Ha Long Bay (sometimes also spelt as Halong Bay) is a beautiful destination in northern Vietnam in Quang Ninh Province. One of Vietnam’s most spectacular destinations, it is also often said to be one of the most attractive places in Asia and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The myths and legends that shroud Ha Long Bay only add to the area’s ethereal appeal.
The best way to appreciate the full magnitude of Ha Long Bay’s natural splendour is with a boat trip around the bay. These can easily be arranged from the ports around Ha Long City, Haiphong, and Cai Rong. Alternatively, you can book package tours that include your transport to and from Ha Long Bay, and your boat trip whilst there.
Boat trips are available for various durations, although the overnight trips are highly recommended. Numerous operators provide package tours from Hanoi; costs vary according to the length of trip, operator, and any chosen additional activities.
Soak up the incredible views at different times of the day and night
What makes Ha Long Bay so picturesque is the many karsts rising out of the shimmering waters. The limestone rocks are often covered in scraggy and untamed greenery, the pale shades of the rock in contrast to the bright greens of the foliage.
The archipelago contains more than 1,500 islands and islets in all different shapes and sizes. Some are inhabited, whereas others are home to wildlife only. Seeing the many dramatic isles of Ha Long Bay stretching far into the distance is definitely an impressive sight!
On an overnight trip you can admire the superb scenery by day, and then watch as the light starts to fade and the isles become silhouettes against the sky, before darkness finally envelops the areas. You’re in for another visual treat if the moon is shining brightly; the whole area takes on an otherworldly feel when the karsts and sea are bathed in a soft, warming glow. Wake up early and watch as the swirling morning mists gradually lift, revealing the area in all its majesty.
Ponder the mighty dragon!
The name Ha Long means Descending Dragon. Local lore says that in times gone by, when Vietnam was still a young country, the northern sea was a common way for ferocious invaders to access the country. Through divine intervention, a fearsome dragon and her children were sent to help Vietnam defeat its enemies. The dragons engulfed the invaders in fire, and sprayed them with enormous jewels, such as emeralds and jade. The jewels fell into the sea, creating a defensive wall to keep further invaders out. These gem stones eventually became islands and islets – the very ones that you see scattered throughout the bay today.
Several islands have dragon-related names, such as Bai Tu Long (Children Attend to Dragon), and Bach Long Vy (Dragon’s Tail White Foam).
Explore fairytale-like caves
There are several caves around Ha Long Bay, popular with domestic and international tourists alike. Whilst they are unlikely to be the best caves that you have ever visited, they still make for interesting excursions. Over-visiting and lack of conservation has meant that some of the caves have become quite damaged. Bright and colourful lights have also been installed in some of the caves. Depending on your attitude, these can either add an enchanting fairytale-like vibe to the grottoes or make the whole experience rather tacky and gaudy.
Some of the most popular caves include the colourful lit ones at Dau Go Island, Bo Hon Island’s Hang Trinh Nu (Virgin Cave) with its shrine and Hang Bo Nau (Pelican Cave) with its cool rock formations, and Dau Be Island’s deep caves that can only be accessed by boat.
Other activities to enjoy around Ha Long Bay
Some trips include kayaking, whereas others often have the option to kayak for an additional cost. Balance yourself in your small kayak and enjoy paddling around small islets and getting up close to the limestone rocks. Depending on how long your kayaking experience is, you can paddle through water caves, discover hidden lagoons, and visit beautiful out-of-the-way beaches. Though the waters are generally calm, there can be surprisingly strong currents in places. Depending on the flow of water, it is also possible to be sucked into caves that you may not realise are there. Always wear a life jacket and make sure you choose an operator that is experienced in leading kayaking trips.
Swimming is also possible, although you would only really want to plunge into the waters in really warm weather and when the sun is shining.
There are floating water markets around the bay, mainly geared up towards tourists, selling drinks and Vietnamese dishes such as pho.
Sleep on a traditional junk sailing boat
A junk is a type of sailing boat, built according to ancient Chinese designs. You can spend the night sleeping onboard a junk, bobbing gently on the calm waters of Ha Long Bay. Onboard facilities can vary greatly depending on the operator, but a decent boat will have small but cute bedrooms with private bathrooms, a communal dining and relaxation area, and an outside viewing deck.
Know what kind of trip you are signing up to before you board though – some companies cater mainly for a partying crowd, with extensive drinking sessions the norm, and others blast karaoke until the wee small hours. Whether you want a party vibe or a more peaceful experience, there will be a boat / company that caters to your needs.
Although you can enjoy day trips of Ha Long Bay, sleeping out on the waters is one of the best ways to fully appreciate the natural beauty and explore more of the area.
Spend some time on some of Ha Long Bay’s islands
You can arrange to spend a night (or several) on some of Ha Long Bay’s larger islands. Cat Ba Island is one of the most popular, with several accommodation options and varied activities. It is known for attracting a party-loving crowd. Quan Lan is another good option, with basic tourist infrastructure, pretty beaches, and a more relaxed ambience.
Book your trip to the UNESCO-protected Ha Long Bay and enjoy the captivating natural beauty and stunning sights of this amazing Timeless Charm.