave
Sung Sot Cave – an absolute labyrinth once you get inside

They say that they were also attracted by local people in Halong Bay floating villages:

“We also really enjoyed meeting people from the various floating communities that inhabit the bay, such as fishermen and pearl divers, some of whom have lived their entire lives out on the water without ever setting foot on dry land.”

halong bay floating villages
Floating villagers – Mom and son smile while rowing their boat

And this is their final verdict:

“Some places in the world offer a good view, some offer luxury accommodation, some offer exciting adventure, and others, cultural delights. But we reckon that if you book yourself on the right Halong Bay cruise, you’ll get all of it in one place”

Lucy, a lovely travel blogger from AbsolutelyLucy

“My main feeling when I visited was just being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity and beauty of the location, it was a truly breathtaking first glance at Vietnam.” – Lucy

Lucy is also impressed by the grandeur of Halong Bay. She did enjoy her trip there and now shares with us some best ways to make the most of the trip:

“When planning my trip to Vietnam, Halong Bay was high on my list of things to do and as soon as I arrived in Hanoi I was keen to book on to one of the best Halong cruises. I loved every second of the three day/two night cruise I booked on one of the old junk boats, I sadly don’t remember the name of the company but we had three days of cruising across the bay, kayaking, a cooking class, exploring caves and much more.

halong bay cruise 3 days
Lucy loved every second of her three day/two night cruise. Source: AbsolutelyLucy

It was a great way to experience the Bay and a personal highlight was kayaking early in the morning and visiting a nearby floating village. I was really impressed that despite how incredibly touristy the area is – the sheer number of cruises is astonishing – but when you were out on the water you still retained that sense of solitude and peace, that beautiful silence as the sun slips under the horizon at sunset.

Halong Bay sunset
Watching sunset on Halong Bay, you will sense the true peace and solitude. Source: AbsolutelyLucy
halong bay at night
When night falls, those green-jungled islets become soundly sleeping monsters. Source: AbsolutelyLucy

I think mainly because I have never before visited a bay that doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nor one that is quite as huge as Halong Bay. The size of it is incredible and the pure and untouched natural beauty really does make it a bay to remember. My main feeling when I visited was just being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity and beauty of the location, it was a truly breathtaking first glance at Vietnam”

Besides, as an experienced traveler, Lucy gives some advice on how to save time and enjoy the best part of cruising Halong Bay:

“My best advice for visiting, pick your cruise and your boat wisely – look at the options available before booking. Choose a smaller junk for a more personal and heartfelt experience, and for goodness sake avoid the booze cruise or you’ll have an experience to remember for all the wrong reasons. Plus look at the activities available, I wanted to explore the caves and do a cooking class but you may prefer a different option.”

Halong Bay natural beauty from deck
Relaxing on the deck is an amazing way to enjoy the pure and untouched natural beauty of Halong Bay. Source: @AbsolutelyLucy

Abbie – the owner of SpeckOnTheGlobe

 

“There is something magical about Halong Bay. It’s the other worldly feeling that you can sense in photographs, but really need to experience in person.” – Abbie

With her insatiable need for new explorations and adventures, Abbie says she couldn’t ignore visiting Halong Bay:

“We spent several days on a boat, marveling at the beautiful surroundings, swimming, kayaking and hiking to see and learn as much about Halong Bay as possible. The beginning of the Bay is crowded with boats and tourists, but as you move further and further you realize how small you are in comparison to the thousands of green covered rocks. It’s a must see stop on your Vietnamese vacation.

halong-bay-compared-with-boat
As you move further, you realize how small you are in comparison to the thousands of green covered rocks. Source: @Abbie

And just like Marie and Lucy, Abbie agrees that the magnitude of Halong Bay is what makes Halong stand out from the crowd:

“The first thing is the massive, towering limestone rocks that emerges from the murky jade green waters, it’s a rare landscape best appreciated by navigating through the bay in a classic Junk ship. As you spend more time slowly weaving through the large rock formations, you start to take in the magnitude of the topography while learning more about the history of the region, the economy & culture. There are many famous bays throughout the world but the geography here is what makes it truly unique.”

Yoshke Dimen, from ThePoorTraveler

 

“I was most impressed by the magnificence of the seascapes. The view of countless limestone karst cliffs scattered around the sea took my breath away each time.” – Yoshke

About what sets Halong Bay apart from other famous bays he has traveled, Yoshke told:

“It’s the sheer number and grandeur. I’ve never seen any other bay that is peppered with almost 2000 limestone islets, many of which can be visited. Other bays I’ve seen also have limestone cliffs rising from their waters but not this many. The experience of spending the night on a junk boat to see some of these islands is also something I will never forget.”

Paul Marshman, from TravellingBloomer

 

“I would spend a bit more money and book a longer visit. With the drive from Hanoi and back, two days doesn’t give you much time to see everything there is to see.” – Paul

Below is our short interview with Paul after he returned from his trip:

Q: What made you choose Halong Bay? How did you prepare for your trip?

A: I always research my destinations, and my research made it clear that Halong Bay was one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam — possibly in Southeast Asia. I visited a travel agency in Hanoi and viewed a number of offers before deciding on a two-day cruise.

Q: What were you most impressed at when visiting this place?

A: I was captivated by the romantic, misty scenery that surrounded us on all sides. These are the pictures you see in travel brochures, and now I was seeing them in real life. The caves on Hang Sung Sot were amazing, as well, with strange and beautiful rock formations. And it was a great experience cruising through the bay on a small ship.

Halong Bay
Misty Halong Bay. Source: Paul Marshman
Halong Bay cave exploring
Amazing Sung Sot Cave. Source: Paul Marshman

Q: If there’s one thing you could to do better your trip, what would you improve?

A: I would spend a bit more money and book a longer visit. With the drive from Hanoi and back, two days doesn’t give you much time to see everything there is to see. I would have liked to have explored Cat Ba Island and some of the other wonderful sights of Halong Bay.

Phoebe Lee – the pretty travel writer of LittleGreyBox

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else quite like Halong, the jagged limestone islands and bright emerald water, the brilliant orange sunsets and the amazing hospitality – it’s magical.”

Q: How did you do research and plan for your trip to Halong? Could you share some difficulties about choosing the right cruise?

A: We began researching our first visit to Halong as part of our honeymoon and turned to search engines, reviews and the advice of friends for help. The amount of information out there was overwhelming and, the more we looked, the more confused we got. We didn’t have a big budget, so couldn’t book something luxurious and totally reliable. It felt like a big risk when we booked something budget-friendly and quite a few of the websites just didn’t seem reliable. In the end, we went with a company one of our friends had used and they were good. When we went back again a few years later and did a Halong Bay luxury cruise, it was amazing! So, I definitely think it’s worth going with the best you can afford – it just takes the worry out of it.

Halong Bay
Halong Bay is incredible. Source: Phoebe Lee

Q: How was your trip and what made you most impressed at?

A: Both trips were really enjoyable but our luxury trip was very special. The cruise ship was like a floating hotel, the food and service were fantastic and we loved sitting on our private balcony, watching the sunset with a cocktail. At night, we’d join in karaoke and dance all night – it was just so fun! The day trips from the ship were great and the staff know so much about the local area, it’s just a great experience. I don’t think there’s anywhere else quite like Halong, the jagged limestone islands and bright emerald water, the brilliant orange sunsets and the amazing hospitality – it’s magical.

Halong Bay on deck
“We loved sitting on our private balcony, watching the sunset with a cocktail”. Source: Phoebe Lee

Q: If you could change one thing about your trip, what would you want to improve?

A: The hardest part is the transfer from Hanoi out to Halong, it takes quite a few hours to get there. I’ve heard there are small plane air transfers available through some cruise companies, which I would definitely be interested in next time. I’ve heard other people say they didn’t like seeing other tourists or the other cruise ships but that didn’t bother me at all, I liked seeing all the other boats lit up with twinkling lights at night and the visitors are great for the local economy. Halong is one of my favorite places in Vietnam and I can’t wait to go back again one day soon.

Halong Bay cruise ships
All these boats will be lit up with the twinkling lights at night. Source: Phoebe Lee

Kirstie Jeffries, the owner of VengaValeVamos

 

“Being in Halong Bay felt like I was lightyears away from the rest of civilization, in my own little world…” – Kirstie

Q: Why did you decide to visit Halong? Were you afraid that Halong is just too crowded?

A: I’d heard rave reviews about Halong Bay from friends who had traveled through Vietnam, so when I had a chance to visit the country for myself, I knew I had to go. I wasn’t worried about the crowds in Halong, but, with a variety of tour operators, I did want to make sure I chose one that suited my interests.

Q: What made you most impressed at when visiting this place?

A: Being in Halong Bay felt like I was lightyears away from the rest of civilization, in my own little world, especially because I stayed on a private island. The scenery was stunning, and I loved being able to stay right on the beach, wade in the water observing bioluminescent plankton, and watch a thunderstorm roll in over the bay.

Halong Bay island
Staying on a private island. Source: Kirstie
Halong Bay kayaking
Kayaking on Halong Bay is awesome. Source: Kirstie

Q: Could you share some tips and advice on Halong traveling?

A: It’s difficult to see Halong Bay on your own, without booking a tour, but make sure the tour you choose is right for you. You’ll likely be spending several days with a small group of people, so research the tours’ demographics and find one with people similar in age and travel interest.

Foong PC, from MyVeryFirstBlog

“I still remember that I kayaked through a cave and when I came out on the other side, it was almost as if I had entered another world.”

Q: How was your trip to Halong Bay and what made you most impressed at when visiting this place?

A: My trip to Halong Bay was pleasant, exciting and memorable. Looking at those magnificent karst rising out from the sea was definitely the major highlight for me.

Although the bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay was a little too long at 4 hours, once I was on the boat and out at sea, it was all worth it!

Since I went in the month of March, the weather was cold and misty. This may not be very good for photography but I love the ethereal effect it had on me.

Kayaking in Halong Bay
Kayaking through a cave. Source: Foong

However, what impressed me most on this trip was the kayaking activity. It was my first time kayaking so I was both nervous and excited. I still remember that I kayaked through a cave and when I came out on the other side, it was almost as if I had entered another world. The feeling was indescribable, I felt so calm and at peace.

If I were to visit Halong Bay for a second time, I would definitely go kayaking again!

Q: How is Halong Bay different from other bays that you’ve visited?

A: So far, I have only visited two bays in my life. One is Halong Bay and the other is Li River in Guilin, China.

Both feature karst mountains and I have to say both are impressive and worth visiting. The karst mountains look awesome along Li River although they are mainly on land, whereas the karst in Halong Bay are in the sea, so the effect is somewhat grander to me.

I always like some kind of adventure (not the extreme kind) during my travels, and I find in this respect, Halong Bay has the upperhand as it offers activities like kayaking, caving and swimming. The Li River boat cruise only allows you to enjoy the scenery from the boat but if that’s all you want, then it’s great.

You can also stay overnight on the boat in Halong Bay which would be quite a different experience although I did not do that. Well, maybe I will give it a try in the future!

Conclusion

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

So, here is the answer to your concern: Halong Bay is and will forever be charming!

Yes, for sure, the grandeur and beauty of Halong Bay will dwarf you, take your breath away and show you how awesome Mother Nature is. Then it will leave in your mind the greatest memories ever, as the same way it did to those travel bloggers above. A great escape from the bustling civilization!

Adventure Activities to Capture the Best of Vietnam

Vietnam has something for everyone; wild and adventurous backpackers, urban explorers, nature appreciators, and luxury seekers alike.

man walking down road with word ‘Vietnam’ overlaid
explore Vietnam

This is made possible, predominantly by the fact that the country is so wonderfully diverse; no matter what your interests are, Vietnam is sure to whet your appetite for travel experiences and satisfy even the most severe cases of wanderlust.

Topography & Location

A coastal country, perched on the edge of the South China Sea and sharing borders with Laos, Cambodia, and China, Vietnam’s location contributes significantly to the diversity of its topography.

Undulating mountains and rippling tiers of rice paddies characterise the north and northwesterly region; while the south and central north are comprised of flat deltas, sitting in stark contrast to the lofty central highlands. The northeast of Vietnam snuggles against the Gulf of Tonkin (home to the world-famous Halong Bay), and the southern coast shares 3,400km with the Gulf of Thailand.

The effect of Vietnam’s topographic diversity on national tourism is vast; there are not many places in the world where one can choose between the desert, mountains, beaches, jungles, deltas, and cities all within a stone’s throw of each other.

Tourism in Vietnam

For the tourists who visit, it’s usually a priority to design a trip that will capture all of the best parts of the country; from the buzz of the city to the peace and quiet of the mountains.

Solo-exploration is often the best, and finding your own path is often the most rewarding- after all, no two people’s experiences will be alike. Just to get you started though, here are my suggestions (and insider tips!) for things to do that will give any traveler a well-rounded, diverse experience in Vietnam.

Top Things to Do:

Ocean: Cruising in Halong Bay

birds eye view of halong bay
Halong Bay

Halong Bay is usually top of travelers’ lists, especially for those visiting Vietnam for the first time. The impressive scenery is celebrated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site- and for good reason. The towering islands that rise out of the Halong Bay waters are nothing short of mesmerising, and let’s not forget the postcard perfect beaches, ancient caves, and myriad islands generously scattered throughout the region, all of which contribute to Halong’s diverse ecosystem (and make for awesome explorations!).

Take out a kayak and scout out the hard to reach areas, or grab a snorkel and check out the rare coral reefs; better yet why not try your hand at one of the traditional cooking masterclasses, or join a tai chi workshop on the cruise deck at sunrise. Halong Bay cruises range from the cheap and cheerful to the super luxurious; take a browse through on one of the industry’s top booking platforms, Halong Hub.

Mountain: Trekking & Homestay in Sapa

cascading rice terraces in sapa
Cascading rice terraces in Sapa

Vietnam’s northerly city of Sapa is fast becoming one of the country’s most-visited tourist hotspots. Known for its cascading rice terraces and intriguing misty scenery, tourists generally choose to come here to explore the countryside and get an authentic look at local life.

For a real Sapa adventure, get involved with a trekking exploration tour of the mountains and farmlands, and forget staying in a hotel- hook up with the homestay community and enjoy one or two nights living with the warm, gregarious locals.

Delta: Travelling Down the Mekong Delta by Rowboat

man from behind sitting on rowboat in mekong, vietnam
The Mekong by rowboat

Historically, life in Vietnam has revolved around the Delta. The surrounding land is incredibly fertile; in fact, a vast proportion of all of Vietnam’s agriculture comes from the Mekong’s surrounding areas.

Delta tours offer a fresh perspective from which to view Vietnam’s countryside, and are easy to access via Vietnam’s southern city-hub, Ho Chi Minh. Try to find a tour that goes on a traditional long-tail rowboat, and look out for the ones that have interesting stops (like the crocodile reserve!)- Lonely Planet offer a great day tour.

Highland: Canyoning in Dalat

person jumping off waterfall in Dalat, Vietnam
Cliff jumping in Dalat

Located in the central region, Dalat epitomises Vietnam’s temperate highlands. Dalat itself is a city quite unlike any other in the whole country; it was colonised by the French, who revelled in the chance to escape the suffocating heat of the surrounding arid regions. Nowadays, everything from the architecture to the agriculture echos the former French influence.

Getting out amongst nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air is undoubtedly the best way to experience Dalat. Canyoning is a popular favourite amongst visitors here, an activity that can involve any combination of hiking, walking, abseiling, rappelling, climbing, and swimming- Viet Challenge offer a tonne of canyoning activities and tours.

Beach: Kitesurfing in Mui Ne

man kitesurfing doing trick
Kitesurfing in Mui Ne

Those who are unfamiliar with the world of watersports may not know that Vietnam’s south central town of Mui Ne has a reputation as one of the best spots for wind-powered water sports in all of Asia. A place that used to be nothing more than a small fishing village has developed rapidly over the past few years as the windsurf and kitesurf communities began to spread the word of Mui Ne’s favourable conditions and relaxed, happy way of life.

These days, there are about 15 different kite schools offering lessons, gear rentals, and a chilled out place to stop by and hang out for a while. Beginners are always welcome to come and try it out, and schools like C2Sky Kite Center offer a full beginner course which promises to get newbie kiters up and riding in no time.

City: Street Food Tour – Vespa Adventure Tour in Hanoi/Saigon

vespa adventure saigon
Vespa Adventures Saigon

A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a city stop, and both Hanoi and Saigon have so much to offer travelers who choose to pause and take in the sights and sounds of the city. If you ask me, there’s no better way to get to know a new place and connect with a foreign culture than through its gastronomy, and there’s a good reason Vietnamese cuisine has gained itself such a positive reputation.

Join in on a street food tour where you’ll be guided by a local through the zipping motorbikes and winding alleys to hunt down some of the city’s best street eats. The guys over at Vespa Adventures are well worth checking out; not only will they bring you around to sample the most delicious food in town, they also offer a completely unique way to explore the city and get to know your surroundings.

Have you made the trip to Vietnam already? What were your highlights?

Must-Read Advice for Doing Photography in Halong Bay

One of the most photogenic corners of this beautiful world, Halong Bay boasts perfect scenery at every turn.
In this post, we spoke to a couple of accomplished photographers who recently visited Halong Bay. Let’s hear their experiences and find out best tips for Halong Bay photography!

Vladislav Borimsky (Photographer, US)

His Experience:

In March of 2016, while traveling through Vietnam, I made a point to visit Halong Bay.
Before, I had seen multitude of photos of Halong. They feature jungle-covered limestone rock formations rising through the tranquil blue waters. Completely reminiscing something out of Avatar movie! Then, I knew this was something I had to see.

Among many overnight cruises, I booked one which took me around the bay in a junk ship. I packed an overnight bag and a camera, ready to capture National Geographic worthy photos of this majestic region.

On the day of the tour it was chilly and drizzly. The bay was covered in fog. It was gray and hazy – not even remotely close to what I saw in color popping travel photos. My initial reaction was disappointment.

The weather didn’t look like it was going to improve. Sun was nowhere in sight. The whole atmosphere was ghostly eerie, somewhat creepy and mysterious.

And yet, it turned out to be astonishingly beautiful and serene. I quietly passed by the haze covered rocky pillars, islets and occasional fishing boats and floating fishing villages. This gave you sense that you were discovering something new – something that no one has seen before.

halong bay photography - Vladislav Borimsky
Source: Vladislav Borimsky

Nature is unpredictable and can often impact your traveling or photographic experience. Being flexible and able to adapt to your surrounding is key to making the best out of any situation. I took out my camera, trying my best to protect it from the mist and started snapping.

Eagerly, I wanted to capture the eeriness and solitude of the area and its inhabitants on that day. I wanted to seize every moment of the side of Halong Bay most people didn’t see.

His Advice:

The best advice I can give to any traveler or photographer visiting Halong Bay, is to let go of your expectations and embrace what you are given.

You are privileged to be part of a small percentage of people who have or will ever see this magnificent part of the world. Your experience will be unique. Embrace it and tell your story.

halong bay photography - Vladislav Borimsky
Source: Vladislav Borimsky

Our Conclusion:

Halong Bay is beautiful at every point of the year. Yet, if you are planning a trip with certain expectations in mind, it’s important to read up on the weather in Halong Bay throughout the year.

Are clear skies and color popping pictures what you’re after? If yes, it’s best to visit during the winter or early spring months when rainfall and cloud cover are at their lowest.

But, if you want moody and misty images, you are more likely to achieve them in summer months. They tend to bring stormy skies and misty days.

It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast again before you head off. If it looks like a spell of bad weather is on the way, you can always check it with your tour operator to confirm the cruise departure. Remember, your trip can only be called off if there’s a big storm on the way.

halong bay photography - Vladislav Borimsky
Source: Vladislav Borimsky

Helen Suk (Photographer, Canada)

Her Experience:

Halong Bay is a photographer’s dream! This surreal archipelago is rich with geological beauty. It was difficult to take my eyes away from the 1,600 limestone karsts that jut out from the emerald waters, even for 15 minutes.

I was camera-ready at all times. The region is that breathtaking. However the weather, the scenery all offered incredible photographic opportunities throughout the day.

halong bay photography - Helen Suk
Source: Helen Suk

Her Advice:

  1. Consider a cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay within the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site instead of the main route. The waters are cleaner and significantly less crowded with boats (“junks”). I often felt like the vessel I was on was the only one in the whole bay.
  2. To maximize your time and experience more transformations of Halong Bay, spend the night on the junk instead of just one day. The weather can change by the hour. This will also give you the opportunity to relax and soak it all in.
  3. Bring a wide angle lens! You’ll often want to capture as many of the rock formations as possible within the frame.
  4. Try to include a person or boat in your image to give a sense of scale to the many formations in the bay.
halong bay photography - Helen Suk
Source: Helen Suk

Our Conclusion:

Want your images to be clear of other boats and maintain an ‘isolated’ feel? Then, touring through the quieter areas of Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay will be a good choice for you. The further away you go from the main tourist wharf, the quieter and less populous the waters of the bay will be.

Taking a 2-day-1-night or 3-day-2-night cruise also means you will sail deeper into the bay and further away from the crowds. And the scenery will only get better the further you go.

In summary

Choose your cruise wisely depending on what sort of outcome you want for your images. If you want your pictures to be free of other boats, pick a cruise that sails in quieter regions like Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. If your images depend on the weather, pick an appropriate time of year for your visit and always check the weather again before you go. Happy snapping!

Have you got some Halong pictures you’d like to share? Send them to us at Halong Hub for and we’ll be happy to feature them (with full credits to you) in a future post.

Where to explore after your Halong Bay trip? Hanoi, for sure!

There’s a common question that many friends and travelers ask me once they finish their amazing visit to Halong Bay: “What can I do once I’m back to Hanoi?”

Most of them arrive to the hotel after lunch, take a quick shower and relax, trying to find what to do during that afternoon/evening. Some of them ended up walking in the city center looking for the authentic essence of Hanoi. If this sounds familiar to you, you would be able to see a big number of disoriented tourists with the same problem.

Here’s the big secret: The real Ha Noi is outside of the city center!

Seeing the train pass by
Seeing the train pass by

There’s so much life and hidden gems in other local areas where you can see how locals really live, which is a must do if you want to get a better understanding of the reality in this city. But how you get to those areas?

You need a bike for sure (main transportation in Hanoi) but it’s quite dangerous if you are new and you still have to find those place so my recommendation would be: Hanoi After Dark tour (18-22h) of Vespa Adventures. You won’t have to deal with Hanoi’s wild traffic and just seat and enjoy on a vintage Vespa.

With some other expats we gave it a try. We started in a rooftop with Saint Joseph’s Cathedral views for a quick welcome drink; after that we go to the first hidden gem: A little bar inside the train tracks where we were able to do a rice wine tasting and try dry Buffalo from Thai ethnic. Surprisingly delicious! At 19.30h we saw the train comes by in front of us. As a European, I was just thinking this kind of situation is completely unseen in my country.

After that, we visited two restaurants: Bun Cha (I’m quite familiar with this dish, ask about Obama’s story with this dish), the second one was Pho Cuon – a more local alternative of the well-known Pho. With our bellies full, we head to Old City Gate (Last gate remaining) and Opera House, before arriving to our last spot; a jazz life music played by locals. The story of this place owner is quite spectacular: he has to run away from the police as Jazz was regarded as American propaganda here.

enjoying jazz played by locals
enjoying jazz played by locals

Definitely a must do if you have short time in Hanoi but you still want to get a “real” concept of Hanoians lifestyle.

Popular vs. “Off-the-Beaten-Track” in Vietnam: Which Camp are You In?

As Vietnam’s tourism numbers continue to shoot skywards, the debate over whether to hit the popular hotspots or veer down the path less traveled is hotly contested.

tourist photographing in Vietnam
The projected number of tourists for 2017 is over 13 million

 

In excess of 10 million tourists crossed over the Vietnamese border last year, a record that has already been smashed in the first 10 months of this year. Because of the rapid growth of the nation’s tourism industry, places that have usually been favoured by travelers are now becoming more crowded and busy as each year passes. This newfound flush of tourists is causing many people to look for quieter alternatives “off-the-beaten-track”.

Those in favour of sticking to the more popular routes will propose that such places are popular for a reason, and the fact that there are high levels of tourism there just confirms it’s a place worth visiting; whereas those who prefer to avoid the crowds will likely tell you it’s impossible to enjoy a place when you’re amidst such an uncomfortably high number of people, and when the experience lacks any unique quality the overall value diminishes.

Compelling points dot both sides of the argument; so we’ve decided to put together the different perspectives from the discussion and weigh up which kind of travel is the best. We’ll look at the pros and cons of sticking to the standard spots as well as venturing off-the-beaten-track, and we’ll top it off with travel advice for both sides.

Let’s check out the debate:

Pros & Cons of Popular Places

crowd of tourists at the Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh
crowd of tourists at the Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh

 

Pros:

  • They’re popular for a reason: Ever heard the advice that you can judge how good a restaurant is by how many people we sitting inside eating? Well, this is the thinking that many travelers tend to go by when picking their next destination. Indeed some of Vietnam’s most popular tourist locations (Halong Bay, Sapa, Hoi An to name just a few) are well worth visiting for their rich culture and scenic beauty- crowds or no crowds. Right…?
  • Good infrastructure: a well-developed tourism industry spurs on developments in other areas too, namely infrastructure. Generally speaking, places that draw a high level of visitors will have more money (and incentive) to improve things like access roads, ports of entry (airports, train stations, etc.), public transport, accommodation standards, restaurant selection, and other amenities.
  • Easy to seek advice: places that enjoy high levels of tourism are more likely to have substantial amounts of reviews online (on websites like TripAdvisor) which you can use to make an informed decision about whether or not to visit/what to do there/best things to see, etc.

Cons:

  • Expensive prices & common scams: The price of common good in tourist hotspots tend to be significantly inflated compared with their local counterparts, and getting charged “tourist prices” is usually a given. It’s basic economics; the more people visit, the higher the demand for accommodation/goods/services, and therefore our perception of ‘acceptable’ prices also goes up. Inflation is unavoidable. In the worst case, a few shady characters will set up scams to extort tourists for money wherever they can. While this happens all over the world in all different types of places, it generally tends to show up more in very touristy places (learn about the most common Halong scams here).
  • Homogenised experience: Visiting a popular spot, by nature, means that your experience will be one that’s shared with many others. For some, this isn’t an issue at all, but others prefer to seek out a more unique experience.
  • Crowds: Arguably one of the biggest issues with popular spots are the crowds that always seem to linger within them. Whether this means difficulty making a booking because everything’s sold out, to just being uncomfortable going about your day, crowds are a buzz kill.

Advice:

Popular destinations very often have a less crowded, quieter alternative – it just takes a little bit of research. For example, Vietnam’s increasingly popular Halong Bay has two less touristy sisters, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay – both of which offer spectacular scenery but lack the crowds. Check out our recommendations for alternatives to Halong Bay, Sapa, Hoi An & Nha Trang.

Pros & Cons of “Off-the-Beaten-Track” Locations:

children playing in the fields in Mu Cang Chai
children playing in the fields in Mu Cang Chai

 

Pros:

  • Freedom and peace: Steering clear of the crowds of tourists offers travelers a chance to really enjoy their surroundings in total peace of mind. No need to fight for your space around the pool, no queuing to get into the local attractions, no stress trying to navigate your way through busy areas; just you and total immersion in your surroundings. If this is you, check out our article about the best Halong cruises to “off-the-beaten-track” areas.
  • Not “touristy”: Places that receive lower levels of tourism are able to maintain their authenticity, so visitors can enjoy some real time in the local culture. Generally speaking, places like this will be free of tourist scams and over-priced items (although, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that someone may try to give you the old “tourist price” just because).
  • Unique experience: The main reason people are drawn to these types of destinations are because they offer the chance to have a totally unique experience, which for many people makes the journey much more special and valuable.

Cons:

  • Lack of infrastructure and services: The nature of venturing off-the-beaten-track means that you are exploring and experiencing things that few others have, which essentially translates to there being little or no demand for the usual services and infrastructure you’d expect at a tourist hotspot. Getting around, public transport, road access, accommodation, and other facilities may be lacking or even non-existent. But for the more intrepid among us, that’s all part of the adventure.

Advice:

If choosing to travel to an off-the-beaten-track location, it may be a good idea to try to get some information beforehand from a trustworthy source (Halong Hub blog has almost everything about Halong travel, by the way). If you’re dealing with a third party, make sure the service provider is transparent and provides quality information to help you, not rip you off.

So, off-the-beaten-track or popular hotspots: which camp are you in, and why? Drop us your two-cents below.

The Reason the World’s A-List Celebrities Can’t Get Enough of Vietnam

In 2016, 10 million international tourists visited Vietnam, but some of the faces passing through are a little more recognizable than others. You’ll never guess who all of the celebrities are who have visited Vietnam. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for anyone!

Brad & Angelina

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on a speed boat in Halong Bay Vietnam
Speeding through the famous Bay

The now split Hollywood A-list couple are well known for the incredible family they created through adoption over the years. Their son, Pax, was adopted at the age of three from an orphanage in Binh Duong, and has since returned in 2011 with his adopted family to visit his first home. Angelina has mentioned that she places plenty of emphasis on her children learning about their individual heritage, and because of this the family make a point of regularly returning. “They are learning about each other’s cultures as well as being proud of their own.” Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, with their six kids in tow, touched down in Con Dao airport and enjoyed a luxury stay in the Six Senses Resort there.


Since then, the couple have visited several times, including a trip in 2015 to our native treasure Halong Bay, where they got stuck into some local activities. Considering their recent split, there’s a pretty slim chance we’ll be seeing them visit Vietnam together again, but it’s likely some version of the family unit will make a trip back to keep Pax in touch with his Vietnamese heritage.

Barrack Obama & Anthony Bourdain

Obama and Anthony Bourdain eating street food in Hanoi
The famous pair enjoying some old school Vietnamese street food

The U.S. President’s face adorned magazine covers throughout the country as he became the third U.S. President to visit Vietnam. In May of 2013, the President flew into Hanoi to meet with Vietnamese dignitaries and discuss the political and economic relations of the two countries. As a result of the visit, the 50 year long arms embargo from the U.S was finally lifted, which was considered to be a big step in the direction of creating a more equal relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. After hours, Obama was famously pictured enjoying some authentic Vietnamese street food with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The cheapness and tastiness of local food plus the easy going local beers are a winning formula for many visitors of Vietnam, and indeed a President is no exception. Their ‘$6 dinner’ became an internet sensation instantly, racking up almost 200,000 likes on social media. “Think you’re cool? You’ll never be eating noodles, drinking beer and sitting on low plastic chairs while talking to Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama in Vietnam-cool,” tweeted New York resident Jon Hopper.

Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan

Mark Zuckerberg riding a water buffalo
Zuckerberg on his chosen mode of transport in Sapa

Facebook CEO and his wife spent their 2011 Christmas holiday in Northern Vietnam. Christmas Eve was passed in Halong Bay, where they hired the Phoenix Cruise ship to explore the Bay; followed by Christmas Day in Sapa at Topas Ecolodge where they were pictured riding water buffalo. The couple also visited the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, paying homage to the American prisoners who were held here during the War.

Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay and local Vietnamese
Ramsay is said to love Vietnamese food above most other cuisines

In 2011, Ramsay made a trip over to Vietnam to film for a new episode of ‘Gordon’s Great Escape’. His appreciation of Vietnamese food is pretty widely known for those who follow his shows and his cooking, and his visit to Vietnam solidified this. In the episode that resulted from his trip, Ramsay gets his head around some of the more exotic native dishes, including snake. Lesser known about his 2011 visit, was that he made a trip up to the coastal getaway of Mui Ne, where he visited local restaurant Lam Tong- a favourite of many in the town.

Lam Tong Restaurant in Mui Ne
The small beachfront restaurant visited by the famously angry man

Arsenal football team

Arsenal Running Man Vu Xuan Tien
Vu Xuan Tien quickly became an internet sensation

During their Asia Tour back in 2013, the team made a stop in Vietnam’s capital city- Hanoi. The real story that emerged from their visit was that of the ‘Running Man’, local fan Vu Xuan Tien, who ran alongside their bus as it drove through the city for near 5 miles. With shouts of “sign him up!” coming from the team members onboard the bus, eventually the driver pulled over and let the dedicated fan onboard to meet his heroes. Gunners manager Arsene Wegner said “He kept on running when all the others stopped and he refused to give up”, giving plenty of inspiration for the rest of the team, who allegedly suffered the hot and humid conditions while playing in Vietnam. As for a visit in the future, Wegner says “We’ll try to come back here because it has been such a positive experience. But the decision is not only down to me. Vietnam must want us to come back too.”

Anna Friel

Anna Friel at Six Senses Resort Con Dao
She kept a low profile during her stay at the Six Senses Con Dao

The ‘Marcella’ actress travelled to Con Dao with her daughter Gracie back at the end of 2016. She’s another in the line of A-Listers to stay in the luxurious Six Senses Resort on the eco-friendly island. The resort, dedicated to reducing carbon footprints, holds just 50 private villas, and is so spaced out Anna reports “not seeing another soul” for the entire day sometimes. Anna wrote a wonderful account of her stay on the island, which she described as something her and her daughter “will never forget”. The pair spent their days unwinding on the beach, paddle boarding daily, taking part in some of the Resort’s offerings (singing bowl meditation was mentioned) and visiting some of the local sites like the Con Dao Prison.

Alexander Ludwig

Alexander Ludwig at Halong Bay
Ludwig pictured at Halong Bay

The ‘Hunger Games’ actor visited Vietnam during a South East Asia trip with his friends back in January 2015. Pictured in Halong Bay, he described his visit to the World Heritage Site as one of the “most amazing” experiences of his life. He uploaded pictures to his own social media accounts looking like he had been enjoying the local party life- one pic even sporting a #hungover hashtag.

http://alexander–ludwig.tumblr.com/post/109602742361/amazing-trip-in-vietnam-sad-its-over-but-ready

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Jordan Vogt-Roberts cycling through the Vietnamese countryside
Vogt-Roberts taking the scenic route through the Vietnamese countryside

His movie ‘Kong: Skull Island’, shot in Vietnam, has smashed the country’s box office and become the highest ever opening day revenue in Vietnamese movie history. The director visited Hawaii, Australia and Thailand in effort to find a location for what has been without doubt the most challenging job of his career- but Vietnam won out in the end. He described the awe he was struck with upon seeing the scenery of Vietnam’s Northern provinces for the first time, and knowing straight away this would be the setting for Kong. The movie opened in March of this year in Ho Chi Minh, with a rather eventful ceremony at which a 10 meter tall statue of King Kong caught fire, sending the premiere up in flames. Despite the drama, Vogt-Robert’s impressions of Vietnam remain high, with rumors that he is considering moving here soon to pursue a personal movie endeavor.

“I honestly don’t think the rest of the world truly knows how beautiful this country is and how amazing the people are and how incredible the food is”

he said. The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has since cast a unanimous vote to appoint Jordan as the new Ambassador for Tourism (2017-2020).

 

Which celebrities will be next? Let us know your predictions!