If you type ‘Vietnam’ into Google image search, surely you’ll find the first page filled almost entirely with images of Halong Bay. No wonder as Vietnam and Halong Bay as two things inseparable. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of thousands of limestone isles formed over 500 million years with warm emerald lagoons, caves, and fishing villages.
In our #FoodInLoveVIETNAM trip in October 2017, we’ve visited Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, including an overnight stay in Halong Bay which has been a popular destination for travelers in Vietnam for decades.
Halong Bay is the most beautiful bay located on the Western side of the Gulf of Tonkin in Northeastern Vietnam. It has almost 2000 islands and islets in various shapes and sizes, of which mostly are limestone.
Halong Bay also known as Vinh Ha Long means “Bay of the Descending Dragon”. “Ha” appoints the “descending” action and “Long” is to call the mythical animal “dragon”. Literally, Halong holds the legendary idea from its name as “the Bay of the Descending Dragon”.
There are a couple of myth and legends about how Halong Bay was created, but the most common one says that dragons were sent there by gods to protect Vietnam from invaders.
Best Time to Visit
Best time to visit Halong Bay is from September to November and from March to May due to the dry climate and pleasant temperatures allowing you to do most of the interesting activities there. May to September is the low season of the year and during then you can probably get a good deal from most cruise companies. July and August are the months you have to avoid since that’s storm season and the weather is turbulent which will affect your trip negatively.
How to go to Halong Bay from Hanoi
If you’re planning to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi, the first thing you will need to do is sort out transportation. Most people take tour-based minibusses to Halong City, although for the less budget-conscious, private taxis are available, and this will probably get you to your destination a little quicker. There are about approximately 170 kilometers between Hanoi and Halong traveled within 3,5 – 4 hours. However, there are public buses but we highly not recommend this option unless you have a lot of time.
The easiest, most convenient and probably the cheapest way to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi is by joining an official tour. Honestly, we aren’t big fans of group tours ourselves, but if you’re thinking to do it independently, you have to think twice because in this case, first, you won’t save any big money if at all. Second, you’ll end up on a cruise full of tourists that have booked their trip with a tour agency and third, you’ll waste your time by looking for the best tour in Halong Bay town, waiting for a ferry, a bus, a taxi which would be frustrating, especially if you have only a day for this trip.
So, we highly recommend you for joining trip from a tour operator in Hanoi which using buses or minibusses. When in Hanoi, you’ll find hundreds of tour operators offering trips to Halong Bay. Do your research, ask what’s include in the package and what’s not. The tours all have some things in common. They all leave and arrive back in Hanoi at about the same time, all stop at a shop and café for a rest break, all include lunches, dinner, and breakfast, plus a visit to a cave (mostly Thien Cung Cave). With this option, the English speaking tour guide will be helpful and your trip will well organize so you’ll save a lot of time and can be more relaxed to enjoy your trip.
What to do in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is the site of a cluster of some 1400 monolithic limestone islands each topped with thick jungle foliage that stand in epic fashion in the ocean. As you can fully imagine, the area is known to be very big with tourists and there are hundreds of cruise ships and junk boats, from the budget boat to luxurious cruise, to take these tourists around the Bay to admire the scenery.
First thing first, we highly recommend you to pick at least two days/one night trip to Halong Bay, which will allow you to explore more places of the area instead of taking a half-day cruise. Or alternatively, you can pick an overnight cruise so you can have a BBQ feast and sleep onboard in the Bay overnight. Since we’re arriving in Halong Bay night, we had a free time to stroll around the shophouses which flooded by the restaurant, cafe, and souvenir shops.
This commercial area looks like a newly developed area by the local developer and there is also Sun World Dragon Park, a theme park which claimed as the largest theme park in Southeast Asia with the area of 23 hectares. Strolling around the complex at night is such a great experience, enjoying great food and shopping scene. However, the development has not been fully completed, maybe in the next 10 years, the atmosphere and ambiance will become more alive.
In the morning, we arrived at the Halong Bay town and main pier where we need to embark our cruise ship to floating on Halong Bay. The best thing to do in Halong Bay is definitely to enjoy the nature, karst scenery, and picturesque view.
When in Halong Bay, you’re not just cruising around the bay, but also visiting the cave. The cave exploration is usually part of the tour, and we visited Thien Cung Cave which has an impressive natural beauty.
After exploring the Thien Cuung Cave for around 45 minutes, we go back to the cruise, continue cruise around the bay and have a lunch on board. All dishes provided on-board are freshly cooked, using local ingredients and recipes. Our half day cruise finishes around 1 PM after we finished lunch and cruising back to the main pier.
Overall, Halong Bay is truly one of the wonders of Asia. You simply cannot leave Vietnam without a trip here. Since landscape of Halong Bay is very huge with approximately 2,000 islets and covers more than 1.500 square kilometers, your one or two day trip to the bay you’ll explore only tiny scratch of it. The one thing you should take with you is your camera because it is unlikely that you will ever come across such a pretty place again in your lifetime
Vietnam Travel Series:
Vịnh Hạ Long, Thành phố Hạ Long
Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam
Length of Visit: 1-2 days
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