North Vietnam boasts some of the country’s most majestic natural landscapes but nowhere showcases this best than in Halong Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin.
This maze-like cluster of over 1600 limestone islands and inlets forms one of the most breathtaking sites to ever hit the UNESCO World Heritage List, with forest-topped karsts jutting out of the sea like a static green and grey waves. Safe to say it’s no wonder why it’s one of the wonders of the world.
Things To Do In Halong Bay
Halong Bay’s beauty means it’s remained one of Vietnam’s top attractions for decades (welcoming over 10 million visitors per year). All this traffic has forced the Vietnamese government to impose strict regulations on tourists and travel vendors in order to maintain the purity of the national park.
The beauty of this is the region is meticulously set up for visitors but it also means that there are plenty of crowds to navigate. Here’s a few must-dos in order to get the most out of your Halong Bay experience.
Cruising is a non-negotiable when it comes to Halong Bay exploration. Literally, the Vietnamese government’s strict regulations on tourism in the region means all boats must follow pre-prescribed routes. However, none of this detracts from the stunning views along the bay. It just means all you have to do is select a cruise that suits your budget and the rest is taken care of.
Many of the cruise options start around $18 from a local vendor and go up to $1895 for a luxury two-night cruise with Paradise Cruise, with the national park entry fee included in the your ticket cost. Oasis Bay Classic Cruises offers 2 to 4 day cruise itineraries that include all meals, deluxe cabins and a range of fishing and water sports activities.
Swimming and Diving
Diving is possible in Halong Bay, although the countless number of boats that visit the area means that much of the natural coral species have been lost over the years. However, water sports such as kayaking are a beautiful way to get close to the limestone karsts.
Handspan Travel Indochina offer day trips covering trekking across Cat Ba Island (one of the largest karst islands in Halong Bay) with a picturesque few hours kayaking inside the many inlets and caves. While Hai Au Aviation offer breathtaking birds eye view tours via seaplane starting at $140.
Top Attractions In Halong Bay
Dau Go Cave is a must for avid Instagrammers and regarded as one of the finest grottos in the area thanks to its juxtaposition of calm turquoise waters that lap against its sharp jagged stalagmites. Thien Cung Cave is also a must-do and is only accessible via tour groups but offers various places to explore the rock formations by foot.
Island-hopping is one of the star attractions in Halong Bay and there’s an inlet to suit any type of traveller. Cat Ba is the largest and well-known island in the cluster and popular with backpackers for the abundance of bars and restaurants. Those looking to hide away from the crowds for a few hours will love the peace of Soi Sim Island which boasts less tourist traffic and an abundance of natural wildlife and a pristine sandy beach.
Where To Stay In Halong Bay
With it’s large private balconies, panoramic views and large-scale pool that reflects the Halong Bay in the distance, Wyndham Legend Halong is one of the best places to stay and enjoy the mystical Halong magic without even having to leave the hotel. Meanwhile the Royal Hotel Halong offers amenities galore for travellers who can’t shake their fitness routines while on the road.
If it’s private-island luxury you’re looking for then look no further than the VinPearl Resort on the popular holiday town of Bai Chay. This sprawling French colonial-inspired structure might be all about the largesse when it comes to ornate rooms and fine-dining but the beauty of this place really comes down to the 180 degree views across the dramatic Halong karsts in the distance.
Halong Bay has long been a hotspot for country-hopping backpackers and so there’s no shortage of quality hostels in the Halong Bay City area. Mona Hostel above the popular Mona Restaurant on Cat Ba Island offers a more upmarket stay with clean rooms, double beds and incredible views across the bay for around $40 a night. While the the Halong Backpacker Hostel will set you back the princely sum of $4 a night for a private room, en-suite bathroom and a bottle of beer on arrival. What more could you ask for?
Places To Shop In Halong Bay
Halong isn’t a shop-till-you drop destination, rather a place that excels in jaw-dropping sights over department stores. However the Halong Night Market makes for a colourful and intriguing stop for travellers looking to stock up on souvenirs and small jewellery trinkets, and if you really want to know which cities are the best for shopping in Vietnam.
Best Places To Eat In Halong Bay
Fine dining fanatics are well-catered to in Halong City, and Phuong Nam Ha long on Bai Chay is one of the top places to dine and we’re not just talking about the food. This venue offers incredible rooftop dining with views across the bay to the Halong Bay Islands. Avocado Restaurant (also on Bai Chay) is also a standout eatery specialising in fine western and Vietnamese food. While those on a budget will be spoiled for choice with Vien Duong on Cat Ba Island is a famous hotspot for great value seafood dishes and steaming hotpots.