Halong Bay – What to See and Do
Majestic emerald green water. Towering limestone columns. Traditional Vietnamese junk boats. Dense and untouched forests. This is truly what paradise is made of. Throw in cocktails on the beach and you’ve sold us.
Ha Long Bay is nestled in the Gulf of Tonkin in northern Vietnam, and is home to over 1600 islands. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, this epic concoction of islands, caves, brilliant water, bays and inlets was voted the number one tourist attraction in Vietnam. These breath-taking natural sculptures have to be seen to be believed.
So, grab your bikinis, your board shorts, your wetsuit (whatever floats your boat) and let’s explore what this magical part of the world has to offer. Halong Bay, here we come.
What’s in a name?
In ancient Vietnamese, Halong translates to ‘descending dragon’ and is originated from an old story.
Legend has it that many years ago, the Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders from the north, through the sea. The Jade Emperor decided to send the Mother Dragon (not Kaleesi – just in case you were wondering) and her children to help defend the country. They incinerated the enemies with their fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered around the sea and formed a defensive wall in the water.
Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were defeated and the peace came back the South East Asian country once again. After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes. A feel good story for all ages.
Getting to Halong Bay
The bay itself is about a 4-hour drive from Hanoi, about 165kms away. Most Vietnam tour companies will arrange transfers from Vietnam’s capital.
If you’re flying in, you can arrive from Danang, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, and you can you can fly either to Hanoi or Hai Phong Airport and get a car transfer to Halong Bay.
You can also travel to Halong Bay on helicopter which takes about 1.5 hours from Hanoi. This service is exclusively run by Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company and can we quite expensive.
You can also take a high-speed ferry, which we highly recommend.
You will also need a Vietnam Tourist Visa, all the details are here.
Best time to visit Halong Bay
Halong City and Bay generally has pleasant temperatures, making any time of the year appropriate to visit. April to September is Summer, with an average of 34 degrees Celsius. It can be very hot with the occasional rain. October to March is Winter, so it can be quite chilly and windy in the bay. The days are warm, but for night time, pack a sweater and long pants.
Halong is one of the most humid cities in Vietnam with the average annual humidity at 84%.
Inhabitants of Halong Bay
About 1600 people live in floating fishing villages between the towering pillars of Halong Bay. The incredible floating villages of Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau & Vong Vieng have all the things these families could need – schools, a post office and some even have wifi (just enough to post that pic!). These villages rely on our tourism to keep them afloat (no pun intended – or maybe intended). It’s truly special to see the smiling faces of the children leaving their floating school, and hopping onto an awaiting boat to be taken home by their parents.
The quality of accommodation in the city of Halong isn’t great (we have standards people!). So the best option is to stay on a junk boat and make it a real experience. Traditional junk boats are available to stay on and most have a high level of service. You can sunbath on the deck, drinks cocktails, jump off the sides into the water and stay in a comfortable bed with an ensuite. Sunrise yoga on the top deck will be a defining moment. It truly is an unforgettable way to see the bay.
Activities in the Halong Bay
Adventure tourism is a movement that is gaining momentum in Halong Bay and Vietnam.
Motorbiking in Vietnam is an experience in itself, and it’s part of the Vietnam experience. But the Vietnam traffic can be daunting for visitors who don’t understand how the flow of traffic works. Ha Long Bay, especially remote Cat Ba Island, is an incredible place to motorbike for visitors because it provides all of the beauty and cultural scenery of Vietnam but without the crazy traffic. This is one of our favorites!
Activities such as kayaking and SUP are super fun, easy to do and learn and creates a great opportunity to explore the bay from the emerald green waters. On the kayak or SUP, you can pass through floating villages (yes, people actually live on the water!) and then into your own private bays. Swimming recommended.
For our adventurists (you know who you are), you can try rock climbing the limestone faces of the towering pillars. Challenge yourself to explore the rock and see how high you can get. We provide full instruction and belaying. Beginners are welcome!
Jumping off the boats into the glorious water is one for our Instagram addicts. Imagine snapping a photo of yourself leaping into the emerald green waters of the bay, the columns of rock in the background. Just watch those ‘likes’ grow!
Check out our 7-Night Northern Vietnam Experience to do all of these activities in one full day of adventure.
Sights in Halong Bay
There are many islands to discover in the bay, however by far the most glorious is Cat Ba Island. Feel the white sand between your toes on the beach, and dive into the aqua water.
Or, channel your inner Indiana Jones and explore the ancient caves of Sung Sot, Dao Go and Dong Thien Cung. Sung Sot includes three humungous caverns to investigate. Smalls boats taxi passengers between islands and caves, and you can visit the floating villages afterwards.
Author: Michelle Hyde