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Visiting Halong Bay, Vietnam: Things to Do & See

Visiting Halong Bay, Vietnam: Things to Do & See

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations. But what can you see there? And what should you do while visiting Halong Bay?

This area in North Vietnam is home to thousands of limestone islands, often compared to the picturesque snow-capped mountains in China’s Shangri-La.

However, this comparison does not do justice to Halong Bay, as these mountains have been carved out by centuries of erosion with artificial structures on top. In contrast, all of Halong has left its natural wonders.

Boat cruisng in Halong Bay, Vietnam
vietlinhphoto / Adobe Stock

When visiting Halong, the best thing you can do is just let it take your breath away through any means available: either by cruising around and admiring the landscape from afar or going on an island-hopping expedition and getting up close and personal with the karsts.

Rising over the serene emerald-green waters of Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, the 3,000 limestone islands of Halong Bay are breathtaking.

In the summer, when the skies are clear, the light plays off the arching cliffs in an ever-changing display. And during the cooler months, the bay is most often shrouded in a mystical blanket of fog.

What is Halong Bay, Vietnam?

Landscape with amazing Halong bay, Vietnam
huythoai / Adobe Stock

Halong Bay is one of the planet’s most beautiful and unique places. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to thousands of species of plants and animals that can only be found here, and it’s visited by more than 10 million tourists every year.

People travel to Vietnam to see Halong Bay. It is a beautiful and unique place. There are different places for people to stay in Halong Bay. Some people might want to stay in a hotel by the water. Other people might want to stay in a more affordable place.

Halong Bay was named a world heritage site in 1994, and it’s easy to see why. The ancient, wind-eroded islets and the many caves and caverns dotting this mysterious landscape make it truly unique. It’s an excellent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore traditional Vietnamese culture in a mind-blowing environment.

Land of the Descending Dragon

HaLong Bay Cave
Photo: dalbera

Legend has it that this incredible scenery was created by a family of dragons who came to defend locals under attack by invaders. The jade and emerald boulders the dragons spewed at the enemy turned into the thousands of islands in the bay.

When the battle was over, the dragons chose to make Halong Bay their home and plunged into the sea, where they sleep today. The name Halong means “where the dragon descends to the water.”

Exploring Halong Bay

HaLong Bay Vietnam
Photo: daverugby83

The best way to soak up the peaceful mystic vibe of Halong Bay is to spend some time here — 3 days and two nights on a boat in the bay is about perfect.

This isn’t the place to look for bargains, though. Luxury options are far better than their cheaper counterparts, and you’ll be glad you spent the extra money.

Spending a few days on the bay will also allow you to sail those glassy-smooth waters, see traditional floating villages only found in Southeast Asia, and tour the area’s many caves.

See Related: Best Ways to Experience Italy’s Beautiful Cinque Terre

What should I pack for a trip to Halong Bay?

Travel packing, above and hands of a woman with clothes, travel products, and a luggage
Kay A/peopleimages.com / Adobe Stock

When packing for a trip to Halong Bay, it is essential to bring plenty of sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. You will also want to pack mosquito repellent, as there are a lot of mosquitoes in the area.

It is also important to bring comfortable walking shoes, as there is much exploring in the bay. Finally, don’t forget to pack your bathing suit to take a dip in the water. Here’s our complete recommended packing list for a trip to Ha Long Bay:

Where to stay in Halong Bay, Vietnam

There are many different places to stay in Halong Bay, but finding the right one for your vacation can be tricky. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of unique places to stay in Halong Bay that will make your holiday unforgettable. Each option has pros and cons, so read through them before deciding.

1. Stay on a Traditional Junk Boat

Beautiful landscape Halong Bay view from adove the Bo Hon Island
photlook / Adobe Stock

Halong Bay is world-famous for its traditional junk boats. Staying on a traditional junk boat in Halong Bay is a unique experience you can’t have anywhere else.

Junk boats come in all shapes and sizes, so you can find one that fits your budget and group size. Most junk boats have private bedrooms, a dining area, and a sundeck. 

You’ll love waking up and enjoying the stunning views of Ha Long Bay from your room. And don’t forget to make time to explore the limestone caves and floating villages around the bay.

With so much to see and do, staying on a junk boat is the perfect way to experience everything Ha Long Bay offers. The downside of staying on a junk boat is that they’re not always the most comfortable or luxurious option. If you’re looking for a 5-star experience, you might want to consider one of the other options on this list.

2. Stay in a Cave Hotel

Surprise Cave Ha Long
Photo: deepgoswami

Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s easy to see why. The bay is home to thousands of old karstic foot caves, some of which have been turned into the most popular hotels. Staying in a cave hotel is a truly unique experience, and it’s the perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

There are a few different cave hotels in Halong Bay, but these are some of the best hotels: 

The first hotel on our list of best hotels is the Dragon Cave Hotel. This hotel is located in the heart of Halong Bay, and it offers stunning views of the bay. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the staff is friendly and helpful. 

If you want more experience, you might want to check out the Paradise Suite Cave Hotel. This hotel is located in a secluded area of Halong Bay, offering its guests privacy and tranquility. The rooms are beautifully decorated, and the food is fantastic. 

Finally, the Bai Tho Mountain Retreat is one of the best hotels to book. This hotel is located on a mountain overlooking Halong Bay and offers breathtaking views of the bay.

Most cave hotels are located in the Bai Tu Long area of Halong Bay, less crowded than the central bay. This means you’ll have more opportunities to explore the marine notch caves and enjoy the quiet beauty of the area.

The downside of staying in a cave hotel is that it can be expensive. If you’re on a budget, you might want to consider one of the other options on this list.

3. Eco-Lodge

Lodges at Sapa Jade Hill Resort & Spa
Sapa Jade Hill Resort & Spa / Hotels.com

If you’re searching for a more environmentally friendly alternative, consider staying at an eco-lodge. Some of the best hotels in the area are these hotels; you’re in a national park, after all.

Eco-lodges are popular hotels that have been built with the environment in mind. Many utilize recycled materials, generate their electricity, and use native plants that require little water. Some even capture their rainwater.

Eco-lodges are also often located in natural areas, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds – being close to nature while having all the hotel amenities. And best of all, they’re usually much more affordable than traditional hotels.

So if you’re looking for a sustainable and budget-friendly option, an eco-lodge is the way to go. Here are some of the best eco-lodges in Ha Long Bay: 

The downside of staying in an eco-lodge is that it can be expensive. If you’re on a budget, you might want to consider one of the other options on this list.

4. Budget Hotels

Ha Long Essence room interior
Ha Long Essence Hotel / Booking.com

When it comes to where to stay in Halong Bay, you have a few different options. You could splurge on a luxury hotel or save money by staying in a budget hotel. Budget hotels are a great option if you’re looking to save money, and there are many affordable hotels in Halong Bay. Here are some of the best budget hotels in Halong Bay:

  • The Ha Long Essence Hotel is located in the heart of the old town, offering comfortable rooms at an affordable price.
  • The Halios Hotel is a great option with excellent customer service at a fraction of the price of other hotels.
  • The Minh Phong Hotel is located right on the beachfront, and it offers modern rooms and amenities at an affordable price.

So, if you’re looking for an affordable place to stay in Halong Bay, one of these budget hotels is an excellent option.

5. Stay in a Hostel

Amazing view on sand beach and resort on Monkey island in Halong bay, Vietnam
DVAD / Shutterstock

Hostels are a great option if you’re looking for cheap places to stay in Halong Bay. There are plenty of hostels around Halong Bay, and they cater to all budgets. Whether you’re looking for a place to crash for a night or want to stay for a week, there’s a hostel for you.

The best way to find a good hostel is to research online and read reviews. That way, you can be sure you’re choosing the right place.

Halong Bay has a place for you, no matter what kind of vacation you’re looking for. So book your stay today and get ready to explore one of the most incredible places on earth.

See Related: Most Amazing Natural Arches in the World

Things to Do in Halong Bay, Vietnam

There are plenty of things to do in Halong Bay, and most are perfect for travelers.

Take a boat tour of the bays.

Beautiful landscape Halong Bay view from adove the Bo Hon Island
huythoai / Adobe Stock

One of the best things to do is take a Halong Bay cruise around Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay. This will allow you to see the beautiful limestone cliffs that make up the bays. You can also visit some of the smaller islands in the area, so be sure to visit the Caves of Heaven and Hell.

These are two of the most famous caves in Halong Bay. The Caves of Heaven are said to be where fairies come to bathe. The Caves of Hell are said to be where ghosts live.

You’ll see all the bay’s highlights on tourist boats in one go. You can explore the caves and caverns, visit the floating villages, and even climb Halong Bay’s highest peak. Plus, you’ll get to sample some delicious local cuisine.

Overnight Cruise

HaLong Bay Vietnam
Photo: princely

There’s nothing like spending a night near Cat Ba Island and on Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. You’ll see the sunset, rise, and stars in this iconic national park. Most overnight cruises include meals and other activities, so you can make the most of your time on the bay and enjoy this mature karst landscape.

Staying overnight on a boat cruise is the best way to make the most of your Halong Bay tour. You’ll get the best of both worlds; while a nice hotel is always appealing, the views from the water are entirely different.

Halong Bay Beaches

Sunrise over Halong Bay
Photo: purple-lover

Oriental Sails Beach

Located on Bai Chay Beach, Oriental Sails is one of the only beaches in Halong Bay that’s perfect for swimming. The water is clean and clear, and there are plenty of beach umbrellas and sun loungers for visitors. You can also go kayaking or canoeing from Oriental Sails Beach, and there’s even a bar where you can get refreshing drinks.

Halo Beach

Halo Beach is located on Titov Island, and it’s a great place to relax and soak up the sun. The beach has beautiful white sand, and there are plenty of beach umbrellas and sun loungers for visitors. You can also go swimming, kayaking, or canoeing from Halo Beach.

See Related: Visiting the Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Halong Bay Caves and Grottoes

HaLong Bay Cave
Photo: Adalbert

Ha Long Bay has over 2,000 caves and grottoes, and each one is more unique than the last. Many karstic foot caves can only be accessed by boat; Oriental Sails offers a variety of boat tours that will take you to some of the most famous caves, including Sung Sot Cave (Suprise Cave), Trinh Nu Cave, and Thien Cung Cave.

The most impressive cavern is Sung Sote Cave (Surprise Cave). This massive two-chamber grotto features a clear pool, a strangely mountainous and mature landscape at its deepest point, and incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Flocks of birds often visit Surprise Cave to feed on the fruit of banyans and fig trees that grow inside — and occasionally, there are visits from local monkeys, too.

Ha Long Bay Floating Villages

HaLong Bay Vietnam

There are four main fishing villages in Halong Bay, and each one has its unique history. Below, we will outline each and what makes them unique.

Ong Cam Village

Ong Cam village is the largest and most well-known of the four floating villages, home to around 600 people. Most villagers make their living from fishing, and you can often see them out on the water in their traditional boats.

There are also a few souvenir shops and restaurants in Ong Cam Village, so young Cam Village is the perfect place to get a taste of traditional life in Halong Bay.

Ong Ho Village

If you’re looking for a traditional floating village experience in Halong Bay, Ong Ho Village is the place to go. Situated on the bay’s east side, Ong Ho is one of the smallest villages, and its residents make a living from fishing, farming, and selling souvenirs to tourists.

You can often see them out on the water in their traditional boats, and there are a few souvenir shops and restaurants in the village if you want to get a taste of conventional life in Halong Bay. Ong Ho is the perfect place to get away from the crowds and experience some authentic local culture.

Vung Vieng village

Vung Vieng Village is located on the west side of Halong Bay and is one of the most remote villages. The villagers here make their living from fishing, farming, and selling souvenirs to tourists.

Vung Vieng village is only accessible by boat, making it a great place to escape the city’s hustle and bustle.

Ong Chiem Village

Ong Chiem village is located on the south side of Halong Bay and is the smallest of the four fishing villages. The villagers here live from fishing and farming, and you can often see them out on the water in their traditional boats.

There are also a few souvenir shops and restaurants in Ong Ching Chiem village, which is the perfect place to get a taste of traditional life in Halong Bay.

See Related: Fishing Spots in the World

Go kayaking or swimming.

Group of people in kayaks in the Halong Bay
ggfoto / Adobe Stock

Want to get up close and personal in this unique environment? This is one of the best places for kayaking or swimming in Northern Vietnam. The water is clean and clear, and plenty of places exist to explore. You can even go snorkeling in some areas of the bay.

Rent a kayak and spend a few hours paddling the gentle waves. Guided kayak tours will take you around the bay to Cat Ba Island, where a contemporary shoreline of hotels sits back-to-back with some of the most Jurassic Park-like jungles you’ll ever experience.

Almost half of Cat Ba Island is a protected national park with subtropical hill forests, coastal mangroves and freshwater lakes, coral reefs, waterfalls, and many birds.

Looking for next hand hold
Photo: rosshuggett

For the real thrill-seekers, kayaking Halong Bay also allows extreme rock climbing — straight from the water. You’ll want to be super careful, though. Rock climbing is a very new sport in Vietnam, and this is challenging deep-water solo climbing, so find a guide in Cat Ba before you set out on your rocky adventure in a national park.

Plus, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try cliff jumping. Just check with your tour guide about the various options and excursions.

Halong Bay’s Highest Peak

Aerial view of Sang cave and Kayaking area, Halong Bay, Vietnam, Southeast Asia
Hien Phung / Adobe Stock

If you’re looking for breathtaking views of Ha Long Bay, hike to the top of its highest peak. Located on Cat Ba Island, the height is 668 meters tall and offers stunning panoramas of the bay and many islands. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists, so you’ll surely see some fantastic sights.

To get to the top, you’ll need to hike for about an hour, but it’s well worth the effort. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be able to enjoy the incredible views and take some truly unforgettable photos.

Sample local cuisine

Vietnamese local food lunch meal serve on table for people foreign traveler eat drink in restaurant at floating fishing village in Ha Long Bay
tuayai / Adobe Stock

Cha muc, banh xeo, goi cuon, and pho are popular dishes in Halong Bay. Be sure to try them all! You can find these dishes at most restaurants in the area. Another popular dish is bun cha, a noodle soup usually made with pork. The best way to sample the local cuisine is to take a food tour.

This way, you’ll be able to try various dishes and learn about the history and culture behind each one. Plus, you’ll meet some locals and get an insider’s look at life in Ha Long Bay.

There’s no doubt that Ha Long Bay is great for souvenirs. When you’re looking for gifts to bring home from your trip to Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is the perfect place to start your search. You’ll find a wide range of traditional handicrafts, clothing, and jewelry – perfect for your friends and family back home.

Just be sure to bargain with the vendors to get the best price. You can also find unique gifts specific to Ha Long Bay, such as carved wooden horses or dragons. And don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs for yourself.

Best Time to Visit Halong Bay, Vietnam

The weather at Ha Long Bay offers a few challenges of its own. May through September, the skies are generally clear, and the views are spectacular. But this is also the high season for tropical storms; a big one will cancel your plans.

Conditions are excellent and misty from February through April, and heavy fog often obscures the dramatic vistas — but it also adds an ethereal look that has its charms.

HaLong Bay Vietnam
Photo: archer10

Whenever you decide to visit Halong Bay, it’s a good idea to find out your tour company’s policy on refunds — some will provide refunds when tours are canceled due to weather, while others won’t. Don’t let the weather scare you, though. A trip to Halong Bay is one of the planet’s most unique and fascinating landscapes.

Sunset at Halong Bay
Photo: guldem

Whether you want to experience great kayaking, jungle hikes, and challenging climbs or sit back on the deck of a boat and enjoy the unbelievable scenery, Halong Bay is a special place and a great addition to anyone’s bucket list.

See Related: Phraya Nakhon Cave

Final Thoughts

Ha, Long Bay is a must-see destination for any traveler visiting Vietnam. Halong Bay is sure to impress with its stunningly beautiful landscape and many things to see and do. Some key things to remember when planning a trip to Halong Bay are to be sure to budget enough time to explore all this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers.

When planning a trip to Halong Bay, budget enough time to explore all the area offers. All of these items on our list are great options for things to see and do while in Halong Bay, and they have one thing in common: they’re all fantastic experiences you won’t want to miss.

If you want to explore Halong Bay and all it has to offer, subscribe to our free travel newsletter. We’ll send you all the latest information on what to see and do in Ha Long Bay and other unique destinations worldwide.

FAQs

How many days should I spend in Ha Long Bay?

Ha, Long Bay is a large area with many different things to see and do. We recommend spending 2-3 days here to get a good sense of the site and its offerings.

What is the best time of year to visit Ha Long Bay?

Ha, Long Bay’s weather is consistent throughout the year, with average temperatures ranging from 21-28 degrees Celsius. The busiest time of year is usually from April to August, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of March-April or September to November.

How can I get to Ha Long Bay?

Depending on your starting point, there are a few different ways to get to Ha Long Bay. If you’re coming from Hanoi, the most common way to get here is by taking a 3-4 hour bus or minivan ride. You can also take a train from Hanoi to Ha Long City, although the journey lasts 4-5 hours.

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Vietnam, you can fly to Cat Bi International Airport or Noi Bai International Airport, located near Hanoi. From there, you can take a bus or train to Halong Bay.

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