Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s top attractions – The name “Halong” translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. Halong Bay Vietnam is made up of 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. There are two kinds of islands, limestone and schist, which are concentrated in two main zones: the southeast (belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay), and the southwest (belonging to Halong Bay).
Halong Bay – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Viewed from above, Halong Bay Vietnam resembles a geographic work of art. While exploring the bay, you feel lost in a legendary world of stone islands. There is Man’s Head Island, which resembles a man standing and looking towards the mainland. Dragon Island looks like a dragon hovering above the turquoise water. La Vong Island resembles an old man fishing. There are also the islands of the Sail, the Pair of Roosters, and the Incense Burner, which all astonishingly resemble their namesakes. The forms of the islands change depending o¬n the angle of the light and from where the islands are viewed. At the core of the islands, there are wonderful caves and grottoes, such as Thien Cung (Heavenly Residence Grotto), Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto), Sung Sot (Surprise Grotto), and Tam Cung (Three Palace Grotto).
Halong Bay was first listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, in recognition of its outstanding, universal aesthetic value. In 2000 the World Heritage Committee additionally recognized Hạ Long Bay for its outstanding geological and geomorphological value, and its World Heritage Listing was updated. In October 2011, World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats to the site that must be addressed. The goal of Watch-listing is to promote strategies of responsible heritage-driven development for a sustainable future. In 2009, the New 7 Wonders Foundation, which runs the New Seven Wonders of the World program, included Halong Bay on its list of nominations as one the World’s New7Wonders of Nature. In 2012, the New 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Halong Bay as one of new seven natural wonders of the world.
The best time to visit Halong Bay Vietnam
From March to May, Halong Bay has blue sky and pleasant weather. During summer, from May to November, you can expect days to be warm and humid with refreshing afternoon showers. Winter, from December to February, can be quite cold. The best time to visit Halong Bay (Vietnam) is the period from October to April of the following year for the best chance of warm days and clear skies, perfect for cruising, kayaking and swimming.
Places to visit and things to do in Halong Bay Vietnam
Learn Tai Chi on deck: The ancient martial art of Tai Chi has been practised for generations in China to promote the health of mind, body and soul through its soft, controlled movements. It is said that practising Tai Chi in the peace and tranquillity of the great outdoors aids in the deep concentration and inner peace many hope to achieve through this art form – and what better place to do it than surrounded by the sublime beauty of Halong Bay?
Visit a traditional floating village: For most of us a cruise on the emerald green waters of Halong Bay is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it may be difficult to imagine living day-to-day life surrounded by the incredible beauty of this famous bay. But for the families of Halong Bay’s floating fishing villages living in a water world is second nature. Rising and falling with the tide, these villages have been home to generation after generation of fishermen who earn their living from the bay’s bountiful supply of marine life and growing tourism in the region. Pay a visit to one of these charming villages, meet grinning fishermen and playful children and learn about their fascinating way of life in Halong Bay.
Discover hidden caves and grottos: Hidden among the thousands of jungle-covered peaks rising dramatically out of the emerald waters of Halong Bay are illuminated caves, isolated grottos and picturesque hidden coves of all shapes and sizes. Hop on board a row boat and venture out to explore these hidden gems for yourself, such as the beautiful Thien Cung Cave – nicknamed the Heavenly Palace Cave, famed for its many stalagmites and stalactites, and Dau Go Cave – known as the Cave of Wonders, featuring fascinating rock formations illuminated by a kaleidoscope of colour.
Kayak between karst limestone outcrops: While a traditional junk boat cruise is an excellent way to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Halong Bay at a relaxed pace, the active among you can get your paddle out on an off-boat excursion and explore the beauty of the bay up close on a kayaking adventure.
How to get to Halong Bay Vietnam
By Bus: If you are travelling on your own and want to save cost, taking the bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay can be a good thrill. From Kim Ma bus station on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, you can take Hoang Long express which departs every 15 minutes from the station. It will take about 3-4 hours to reach the pier. The cost is about 60,000 VND. After that, there are plenty of cruise operators that you can choose from to hop on. This way of transport is exciting partly because you get to be part of the daily commune of the locals, who come and go to Hanoi. Additionally, with someone who has no fix schedule, taking the bus is very convenient. However, this type is more suitable for those who are more familiar with Vietnam conditions or has adventurous streak; for first time tourists, it is not recommended.
By Tour: Of course, the most popular way to go from Hanoi to Halong Bay is to book a tour. Tours from operators are cheap and available every day. They will take care of your transportation, cruise and accommodation. There will also be a guide that will help explain things along the way. Depending on the different tours operators, all of them will provide shuttle bus that starts from the Old Quarter. Some will also have private car option for you if you do not want to join 20 others on a shuttle bus. This will increase the cost but also comfort. Going on tours is recommended for family, group of friends and anybody who want to have a fuss free trip. An average cost for a 2 days tour is about 3million VND. The operators will take care of everything. To book a tour operators, you can scout around the old quarters, there are plenty of choices depending on your budget and types of add on.
By Motorcycle: Once you are in Vietnam, you can reach basically everywhere by motor cycle, even at the most remote places. This type is the utmost adventurous and thrilling of all. Since Halong Bay is only 170 km away from Hanoi and the road is quite straight forward, one can rent a good bike from the Old quarter, a map and good riding skill to make the trip. It is advisable that you should embark on this with a small group of friends to support each other on the way, especially in case a bike brakes down. Careful inspection of bike before the trip is crucial to ensure a safest trip. An average price for bike rental is about $20/day. However, it will take slightly longer than bus or car to reach Halong Bay and is considerably more tiring. Thus unless you plan to stay long in the area, riding the bike to Halong Bay is not very worth it.
Boat trips in Halong Bay Vietnam
It is said that the perfect way to discover and enjoy the world natural wonder is to jump onto a traditional junk sailing to the far-most corners where there are hidden lagoons, unexploited beaches and exotic grottoes that can be found nowhere else in the world. Reality is a bit different. Halong Bay is near the major port of Haiphong and therefore suffers from severe water pollution. It is not uncommon to see piles of rubbish floating in the water and the quality of the water can be dubious for swimming. Added there are no naturally occurring sand beaches where the tours tend to go, you will be told the water is safe for swimming regardless of the fact that ships dump raw human waste into the water and diesel fuel is everywhere. Pregnant women, children or people with weak immune systems should stay out of the water. However, the views and the food on board are reasons alone to venture out.
There are two popular kinds of cruise itineraries in Halong Bay, day cruise and overnight cruise. Day cruises are created for travelers who just have enough time to soak up the atmosphere and take short glimpse over the must-sees of Halong Bay. Though they are quite short, they include visits to tourist attractions and well-cooked seafood dinner, swimming in the emerald water, kayaking to lagoons of the bay. Overnight cruises which are referred to both one night cruises and two night cruise are designed for travelers who have more time. A typical, one night Halong Bay Cruise includes activities such as visits to cave, Islands, Kayaking, funny team building games on beaches, sunset watching with a cocktail party, and night actitvities on board. A a two night cruise consists of all the activities of one night cruise and an extra day of further visits the far, untouched corner of the bay on smaller boat with a beach barbecue. Both one night cruise and two night cruise are inclusive apart from drinks.
Trips can be bought at the port (2 or 3km down west from the tourist strip on Halong Bay Road).
The port has fixed prices for all the kinds of typically sold by the agencies. These tickets exclude food and fare to and from the station. It does not seem as if any independent operators have boats on the water beyond proper cruise ships. The supposed ‘companies’ that sell tours are not selling anything more than a ticket on a boat that is not theirs. Agencies (with Vietnamese and foreigners working there alike) will tell you that the boat is theirs as well as that each boat has an English speaking guide. This does not appear to be true.