Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The Bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 sqkm. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. For many tourists, this place is like something right out of a movie. The fact is that Halong Bay features a wide range of biodiversity, while the surrealistic scenery has indeed featured in endless movies.
How to get there
The best way to get to Halong City is by car, minibus or bus from Hanoi, which is only 170km away.
Where to go
Halong Bay is a very unique place, and as such you should consider a 1 or 2 night stay on one of the traditional junks, which travel around the bay. You can have seafood lunches on board, and sleep while listening to the lapping of the water, a truly memorable adventure all arranged by Travel Loop Adventure.
As there are simply too many Ha Long Bay attractions to visit in a day, joining a two-day one night cruise is highly recommended for first-time visitors. Not only are you able to discover various islets, beaches, villages, and grottoes on a more relaxed pace, these cruises also offer additional stops for swimming, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, trekking, and just simply soaking up the stunning scenery.
Cat Ba Island
One of the most popular destinations in Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, where several floating villages, hotels, restaurants, and bars are set against a backdrop of lush mountains, karst caves, white sandy beaches, coral reefs, lagoons and mangroves. It’s also home to endangered wildlife such as Cat Ba langurs, southern serows, rhesus macaque, leopard cats, black giant squirrels, and civet cats.
Dau Be Island
Another Halong Bay island is Dau Be Island, a prominent swimming and diving spot with a rich coral system and deep grottoes that houses six inland lakes. Located 28 kilometres from Bai Chay Port, the grottoes and caves can only be visited by rowing boat at low tide, when access is possible. You can also spot golden monkeys, and flying squirrels while you’re here.
Bo Hon Island
Bo Hon Island houses most of Halong Bay’s most famous caves such as Sung Sot, Trinh Nu and Trong Cave, all of which are set against a backdrop of mountains, cliffs, and lush forest. Accessible within a two-hour boat ride from Bai Chay Port, it’s widely regarded as Halong Bay’s natural park as there are plenty of cycads, orchids and banyan trees as well as wild monkeys, deer, and chamois.
Ti Top Island
Ti Top Island is approximately eight kilometres southeast of Bai Chay Port, named after former Soviet Union astronaut Ghermann Titop to commemorate his first visit to Halong Bay back in 1962. The beach is the main draw of this island, where you can enjoy water sports, swim in the clear waters, or just lounge on the pristine white sand. There are also plenty of high-end resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops set along Ti Top Beach. If you’re up for the challenge (and view), there’s a 400-step stairway to the peak of Ti Top Island, where you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of Ha Long Bay.
Many of these islands have been inhabited for more than 5000 years, with local residents living mainly on agriculture and fishing. Today, there are only a few fishing villages left in Ha Long Bay, including Cong Dam, Cua Van, Viet Hai, and Vung Vieng. These floating villages are particular highlights for foreign visitors as they can join a guided kayak tour to explore the peaceful surroundings, visit a pearl farm, try fishing with local fishermen, or simply observe their daily lives.
Caves and grottoes
No trip to Halong Bay is complete without exploring its limestone caves and grottoes. Most contain uniquely shaped stalactites and stalagmites that are about two million years old.
Dau Go Cave
Dau Go Cave is one of the most visited caves in the bay, housing stalactites and stalagmites that are more than 20 metres high. Led by an English-speaking guide, visitors have to climb a stairway of 90 steps to get to the cave, which is divided into three main sections that are illuminated with a mix of natural and artificial lighting to bring out formations in shapes of people, animals, and objects. At the end of Dau Go Cave is a small pond with clear water, which locals believe was used by fairies to descend to Earth.
Trinh Nu Cave
Locals believe that Trinh Nu or Virgin Cave houses a woman who has been turned into stone after her death, having unable to return home after being forced to marry an old Mandarin. Another local legend states that she escaped from a Mandarin who forced her to marry him because her father could not pay a debt. When fishermen found her body, they buried her here and built a small shrine inside the grotto.
Sung Sot Cave
Set within Bo Hon Island, Sung Sot Cave is divided into two chambers with a square-shaped outer chamber and a 30-metre limestone ceiling about 30 metres high. The inner chamber formations resemble sentries conversing with one another and there’s another formation in the middle of the chamber that looks like a general surveying his troops.
Jutting out from the clear blue sea are the Kissing Rocks islets, which are undoubtedly the symbols of Halong Bay. Comprising two rocks that resemble a rooster and a hen facing each other, locals believe them to symbolise eternal love as the islets have been around for thousands of years.
When it comes to dining in Ha Long Bay, accommodation cruises prepare an array of Vietnamese dishes on-board. Consisting of three complimentary meals a day, you can enjoy spring rolls, stir-fried vegetables, fried rice, seafood, poultry and meat dishes, followed by a fruit platter. Alcohol and snacks are also available at additional charges.
As the cruisers are dock for the night, most travellers on a Ha Long Bay two day one night cruise often retire early and unwind within the comfort of their cabin. However, there’s always a group who prefer staying up to drink and socialise at the bar on-board until late. The cabins on board are usually shared between two or four, with either bunk beds or double beds. While a bit pokey, they serve the purpose as somewhere to recharge and get back out on deck to soak up the stunning scenery.