Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and featured among the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World in 2012, Halong Bay deserves all the praise lavished on it and more. With a mind-blowing landscape of limestone karsts emerging from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay ranks among the most impressive tourist attractions of Southeast Asia and is guaranteed to awe even the most experienced, world-savvy traveler.
Of course, the legend of Halong Bay’s beauty has spread far and wide across the world, so let’s get this out of the way – you won’t have it all to yourself. Cruise liners shuttle between the main attractions of the bay day in and day out, their decks full of camera-wielding tourists, but rest assured there’s enough room for everyone there. With a bit of background information and a well-chosen cruise, you can certainly have the holiday of your lifetime right here in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Here’s how.
Overview of Halong Bay, Vietnam
Stretching over approx. 1,553 square kilometers, Halong Bay is a vast expanse of emerald green water with 1,969 islands and islets scattered around the area. Roughly a half of these formations have names representing their unusual shapes, for instance Hon Ga Chọi – the Fighting Cocks Islet. A few of the bigger islands, especially Tuan Chau and Cat Ba, are inhabited and offer a range of tourist facilities, but the majority of Ha Long’s islets are just desolate rocky outcrops – rising from the ocean and topped with thick jungle, some of them hiding enormous caves in their hollow interiors.
Geologists estimate that the bay’s limestone formations took over 500 million years to form, but according to traditional lore Halong Bay came into being in a more spectacular, violent manner. The legend has it that when Vietnam was invaded by sea, gods sent Mother Dragon and her children to the rescue. The invaders perished in a blaze of fire and while they were at it, the dragons also created barriers to future invasions by spitting jewels which then turned into Ha Long Bay’s rocky formations. To commemorate the dragons’ heroic deed, the bay was named Ha Long, literally meaning “the descending dragon”, and the neighboring bay was called Bai Tu Long, or “bowing down to dragon’s children.”
Speaking of Halong Bay’s neighbors, both Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay belong to the same sinking plateau, are visually as stunning but receive just a trickle of tourists compared to Ha Long. Whichever bay you end up choosing, the greater Halong Bay area can entertain you in a variety of ways and styles depending on your budget and travel preferences.
What to Do in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Nature lovers are drawn to Vietnam by the bay’s legendary landscapes and captivating wildlife, but Ha Long Bay is equally bursting at the seams with attractions for adventure-seekers. It’s best to explore them while touring the bay on a cruise boat, hopping on and off the ship to go snorkeling, kayaking, cave spelunking or trekking in the jungle. You can also go parasailing above the bay, try your hand at squid fishing, feast on fresh seafood and pay a visit to a floating village, among great many other attractions. Take a look at our list of 15 fascinating things to do in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
The easiest and most exciting way to experience all this is to visit Ha Long’s top attractions, including Cat Ba Island and its splendid 18-km route leading towards a mountain peak, the small but exceedingly pretty Titop Island, Sung Sot Cave (dubbed “the Cave of Surprises” for a good reason) as well as a number of other caves and laid-back beaches spread across the greater Halong Bay area. Before you visit, be sure to check out our comprehensive list of top 20 Halong Bay attractions.
And since your days in Halong Bay are going to be filled to the brim with fun, you are likely to suddenly find yourself starving in the evening. Don’t worry, Halong Bay is a great destination for foodies – there’s a whole range of mouth-watering local dishes for you to try, and you can actually have them in one of Ha Long’s delightful floating restaurants. See our ultimate guide to Halong Bay food for more detail on this.
When to Go to Halong Bay, Vietnam
One of the things you should definitely factor into your travel plans is Halong Bay weather. No two months in the bay are quite the same, and the four different seasons all come with different pros and cons. Generally speaking, the two periods considered most favorable for visiting Ha Long Bay run from September to November and from March to May, and they offer a wonderful mix of pleasant temperatures and mostly clear skies.
On the other hand, this is also when Halong Bay is at its most crowded and most expensive; opting for the off-season months between May and September brings attractive discounts, thinned crowds along with an opportunity to witness the bay’s dramatic scenery in a fitting, hot and steamy setting. Finally, if you’re OK with cooler temperatures, then you may also consider coming to Ha Long in January or February when the area turns all misty, mystical and mysterious.
For more on Halong Bay weather, check out our detailed guide on the best times to visit Halong Bay, including a month-by-month weather breakdown.
How to Get to Halong Bay, Vietnam
Located about 146 kilometers from Vietnam’s bustling capital city of Hanoi, Halong Bay is much more easily reached these days thanks to a recently built express highway. The most popular access point to the area is through Halong City and its Tuan Chau Marina, and you can expect your journey between your hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Halong Bay to take around 2.5 hours.
How to Get from Hanoi to Halong Bay
For most international travelers, Hanoi is a natural starting point for their trip to Halong Bay. Whether you’re traveling from the Old Quarter or directly from the Noi Bai Airport, you have a range of options at your disposal but a private, 7-seater limousine arranged by your cruise company is easily the most convenient of them. Public buses are also available but they will require a bit more hassle from you.
Transportation to Halong Bay – A Summary
- Embarkation point: Tuan Chau Marina (Halong City)
- From Hanoi city center: 146 km – bus / car (2h30’)
- From Noi Bai Int’l Airport: 148 km – bus / car (3h) or seaplane (45’)
- From Cat Bi Int’l Airport: 62 km – car / taxi (1h45’)
Where to Stay in Halong Bay, Vietnam
You have three primary options as regards your accommodation in Halong Bay: staying on one of the islands, staying inland and spending the night on a cruise ship.
The islands of Cat Ba, Titop, Co To and Soi Sim all offer wonderful overnight stays, and you’ll be able to sip beach cocktails at sunset there and go swimming at night in the bay. If you stay inland in the nearby Halong City, you will have a number of great hotels at your disposal, with wonderful sweeping vistas across the bay. Our personal favorite, however, is staying overnight on a cruise boat anchored right in the middle of Halong Bay itself. There’s nothing quite like watching a sunset from the deck of your ship and then having gently splashing waves lull you to sleep!
If you’re still in two (or three) minds about this, navigate to our in-depth post on where to stay in Halong Bay. There is another choice your facing here, too – the length of your stay in the area. Needless to say, the longer the better, and we do recommend staying for two nights rather than one if you can help it. Here are some thoughts of popular travel bloggers on how many days in Halong Bay is enough.
Where to Book a Halong Bay Cruise
With a seemingly endless number of cruise liners and tour companies offering to take you on a trip to Ha Long, you will certainly find yourself spoilt for choice here. But how do you actually find the best Halong Bay cruise out there, one that will deliver on all the promises and make your tour of the bay truly unforgettable?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! The following list is a selection of hand-picked, tried-and-tested cruise ships – all featuring luxurious cabins with panoramic views and private balconies, guaranteed to provide nothing short of that perfect Halong Bay experience you’ve been looking for.
|No. Cabins||Cruise Capacity||No. Decks|
|Pelican Cruise Halong Bay||22||44 people||3|
|Aclass Stellar Cruise Halong Bay||21||48 people||4|
|Jasmine Cruise Halong Bay||23||46 people||4|
|Violet Cruise Halong Bay||6||12 people||3|
|Paradise Luxury Cruise Halong Bay||17||34 people||4|
How Much Does a Halong Bay Cruise Cost?
Prices start from roughly USD100-200 per person, depending on your cabin choice. For more detail and to book directly through our site, navigate to our complete list of Halong Bay Cruises.
Is Halong Bay Still Worth It?
You may have heard that mass tourism has taken its toll on Halong Bay; indeed, not all the spots in the bay are as picture-perfect as they used to, and the ugly truth is that some of them are just downright littered with all sorts of rubbish. Local authorities have already launched various initiatives to keep the place clean, but unfortunately not all visitors to Ha Long are sold on the idea of leaving nothing but footprints behind them.
Some also find Halong Bay overcrowded, especially during high season. However, tour operators are becoming increasingly aware of the problem, and they adjust their itineraries to ensure that while in Ha Long Bay, you get as much exposure to the majestic nature around you as possible – rather than rubbish or other tourists. Halong Bay spans across a huge area and there are still plenty of pristine, untouched spots within it, no matter how many tourist boats visit it on any given day.
Luckily, the two neighboring bays – Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay – are both much quieter, less polluted and equally pretty, and they offer an easy alternative if you want to avoid crowds altogether. To see how the two bays stack up against their celebrity neighbor, see our in-depth comparison of the three bays: Ha Long, Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long Bay.
What Travel Bloggers Think of Ha Long
Here at Halong Hub, we think it’s still well worth visiting Halong Bay – but don’t just take our word for it! Here’s what a few popular travel bloggers thought after visiting the bay and experiencing it first-hand:
The view of countless limestone karst cliffs scattered around the sea took my breath away. 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.
Yoshke Dimen from ThePoorTraveler
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.
Abbie from SpeckOnTheGlobe
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.
Lucy from AbsolutelyLucy
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. 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.
Phoebe Lee from LittleGreyBox
Come and Join in the Fun!
A sight like no other in the world, Ha Long Bay is a delightful destination and it is best experienced from the board of a cruise liner. Choose from among our delightful Halong Bay cruises for a holiday of a lifetime!