An awe-inspiring collection of looming limestone karsts and picturesque isles rises from the emerald sea in northeast Vietnam. Often called the Eighth Wonder of the World, Vietnam’s spectacular Halong Bay is home to 1600 islands that are dotted with gorgeous wind- and wave-eroded grottoes. Halong Bay is one of Asia’s most spectacular wonders, and can be enjoyed on any Vietnam vacation. The best ways to explore Halong Bay in Vietnam is with day and overnight boat cruises, kayaking tours, ancient cave exploration, and sandy beach escapes.
Known as “Bay of Descending Dragons”, Halong Bay is located 170 km (105 mi) east of Hanoi. Legend claims that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. Researchers believe that the UNESCO World Heritage–listed seascape was formed over more than 500 million years by mountains shifting, marine degradation, and encroaching seas.
Halong Bay is one of the cradles of mankind, with several ancient civilizations developed in the land, dating 4,000 – 5,000 years ago. Today, the magical bay is home to about 1600 people who live in floating fishing villages. Visit Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau, and Vong Vieng, and see what fisher life is like. You can get a sense of the culture of a fisher community by participating in fisher’s everyday chores and having a cozy meal with local residents.
Cruising the Bay
Sprawling Halong City is the bay’s main gateway, yet the real beauty of Halong Bay is best experienced aboard an island cruise. Many luxurious cruise boats ply the emerald seas, and spending at least one night on the bay is a must. Cruise the bay at sunset, sunrise and under a starry or moonlit night. There are three types of Halong Bay cruises to choose from – a traditional junk, a first class wooden boat, or a luxury boat. On a luxury boat, you’ll enjoy magnificent scenery as you meander among stunning islands, fjords, and inlets. Enjoy a traditional Vietnamese lunch on board before departing to explore Sung Sot Cave. In the evening you’ll enjoy an open-air cocktail bar on the sundeck and savour a delicious five-course Vietnamese dinner.
Kayak Scenic Islands
Halong Bay is an absolute paradise for kayakers and nature lovers of all kinds. Paddle through sparkling islets, visit hidden caves, secret lagoons, and unspoiled beaches, going where big boats cannot. Thanks to the bay’s thousands of islands, the conditions for sea kayaking are ideal – the water is calm, the current is fine, and the wind is mild.
Kayaking around islands like rugged Cat Ba and Dau Be Island will provide you with a treasure trove of memories to last a lifetime. Cat Ba is the biggest island in the area, and offers stirring jungle scenery as well as some wonderful beaches. Most of the year, Cat Ba Town is a laid-back place, and an excellent base for activities around the island, or sailing and kayaking around Lan Ha Bay. On summer weekends, Cat Ba turns into a roaring resort, filling up with vacationing Vietnamese locals. Dau Be Island is a very popular swimming and diving spot because of its rich coral and deep grottoes with three inland lakes. The grottoes and caves can only be visited by rowing boat at low tide. Bo Hon Island is home to one of the most famous caves in Halong Bay, the Virgin Cave (Hang Trinh Nu). According to local legend, a beautiful woman committed suicide in the cave, unable to return home after being forced to marry an old Mandarin man. Here her body turned into stone, and a shrine now honours her memory.
Bring Your Camera
Scenic Halong Bay is a photographer’s paradise. It has arguably the most stunning natural scenery in all of Vietnam, and is ideal for capturing magnificent photos at all times of the day. For dramatic photos, head out on the bay at sunrise or sunset to capture the reflection of the coloured sky on the water. Ask your guide about the best vantage points.
Learn Basic Vietnamese Phrases
Though your guided tour ensures that your Vietnam travel will be smooth and effortless, you can have a more authentic experience in Halong Bay by learning a few basic Vietnamese phrases. Your guide, local vendors, and hotel owners near Halong Bay will speak English, but it can be a good idea to memorize handy phrases in Vietnamese. Locals will appreciate that you took the time and effort to appreciate their culture, and you will likely receive kinder treatment. You may even make a new friend.