Halong Bay is the most sought after and most visited tourist destination in Vietnam. A unique UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bay receives an astounding 6 million tourists a year – and for a number of good reasons. Literally “the Bay of Descending Dragons”, it features a 120-kilometer coastline, 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 to appreciate its 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 exploration. The best way to experience all these is to visit some of the best attractions that Halong Bay has to offer, so let’s take a look at our 20 favourite sights in Halong Bay and area!
1. Cat Ba Island
A World Heritage Site designated as a biosphere reserve, Cat Ba National Park 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 on the island, 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.
For more detail on this beauty of an island, visit our Cat Ba Island guide.
2. Sung Sot Cave
The caves and grottoes are among the most coveted Halong Bay attractions and to date, 59 caves have been discovered and listed in the official register. Located at Bon Hon Island, Sung Sot Cave is quite special among them 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. Oh, and don’t miss our in-depth guide to Sung Sot Cave either!
And if spelunking and caves in general rank high on your list, then also find out which of them have made the cut as our top 5 Halong Bay caves.
3. 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.
For more tips and background on the island, visit our Titop Island guide!
4. Thien Cung Cave
Thien Cung Cave is situated in the south-west section of Halong Bay, approximately 4km from the port of Dau Go Island. It is positively 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 and stalactites that come in various shapes and forms. Don’t forget your camera as the display of different colors surely makes for a great backdrop. The entrance is perched in the middle of a mountain, so you need to take a hike up to enter the cave. 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.
Intrigued? Read more on it in our dedicated Thien Cung guide.
5. Monkey Island
Monkey Island (or Cat Dua in Vietnamese) 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.
6. 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 skills 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.
7. 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 are a popular destination because of the area’s 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.
Looking for some proper fun in the sun during your Halong Bay trip? Here’s our top-3 of the beaches in the area!
8. 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 ‘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.
9. Viet Hai Village
Sitting pretty in the heart of Cat Ba National Park, Viet Hai Village requires an 8km trek to reach – but if you don’t feel up for the challenge and would rather skip those sheer cliffs, deep gorges and muddy ponds along the way, then don’t worry, you can also reach it by boat. Whatever your means of transport, expect to be thrilled on your arrival. Surrounded by high mountains, thick jungle and a vast ocean, Viet Hai’s location is nothing short of spectacular.
Given its secluded location, the village has managed to retain a number of traditional features such as houses made of bamboo, wood, leaves and soil, and just like their ancestors who lived there centuries ago the villagers of today make their living by fishing, farming and breeding animals. And that’s easily the greatest “attraction” you’ll find here – interacting with the extremely friendly locals and observing them and their so-called primitive lifestyle.
For more on this truly amazing place, read our Viet Hai guide.
10. Me Cung Cave
Also known as Maze Cave or Bewitching Cave, Me Cung is considered one of the most picturesque caves in Halong Bay – quite a compliment given the numerous stunning caves in the area. An important archaeological site as it houses vestiges of human activity dating back to the Stone Age, it never fails to please the eye for anyone who climbs to the cave’s entrance, 25 metres up the stone steps.
It isn’t the cave alone that promises to thrill you there, though. If you climb a few more steps from the cave’s narrow entrance, you can see a pretty lake surrounded by mountains, with a startling blue colour all year round – and if you press on further to the top of the mountain, you will be rewarded with a breath-taking panoramic view of the area.
For more on the cave itself, check out our Me Cung guide.
11. 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.
12. Soi Sim Island
An untouched island only recently discovered by tourists, Soi Sim Island is located in the southwest of Halong Bay – around 700 metres from Titop Island. With its name literally meaning “look for sim” (“sim” being rose myrtle – a local fruit to be found on the island in the summer), it owes the weird name to the fact that “sim” is much sought after by locals. But other than munch on the sweet, juicy fruit, expect to be surrounded by thick jungle, pristine beaches with clean sandbanks and few other visitors.
Soi Sim island is a perfect destination if you’re a fan of water activities such as kayaking and swimming. The emerald water here is so clean that you can see shoals of small fish swimming around. There is also water motorcycle renting service on the island if you are up for some thrills. Besides, you can also go trekking, sightseeing and relaxing in the wilderness.
For more on the island’s charms, have a look at our Soi Sim guide.
13. 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 scores of vessels that sail across Halong. Caves, grottoes and fabulous beaches are among 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.
For more on this timeless wonder, sail to our Bai Tu Long guide!
14. Vung Vieng Floating 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 presents the traditional lives of local fishermen while offering a peaceful spot for viewing the charming landscape around it.
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.
Sounds like your type of place? Then make sure to read our guide to Vung Vieng!
Curious how these villages came to exist in the first place? For a bit of historical background to your trip, read the story behind Halong Bay’s floating villages.
15. Ban Chan Beach
Considered a hidden gem of Bai Tu Long Bay, Ban Chan Beach is tucked away in the bay’s back corner. If you’re pining for solitude on a beautiful beach, make sure you visit this amazing site. It features powdery white sands, crystalline waters, a sandbank stretching under the shadow of casuarina pines – but perhaps most importantly, it offers 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 you 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. Read more about it here.
16. 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.
For our definitive comparison of the 3 bays: Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Halong Bay, go here!
17. Tra Bau Area
Tra Bau 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 it’s 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 authorities. 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.
18. Co To Island
Seldom visited by tourists, Co To Island falls within the much-heard mantra of “Go now before everything changes.” Anchored comfortably in the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, the island is indeed little else than white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, craggy cliff faces and cheap but delicious food – and yes, few other people, so by all means go there now!
Co To Island is part of a larger archipelago and is surrounded by a cluster of some 40-50 small islands. The island itself is composed of a scattering of hills, and much of the coastline is rocky cliff faces. The beaches, however, will likely satisfy even the most insatiable seaside addicts. Make your way to Trinh Sat Beach, Hong Vanh and Van Chai and more often than not you will have the whole place to yourself. You can also tour the island on a motorbike or take a walk to the lighthouse for a 360-panoramic view of the island.
For more on the island, take a look at our Co To Island guide.
19. Tuan Chau Island
Tuan Chau once served as a vacation spot for former President Ho Chi Minh. In fact, Tuan Chau is home to a 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 2019. You can indulge in other watersports like fishing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, parasailing, among others.
For more on Uncle Ho’s favourite island, navigate to our Tuan Chau guide.
20. Bai Tho Mountain
A 200-metre limestone mountain in the heart of Halong City, Bai Tho Mountain requires a 30-minute hike but will reward you with impressive vistas onto the city and the bays beyond. With half of its foothills roving over the land and the rest immersed in the ocean, the mountain has been compared to a tiger ready to pounce and to a dragon preparing to fly away.
According to a legend, in 1468 King Le Thanh Tong was patrolling the northeast coast by boat and was so touched by the charming scenery that he had his own poem carved into the mountain’s cliff face. Known as Poem Mountain – Bai Tho Mountain – from that time on, the mountain continues to awe visitors with its wonderful views.
For more on the mountain – including practical information on how to get to the best viewpoint, check out our Bai Tho Mountain guide.
So there you have it! This post would be much, much longer if we enumerated all the other Halong Bay attractions – but let’s stop here, actually. What we discussed are 20 of the absolute highlights of this jaw-dropping area, ones that ought to be in your bucket list when you visit Vietnam. See you in Ha Long Bay!