Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site with incredible limestone karsts, caves, islands and floating villages
Many people travel to the north of Vietnam purely to visit Halong Bay.
This guide will help you to escape the crowds and see those unmissable sites of interest.
Ha Long Bay
In Vietnamese Ha Long means “descending dragon”. Popular legend says that the Vietnamese were under threat from invaders from the north arriving by sea.
Emperor Jade sent a dragon and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders ships.
As the ships approached the dragons spat fire at the boats alongside jade and jewels which turned into islands and islets which helped form a barrier against invasion and turning the water a beautiful emerald colour.
The invaders were defeated and the dragon fell in love with the area and decided to make Ha Long Bay her home.
The baby dragons are said to have descended into neighbouring Bai Tu Long Bay.
Most people visiting Ha Long Bay will base themselves in Hanoi which is around 170km away.
Transport from Hanoi to Ha Long is easily arranged with regular buses as well as private car and minibuses available from Hanoi.
Only 40 of the islands in Ha Long Bay are inhabited and few of those have hotels or other tourist facilities.
Ha Long Bay covers an area over 1,500 sq km so this is more than a day trip. Most people will spend at least two days cruising the emerald waters of the bay.
Photo credit Digitalarbyter on Unsplash
When to Visit
Ha Long Bay can get incredibly busy at peak times but the weather can very unpredictable in the quieter months. When deciding when to visit you need to decide what is most important to you.
January and February tend to be busy due to western, Chinese and Vietnamese (Tet) New Year celebrations. Although there is a low chance of heavy rain and storms, there is an increased likelihood of cloudy and windy days. Temperatures range from 13°C/55°F to 30°C/86°F. Humidity ranges from mid 60% to mid 70%.
March to May has fewer people, more daylight hours and more comfortable temperatures. There is an increased risk of rain however. Temperatures range from 18°C/64°F to 34°C/93°F in March to 29°C/84°F to 40°C/104°F in May. Humidity is in the mid to high 70%.
June to September gets very hot and humid and there is a high chance of storms. When it is dry you get some of the best conditions with much lower numbers of people and blue sky. Temperatures range from 26°C/79°F to 40°C/104°F with humidity is in the mid to high 70%.
October to December is the busiest and most expensive time to visit. The weather is much more comfortable and there is a lower chance of storms although cloud cover increases throughout December. Temperatures range from 21°C/70°F to 36°C/97°F in October to 17°C/63°F to 27°C/81°F in December. Humidity is in the low 70%.
Where to Go
Photo credit Valeriy Ryasnyanskiy on Unsplash
Highlights of Ha Long Bay
Cat Ba Island
The largest island in Ha Long Bay as well as being the most developed.
Many people will visit Cat Ba even if it is just to pick up their cruise around the bay.
Cat Ba National Park has plenty of opportunities for land based adventure with caves and hiking both popular. There are also a number of Vietnam War themed places to visit.
There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and bars on Cat Ba for all budgets.
Tuan Chau Island
Just off the coast of Ha Long City is this small island that has developed into a tourist resort that gives excellent access to the Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay
Right next door to Ha Long Bay and just as stunning. Bai Tu Long is much quieter than Ha Long, access on land is not easy and much fewer cruise ships head this way. Perfect for exploring on a kayak as well as the jungle on land.
Cai Bau Pagoda
Overlooking Bai Tu Long Bay and offering excellent views across the bay and beyond. A relatively new temple but set in a picturesque setting.
Bo Hon Island
There are a number of must-see attractions on Bo Hun.
Hang Bo Nau or Pelican Cave is well worth visiting and has some spectacular stalactites hanging from the roof.
Hong Sung Sot cave has two chambers, the outer chamber has a ceiling around 30 metres high and leads to the inner chamber has many rock formations that are said to resemble soldiers.
Hang Trinh Nau (Nu) or Virgin cave is one of the most famous caves in the area. Legend says that a girl was forced to marry a Mandarin due to an unpaid debt, when she died her body was brought here and a shrine erected in her honour.
Dau Go Island
Another site with a stunning colourful cave
Ti Top Beach
A wonderful crescent shaped beach, only accessible by boat, ideal for sunbathing and swimming. Also popular with rock climbers.
Other excellent beaches include Tuan Chau, Ba Trai Dao and Nguc Vung.
Vung Vieng Floating Village
Home to more than 300 people, the village dates back to the 19th century when fishermen made their home there.
Located in Bai Tu Long Bay, the village can only be accessed by small rowing boats, usually manned by villagers.
Visitors can visitor the centre in the village which houses workshops and opportunities to purchase local handicrafts and food.
It is also possible to visit or even stay overnight local homes.
This is one of a number of floating villages and is the largest but least changed by tourism.
Dau Be Island
A superb spot for swimming, snorkeling and diving due the stunning corals, grottoes and inland lakes.
Lan Ha Bay
Another alternative to Ha Long to escape the crowds while not missing out on any of the stunning scenery and wildlife.
Ha Long Bay Cruise
If you are visiting Ha Long Bay you will need to take a cruise to really experience the area.
There are plenty of options for a cruise on Ha Long Bay, depending on your budget and the time available. The most popular are generally on traditional style junks, which provide a slow, relaxing experience.
Cruises are generally booked as part of a package, however it is possible to arrange in Hanoi, Ha long City or, for the best prices, in Cat Ba. Check that the boat is licensed for Ha Long Bay and don’t use a dodgy looking booking agent, there are plenty of reputable travel agencies to book your trip while in Vietnam, remember if you book through your accommodation it is likely to be more expensive.
Day cruises are available but will only give you a taste of the Bay and its surrounds. To really experience Ha Long you need to take an overnight cruise where you will sleep onboard overnight. If you really want to experience Ha Long Bay, and some of the harder to reach areas, you can take a 2 night / 3 day or 3 night / 4 day trip.
When you book your cruise it’s important that you pick the right one. Check that any specific areas or places that you want to visit are included. Check what is included in the cost, usually food and activities are included but not always, drinks are sometimes included but not everything. Also check if transport to and from Ha Long is included. Ask if there are likely to be any extras onboard.
Photo credit Steven Lasry on Unsplash
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