A UNESCO World Heritage Site famed throughout the world for its scenic beauty, Halong Bay has always been regarded as a top destination for a relaxing cruise holiday. But aside from cruising, there are so many other things to do in this most famous destination in Vietnam. Bear in mind that it is also listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World because it features some of the best natural sights anywhere on Earth. It’s a haven for adventurers and nature lovers alike.
No wonder 6 million tourists visit annually including world leaders, celebrities, fashion icons, etc. Some of the famous personalities who have paid a visit include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Facebook’s Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, Hollywood directors, numerous presidents and prime ministers, among others
Here’s a quick rundown of the top 15 fascinating and fun activities to keep you busy on your trip to Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Just as an extra tidbit, we had the opportunity to chat with some of our avid traveler friends and they too loved the attractions and the unique experience. So much so, they were happy to share some of their most cherished moments with us and we included their stories in this post.
1. Seaplane Tours
A seaplane is a truly special way to bear witness to the beauty of Halong Bay. Tours leave from Hanoi every day, and there are 25-minute aerial sightseeing trips that start from as low as $99 USD. This is how world leaders, celebrities and superstars explore Halong Bay. Hai Au Aviation is currently the only company offering this one-of-a-kind activity.
Here’s a snippet of our interview with Sam Van den Haute, the travel blogger behind Checkoutsam.com
(1) Describe a defining moment or experience that will lock Halong Bay in your heart for years to come?
Since I do love a great view, I think I have two experiences which made me fall in love with this place even more.
During my three day cruise, we hiked to the top of Titov Island. It sure is a heavy work-out early in the morning, but the views that you get from this vantage point are absolutely stunning. The blue and green hues combined with the yellow, purple and orange colors of sunrise, create an even more spectacular scenery.
The earlier you get here, the longer you can enjoy it on your own. If you wish to cool down afterward, you can relax at the beach. Perfect start for s busy day!
Another experience that I absolutely loved was my scenic flight that gave be a bird’s eye view of the bay. With a small seaplane, you’ll soar up above the landscape in just minutes. The landscapes that you’ll see are absolutely out of this world. Only from this altitude, you get to see the vastness of this region. Besides the lush green islands, you’ll also get to see Halong City from above. The ride only takes about half an hour, but it might just be the best thirty minutes of your whole visit!
Check out what other cool stuff Sam had to say about his seaplane experience. It could be you next!
2) How is Halong Bay unique by comparison to any other destination you have visited?
The magic that is surrounding this place is incredible. Once you set sail and float right next to these tiny islands, you’ll fall in love right away. Or well, at least I did.
I don’t really get why people are talking about Halong as being too crowded with boats, because I think that these are only contributing to the magic of this place. Especially the traditional boats! It almost feels as if you’re part of an expedition that is out to discover a whole new world.
After a while, cruises tend to get boring but that definitely did not happen during my trip. There’s just way too much to see and do. Besides the boat ride, you can also rent a kayak, visit one of the (very interesting!) oyster farms and even visit the ‘insides’ of such an island. Honestly, there’s plenty to explore and there are still plenty of undiscovered places in this huge area.
2. Go Parasailing
For the more daring, parasailing in Halong Bay offers the chance to get a totally unique view of the scenic beauty of the region. This adventurous activity is offered in Tuan Chau and in many beaches such as those in Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, and Vung Tau. Just like the seaplane, parasailing will give you chance to enjoy the seascape and experience an adrenaline rush in the middle of open airspace.
3. Make a Whistle-Stop at Cat Ba Island
This is the biggest island in Halong and is home to a menageries of bars, cafes, hotels, and restaurants. Almost all tour companies in Hanoi offer daily trips to Cat Ba, drawing throngs of tourists who want to enjoy a day of sightseeing during their trip. Its beaches are perfect for swimming and sunbathing during the summer months. If you don’t want to be with lots of people on the beach, you can rent a kayak or a speedboat and head to Lan Ha Bay, where the beaches are more secluded and therefor quieter.
The Jurassic Park-like feel of the surroundings creates a sense of exploration not usually experienced in other parts of Vietnam. Not surprisingly, Cat Ba provided some of the most amazing scenes in the blockbuster Kong: Skull Island. Another one of the things to do in Halong Bay, especially in Cat Ba, is to grab a rental bike, explore some of the scenic spots and get some home-cooked lunch in one of the ethnic villages.
Insider tip: Find out why the famed Cat Ba Island is an adventure you don’t want to miss.
4. Take a Hike, Go Trekking
Cat Ba Island National Park has some very rich biodiversity. Go on a trek through its jungle-like terrain to see it in depth.This area is home to some very colorful wildlife and plants, one worth mentioning is the white-headed Langur which is one of the most endangered primates in the world. Visitors can also get fantastic hilltop views of the thicklyforested valleys throughout the park.A great part of this activity is the feeling of satisfaction after a healthy day of trekking around the national park which is also a World Heritage Site.
5. Enjoy a Leisurely Cruise
There are many cruise boats operating in Halong Bay, from shoestring budget options to luxury liners. Many of the boats are built in the style of old Chinese trading junks, while others are more like the old-fashioned riverboats. Thanks to the comfort and convenience offered on these tours, cruising is a crowd favorite and one of the top attractions in Halong Bay. Why not try a cruise that offers a cooking class, or massage? Personalize the boat trip to make it a valuable memory for you.
Cruises are about relaxing, and that’s exactly what Sarah and Nathan – Exploring Kiwis did on their family cruise trip in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Here’s what they had to say…
(1) What is your fondest memory of Halong Bay?
For the first time in a long time, we traveled with my family and it really was a pleasure sitting up on the top deck, enjoying the sunset with my mom, stepdad, hubby and all of our new-found friends. What a magical way to end the day.
(2) What sets Halong Bay apart from other tourist spots that you’ve been to?
With its towering limestone cliffs, the bays really were unlike anywhere else we’d been. We’d certainly recommend a visit to Halong Bay (or even better, Bai Tu Long Bay where you’ll see fewer tourists and cleaner waters).
More about cruising from Jessica Norah – a travel blogger at Independent Travel Cats.
(1) What did you like most about your experience cruising in Halong Bay?
We really enjoyed staying overnight during our boat cruise. It was wonderful to have plenty of time to relax, do activities like kayaking, hiking, and cooking classes, and to really enjoy the beautiful scenery.
2) How does Halong Bay compare to other tourist hubs that you’ve explored?
It was our first overnight boat cruise in Asia at that point so that was a unique thing about it for us. But also it is amazing to see the wonderful unique beauty of this area with its rock formations, little islands, and beautiful bays.
6. Go Cave Spelunking
There are 59 ‘discovered’ caves in Halong Bay to date, and experts believe there could be as many as double this number still waiting to be found. The most famous of these areSung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave), Thien Cung Cave (Paradise Cave) and Trinh Nu Cave (Virgin Cave). Sung Sot has two chambers that rise to a height of about 30 meters, hence it’s perfect for spelunking. Since the aforementioned caves are very popular, a lot of tourists drop by but don’t be put off by the large crowd. They are a must-see and one of the most interesting Halong Bay activities.
Insider Trip: If you are crazy about caves check out the Top 5 Halong Bay caves worth visiting.
7. Snap Insta-Worthy Photos
Never visit Halong Bay without your camera. It’s is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and capturing this beauty on photos is one of the obligatory things to do in Halong Bay. You’ll find yourself rewarded with vista upon stunning vista. As your tour boat rounds each island you’ll be greeted by a completely fresh view. From high up on some of the islands to going deep in the underwater territory of others, you will capture some of the most Insta-worthy photos of your trip yet.
8. Feast on Fresh Seafood
Lovers of succulent seafood will find their haven in Halong Bay. The food on board some of the cruise boats is truly exceptional.Seafood is the staple cuisine for many of the menus. Simply stopping off a floating village and enjoying barbecued fish or squid will give you an even bigger appetite to explore the wonders of the bay. Seafood is always best served fresh and it comes no fresher than fishing it out of the water and tossing it straight on the grill!
9. Go Diving and Snorkeling
These are definitely two of the things to do in Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site portrays vivid images of up to 163 kinds of colorful corals, in addition to a diverse ecosystem of marine life that’s unique to the area. Most enjoy taking a boat trip and using a snorkel to see the fascinating world below the surface. It’s a breathtaking experience. For a more tantalizing view, others take a deep dive into the sea. There are plenty of PADI-authorized operators in the area. They will help you enjoy a safe and memorable experience exploring what lies below the emerald waters. Don’t forget your underwater camera!
10. Climb Bai Tho Mountain
People are considering that one of the things to do in Halong Bay is to go rock climbing. The hills are alive and ready for rock climbers. Imagine seeing one of the Natural Wonders of the World from atop of one of those rocks! Better yet, imagine getting a selfie there! Bai Tho is the mountain of choice. There are plenty of hills around to get you to the top and find that moment that no one has had before. Have a look around for routes and journeys to the peak of different hills in the area. Climbing solo or group climbs, guides and equipment are available to help you gain this amazing one-off experience in Halong Bay.
11. Ride the World’s Highest Cable Car
Budding landscape photographers head to the Sunworld Amusement Park in their droves. It offers one of the best all-embracing views of the UNESCO Site. The big attraction is the Queen’s Cable Car from which panoramic views abound. It actually holds a couple of Guinness World Records: the biggest reversible aerial tramway capable of carrying up to 230 passengers, and the highest cable car at a height of 188.88 meters. It’s no surprise tourists have coined the Sunworld Amusement park as one of the top things to do in Halong Bay. Not only is it a comfortable ride but it is very affordable too at 300k for adults and 200k for children (under 1.3m).
Insider tip: if it’s the golden hour you’re chasing, we know just the places to capture the best sunrise and sunset in Halong Bay.
12. Go Kayaking and Canoeing
The tourist boats cannot navigate some of the narrow channels that cut between some of the 1960 islands, which is why taking out a kayak or canoe is one of the best things to do in Halong Bay. In some instances, you can paddle through tunnels in the rock to access secret hidden lagoons within the islands. The best places for these activities are the beaches like Tuan Chau, Bai Chay, Bai Dai, Quan Lan, Ti Top and Tra Co. On a side note Bai Chay is the closes beach to Halong Bay, while Tuan Chau was the venue of the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in May 2019. Bai Chay
What better way to experience the bay than slowly drifting across the glassy waters in a kayak soaking up your surrounds! We think Drew Unsworth, the travel blogger behind the website Points Brotherhood, will concur.
(1) What’s the highlight of your visit to Halong Bay?
I went for the morning kayak and within five minutes I was totally on my own with not a person in sight. The islands are like a giant maze and all the other visitors and boats disappeared in it. It was such a unique experience.
(2) What sets Halong Bay apart from other tourist hubs that you’ve toured?
13. Discover the Legendary Behind Trinh Nu Cave
Sitting proud on the list of things to do in Halong Bay, myth and folklore enthusiasts travel from far and wide to visit the famed Trinh Nu cave. The fable of the Trinh Nu remains a treasured memory among the indigenous people. The story is that of a beautiful girl who fell in love with a fisherman who worked hard to save money for their future life together. However, the girl’s family was controlled by the rich landlord in the area. The landlord was captivated by the girl’s extraordinary beauty and wanted her as a concubine. The girl refused and so she was banished to an isolated island. She never saw anyone again and had to salvage for food and water. After a monstrous storm, it is said the girl froze and turned to stone. Her shape is rumored to be in this place, which we now know as the Virgin Cave.
14. Visit a Floating Village
The floating villages have existed for hundreds of years. By far one of the most famous is Cua Van. Originally set up as a place for fishermen to sell their catch upon their return from the sea, the floating villages eventually became the home of Halong’s indigenous people.
Recently, the government directed the residents to move inland in an effort to improve their standard of living and the children’s access to education, as well as to protect the fragility of Halong’s marine environment that was beginning to suffer from the fish trade. The floating villages are now preserved, a museum of sorts, for tourists to come and learn about the people and their way of life. Visiting the floating villages is one of the most educational- as well as inspiring- things to do in Halong. Truly live like a local for the day and learn about their way of life.
Authentic experiences are what make vacations unique. The floating villages were certainly a first for Bruno Barroso of Geeky Explorer.
(1) What was your most memorable moment or experience in Halong Bay?
For me, kayaking amongst the towering limestone cliffs was my favorite. I love kayaking itself, but doing it in such an amazing scenario in a quiet area of the Bay with no boats, was truly memorable.
(2) How did Halong Bay stand out from other renowned tourist attractions that you’ve visited?
Well, I’m sure there aren’t many places like this in the world! Obviously, the landscape is magnificent and it’s not every day that you see beautiful limestone islands scattered all the way until the horizon. Personally, I loved the fishing villages and the pearl farms, something I’ve never seen anywhere else. Halong is certainly a unique place to board a boat, sit down, and enjoy the ride.
15. Go Squid Fishing
As night falls on Halong, flashlights can be seen all over the place – a display from the activities of night-time squid fishermen. Most of the tour boats will offer you the opportunity to try your hand at squid fishing – a lovely way to enjoy the beautiful evenings in the Bay while surrounded by huge squids that make their appearance only at night. The squids will be attracted to the light and hopefully take the bait. Certain times of the year are better than others, but it is always fun to be out on the deck in the still of the night, enjoying a beer and trying to catch these local delicacies.
Finding out what to do in Halong Bay will be the least of your worries, but rather how many days you’ll need in this magnificent part of the world. In parting, we’d like to share three of the most common questions we receive from customers…
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Get to Halong Bay?
Getting to Halong is now a lot easier than it used to be, thanks to recent upgrades in infrastructure, particularly road works. By far the most commonly used departure cities are the capital Hanoi and the industrial city of Hai Phong. Both have their own international airports and a network of highways that connects to the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Hanoi you can book a cruise package that includes two-way transfer. You may also book a private car through your travel agent, or travel in style by going for a seaplane tour. You will be transferred from Hanoi to Halong by Hai Au seaplane.
From Hai Phong, there are three options: taxi, bus and ferry. To travel by ferry, you need to go to Ben Binh Terminal and then the ferry will take you to Cai Vieng or Cat Ba. Note that whether you’re coming from Hanoi or Hai Phong, you don’t book your transportation first to a port in Halong and then purchase a ticket there. Most tourists book their cruise first, either online or through a travel agency in Vietnam. They will take care of your transfer to the port where the cruise departs. Check out this post for further details.
What is the Best Time to Visit Halong Bay?
For most travelers planning to visit Vietnam’s top tourist destination, a commonly asked question is “How many days should I stay in Halong?” Well, there is actually no right or wrong answer because it depends on personal preferences such as budget and what you are looking for in your vacation.
In most cases, tourists stay in the bay for 2 days to 3 days either on cruise or in a hotel. There are a lot of travel companies offering different and flexible packages so you are likely to find one that perfectly suit your needs. To help you out even more, we have we have taken advice from travel bloggers on this topic. Check put this post so you can have a more objective and deeper look into the matter.
Can I Swim in Halong Bay?
Absolutely! The World Heritage Site is considered as one of the best places to swim in Vietnam because of its numerous pristine beaches. The bay is not only a perfect place for sunbathing, it is also ideal for taking a dip in the clean, refreshing, emerald colored waters. The best sites for swimming are areas where the water is calm and the beaches are not overcrowded. It would be even better if you have an opportunity to swim far from the beach because the water is clearer, almost transparent. Swimming is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience that you should not miss!