Halong Bay is still the most sought after and most visited tourist destination in Vietnam. This unique UNESCO World Heritage Site receives an astounding 6 million tourists a year… and for a number of good reasons. The bay’s 120-kilometer (75-mile) long coastline, literally means the “Bay of Descending Dragons” and it features some 2,000 limestone islands, 59 discovered caves and grottoes, and dozens of beaches- many of which remain untouched by modern tourism.
Nature lovers and adventure-seekers are drawn to Halong Bay for its wild exploration potential and to appreciate the captivating landscape and diverse wildlife – both flora and fauna. But aside from the natural world, there’s a plethora of things that travelers can do while touring the bay – from workshops and master classes on board the ship, to water sports and cave explorations. The best way to experience all these is to visit some of the best attractions that Halong Bay has to offer…
- 1. Bai Tu Long Bay
- 2. Lan Ha Bay
- 3. Tra Bau Area
- 4. Sung Sot Cave
- 5. Titop Island
- 6. Vung Vieng Fishing Village
- 7. Thien Cung Cave
- 8. Ban Chan Beach
- 9. Tuan Chau Island
- 10. Trung Trang Cave
- 11. Monkey Island
- 12. Dark & Light Cave
- 13. Ba Trai Dao (‘Three Peaches’ Islets)
- 14. Cannon Fort (Phao Dai Than Cong)
- 15. Cat Ba National Park
1. Bai Tu Long Bay
Located northeast of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay actually forms three quarters of the more popular World Heritage Site. With hundreds of its own karst island formations, Bai Tu Long Bay easily rivals the scenic beauty of Halong.
It is a newer route situated east of the wildly popular cruising loops taken by most boats, far from the plethora of tourists and the scores of vessels that sail across Halong. Caves, grottoes, and fabulous beaches are among the top attractions in Halong Bay. The same can be said for Bai Tu Long Bay BUT without the crowds. It promises to deliver many unique experiences, far from the heavily touristic sites. Be sure to visit Quan Lan Island, Thay Cave, Thien Canh Son Cave, and the Ang Du Area.
2. Lan Ha Bay
Just like Bai Tu Long, Lan Ha Bay is a more serene and less touristy alternative to Halong Bay. Since it is a fair way from Halong City, not a lot of tourist boats venture here, which means Lan Ha Bay has a more secluded appeal. It has its own impressive collection of 300 or so karst islands, along with a staggering 139 white-sand beaches. You won’t have any problem finding a perfect spot for swimming, enjoying a private beach barbecue, or an overnight camp.
Lying south of Cat Ba Town and about 30 minutes by boat from Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay is best explored by kayak or sail boat, both of which can be rented in Cat Ba. Taking to the waters yourself is the best way to explore the more isolated sites that cruises tend to avoid.
Geologically speaking, Lan Ha Bay is an extension of Halong Bay but located in a different province. Biologists have so far documented 200 species of fish, 400 species of arthropods, and 500 species of mollusks that thrive across the bay, while larger marine animals include seals and dolphins.
3. Tra Bau Area
Tra Bau actually sits inside Lan Ha Bay, where many tour cruises settle overnight. It is a deep sea area surrounded by jagged mountains so there are no turbulent waves and hence a safe stop for cruise ships. However, Tra Bau is not only an ideal stop for cruises, it is also one of the kayaking and swimming spots designated by the Hai Phong government. Feel free to take a kayak out across the open waters and explore the bay or go swimming in the deep blue and head straight to the tree-clad walls of the limestone mountains. You can also meet the locals and learn more about their unique way of life.
4. Sung Sot Cave
The caves and grottoes are among the most coveted Halong Bay attractions. To date 59 caves have been discovered and listed in the official registrar. Located at Bon Hon Island, Sung Sot Cave is quite special because it is one of the largest in Halong.
To get there, you’ll need to hike up a steep trail, but it’s definitely worth the effort for the inner views.
There are two separate chambers that tower to a height of about 30 meters. The inner one is famous for having an array of rock formations that look like sentries and there is even a rock in the center that looks like a general barking orders to his troops! The guides and the local people will take any chance they can get to share the ‘legend’ behind each of these formations (dragons, demons, and dwarves all play a part) so get ready to be imaginative!
The chambers are wide so walking around and taking amazing photos is comfortable and easy. As the light shimmers across the water and makes flickering patterns, it looks as if the rock formations are coming to life! It’s a one-of-a kind experience that you shouldn’t miss.
5. Titop Island
Named in honor of Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov who visited Halong Bay in 1962, Titop Island and its surrounding waters offer a stunning sight from afar – an imposing tower of limestone jutting out of the water and shrouded with thick rainforest.
It has long been part of the itinerary of many cruises as it is considered as one of the ‘must-see’ attractions in Halong Bay, thanks to the mesmerizing views and the tourist-friendly beach at its base.
Titop Island is pretty small, covering a total area of 3.7 hectares. Because of its immaculate white sands and the calm azure blue waters, the beach is ideal for recreational activities like swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and other water sports. Adventurous tourists also hike up the 427 steps to the mountaintop gazebo, where they are rewarded with awesome views of the surrounding bay.
6. Vung Vieng Fishing Village
Vung Vieng is located in the heart of Bai Tu Long Bay. One of the four remaining floating fishing villages in the region, it is one of the favorites among tourists because it portrays the traditional lives of the local fishermen while offering a peaceful spot for viewing the charming landscape.
Pay a visit and you can learn the art of sailing, pearl harvesting and casting fishnets. You will be captivated by the beauty and versatility of the boats, the hospitable fishermen, and the kids with huge smiles on their faces as they head off to school. The scene really shows the conventional character of a floating village.
7. Thien Cung Cave
This cave is situated in the south-west section of Halong Bay, approximately 4km from the port of Dau Go Island. It is quite huge, covering an area of 10,000 square meters. The interior is complex so an expert guide will certainly come in handy. Make sure you ask about the legend of an ancient Dragon King.
Thien Cung is popular because of its intricate network of stalagmites ad stalactites that come in various shapes and forms. Don’t forget your camera, the different display of colors while surely make for a great backdrop! The entrance is perched in the middle of the mountain, so you need to take a hike up. It’s not easy but certainly worth the effort. As you look out from the mouth of Thien Cung, you’ll get a view that will take your breath away.
8. Ban Chan Beach
This is considered as the hidden gem of Bai Tu Long Bay as it is tucked away in its back corner. So if you want solitude on a beautiful beach, better visit this amazing site. Its primitive beauty features powdery white sands, crystalline waters, a sandbank stretching under the shadow of casuarina pines, and an escape from the crowds of the main Halong Bay area.
Swimming, snorkeling, diving, and beach volleyball are all on the cards here, but we highly recommend that hop on a kayak and explore the coastline. You will surely find a piece of paradise all for yourself. Ban Chan is really perfect for those who want to be in harmony with nature and break free from the hustle and bustle of big cities.
9. Tuan Chau Island
This is one of the ancient islands in Vietnam and once served as a vacation spot for former President Ho Chi Minh. In fact, Tuan Chau is home tothe Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is one of its most important landmarks. The island is connected to Halong City by both roads and waterways so it is easy to reach.
Over the past two decades, Tuan Chau has seen significant growth and is now a fully developed tourist zone that is known for its majestic mountains, beaches, and a wide variety of tourist services including resorts, restaurants, entertainment venues and a recreational park.
Two of the beaches in Tuan Chau are artificial with white sand and a generous amount of sunshine for the entire duration of summer. Not surprisingly, it hosted the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in May this year. You can indulge in other watersports like fishing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, parasailing, among others.
10. Trung Trang Cave
Stretching for about 300 meters, this is one of the most remarkable caves in Cat Ba Island and certainly one of the top Halong Bay attractions. Venturing inside is like stepping into nature’s wonderland, thanks to the thousands of sparkling stalactites that take on different shapes and forms.
Over the years, the cave has been called several names. It used to be known as the Bat Cave because of the thousands of bats that sought refuge there. Then it was dubbed as ‘Navy’ because it was picked as an operation site of the naval forces during the American War. Today, you’ll still see some historical artifacts like the activity room, water tank, meeting room and the soldiers’ quarters. A visit here is like exploring a natural wonder and going down history lanes at the same time.
11. Monkey Island
This unique island is only accessible by boat, but tourists who exert the effort to get here are rewarded with a menagerie of outdoor adventure activities, including access to a private beach. While soaking in the sun on the beach, you can kick back and sip coconut water. You can also hop on a kayak or go snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Halong.
As its name suggests, there are hundreds of monkeys that frolic across the island. They are very playful and they interact freely with both locals and tourists. But, aside from these arboreal creatures, it’s the lush scenery that makes Monkey Island a magnet for travelers. Almost all tourist boats make a stop here so travelers can admire the beauty that nature has endowed on Cat Ba.
12. Dark & Light Cave
Located east of Cat Ba Island and at the edge of Halong Bay, Dark & Light Cave is actually a system made up of two separate caves, hence the name. The Dark Cave stretches for 100 meters and has very little natural or artificial light so you’ll have to bring a flashlight. The Light Cave, on the other hand, is much shorter and has plenty of natural light shining through gaps and holes, making it look like a church built by Mother Nature herself.
The cave commences at the water level of a distinctive arched entrance that leads to a huge lake with massive trees and a variety of exotic orchids. This is definitely one of the best places to hone your kayaking skill because it’s the only way to explore the chamber, unless you want to swim your way through the entire tunnel. Note that the Light Cave is always accessible while the Dark Cave is sometimes swallowed by the tide.
13. Ba Trai Dao (‘Three Peaches’ Islets)
The Ba Trai Dao area consists of three small mountains that resemble three peaches when seen from afar. Located in the southeast section of Halong Bay near Cat Ba Island, it is featured with the Ba Trai Dao Beach which takes on the shape of a bow that embraces the islets. The beach is one of the best in the region but tourists can only swim for 2–3 hours a day because the tide rises and submerges the area.
Today, Three Peaches Islets has become a popular destination because of its romantic milieu. The area is tied to a legend of the love of the youngest fairy of Heaven for a poor fisherman. As she wanted him to be immortal, she stole three peaches in Heaven for him. Unfortunately the King noticed and was enraged. He then turned the three peaches into three mountain islands on the sea. The locals aptly named the area “Ba Trai Dao” which translates to Three Peaches Islets.
14. Cannon Fort (Phao Dai Than Cong)
For one of the best views in Halong Bay, visit Cannon Fort where you can gaze in awe at the panoramic vistas of Cat Ba Island – its forest-clad hills rolling down to the colorful cluster of fishing boats in the port and out to the emerald waters of the bay.
Cannon Fort was constructed by Japanese troops during World War II. Visitors get to explore underground tunnels, bunkers, trenches, two gun emplacements (one featuring life-size Viet Minh mannequins), and two viewing decks overlooking the island. It’s quite a treat because the historical remains are well-preserved. There’s even a cafe and a small museum. A short visit here will give you impressions of Vietnam’s turbulent past as well as the beauty that nature has endowed to this unique place.
15. Cat Ba National Park
Just like Halong Bay, Cat Ba National Park is a World Heritage Site designated as a biosphere reserve. It is home to 32 species of mammals, including majority of the 65 remaining golden-headed langur, the most endangered primate in the world. Seventy species of birds and more than a thousand plant species have been documented in the park, including 160 with medicinal value.
There are some excellent hiking trails including an 18-km route that leads to a mountain peak. Most hikers stop by the kiosks in Viet Hai, a minority village where snacks and lunch are served. Having a guide is not imperative but is recommended so you can make sense of the verdant canopy of trees. Most tourists actually prefer to explore the park on organized tours. You’ll get to explore its natural beauty highlighted by caves, limestone forests, cascading waterfalls, and small streams flowing to the sea.
There you have it! This post will drag on if we enumerate all the other Halong Bay attractions. What were discussed are by far the most sought after and definitely the ones that ought to be in your bucket list when you come and visit Vietnam.