For a lot of people, Halong Bay is a place you need to visit for at least once in your life. For some, it's a place that’s unheard of, an unfamiliar destination a lot of people talk about because of its natural beauty or maybe because of its world heritage title. No matter what the situation is, there will always be a reason for someone to experience Halong Bay one way or another, forced or unforced.
In spite all the blogposts that roam the vast internet world about Halong Bay and beyond, a lot of it are repetitive and do not give enough information that could help anyone to get around the area. Which is why we’ve created this blogpost just for you; to be able to guide you through the world wonder and back, give you some insider’s tips, and eventually share it to everyone you know who wants or would want to visit Halong Bay in the future.
Things to know before heading to Halong Bay
What is Halong Bay?
Halong Bay is a two-time UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very popular tourist destination in the northeast part of Vietnam, under the management of both Quang Ninh and Hai Phong Provinces. Over the years, Halong Bay has experienced significant developments in both mining and tourism, two of the areas main economy drivers.
The whole of Halong Bay or sometimes referred to as the Gulf of Tonkin has an area of around 1,500km2, which is believed to have an approximate of 1,969 islands and islets made from karst limestone towering like skyscrapers throughout the bay, formed for millions of years.
A long history and tremendous values lies within Halong magnificent limestones mountains. Halong Bay was recognized as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding cultural and historical importance and geological uniqueness.
It takes 500 million years to form a Halong bay with 2000 limestone islands as today.Humanhaveinhabited the area for centuries but made no damage to the heritage. Their appearance otherwise added unique cultural values to Halong Bay.
Want to know more of how Mother Nature has sculptured Halong bay? Click here
Where is it exactly?
Halong Bay is located on the northeastern coastal part of Vietnam, just over 160km east from the capital city of Hanoi.
How is the weather?
Halong is in the North of Vietnam with tropical monsoon climate. Four season delivers four distinct weather features which make Halong an amazing place to enjoy your holiday.
Best time to visit Halong Bay
May to September
This chunk of the year is usually known as the low season for all of Vietnam, especially in Halong Bay. But take note that this time is also the high season for local tourists (usually from June to August due to summer break). For a lot of people, this is the best time to visit Halong Bay because of the hot sunny weather and super calm waters. Fool you not, this period also has the most rainfall of the year. So make sure you double check with your tour operator or cruise company before you book anything in advance.
October to April
The most popular period of the year for western tourists and visitors, October to April for some people can be the best time to go to Halong Bay as the weather is not that hot, the waters are still calm as during summers, and the skies can still be blue (depending on which month you go with). The most disappointing factor during this period is the incredible number of tourists from all over the globe that flock Halong Bay usually all at the same time (especially during Christmas to New Year’s seasons).
Another disappointing factor during the high season for Halong Bay is that the weather can be mostly dull, grey, and quite chilly, as winter in the northern part of Vietnam starts around end of November and can last until early April. But with the effects of Global Warming, this hasn't happened a lot over the last couple of years.
Again, the best way to avoid disappointment is to double check all necessary information with your tour operator or choice of cruise company before booking anything. It’s always best to be prepared before flying to your final destination only to find out the worst is yet to come.
Why is it so famous?
Halong Bay, aside from being named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site twice since the early 1990s and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature just a few years back, is most famous for its unique rock formations and undeniably stunning landscapes. And because of the tourism development that happened over the years and the increase of tourist numbers, a lot of big Vietnamese businessmen have invested heavily in creating the best experiences for Halong Bay, including the offering of luxury Halong Bay cruises, with overnight and 2-night cruise itineraries available for bookings.
Who has been to Halong Bay?
From world leaders to celebrities and from fashion icons to Hollywood directors, Halong Bay most probably has welcomed the world’s most influential leaders. The list includes Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, diplomats from the United Nations, numerous Presidents and Prime Ministers, Facebook’s Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Hollywood directors and actors, and many others. It just goes to show how the destination brings so much importance to the representation of Vietnam to the rest of the world.
Things to do in Halong Bay
Covering such a wide area for tourism and economic purposes, Halong Bay is a place where you’ll run out of things to do. From outdoor and active activities to a more relaxed and food-focused itinerary, there’s something to do for all kinds of travelers.
The number one activity and must-do in Halong Bay, a visit in the world wonder is never complete without doing even a short ride on a junk cruise across the limestone formations and emerald waters.
Perfect for those who like to explore on their own and for those who have more active lifestyles, kayaking through Halong Bay is one of the best ways to experience the area.
Only appropriate and doable in specific times of the year, sunbathing in Halong Bay is most of the time overlooked by many visitors. But as far as we’re concerned, this is one of the things you should definitely do in Halong Bay. And the best thing about it is it’s for free!
Trekking is very much doable in any part of Halong Bay, whether you’re staying in Tuan Chau Island near the fishing villages, Cat Ba Island, or by Hon Gai District, there are places where you could trek or hike.
Same as for trekking, cycling can be done in almost every major part of Halong Bay and Halong City, including Cat Ba Island and the city center.
With limited options and only provided by one company in Cat Ba Island for now, rock climbing is advisable for the sporty types of travelers, ranging from beginner level to expert level. For a more adventurous option, visitors can also try Deep Water Soloing, provided as well by the same company.
Mostly done by smaller cruise companies and day cruises, doing karaoke in Halong Bay has been one of those onboard activities that travelers (especially backpackers) look forward to doing. Although for those staying on land like Halong City or Cat Ba Island, karaoke cafes can be seen across the city.
One of the most common early morning activities who do the overnight cruises in Halong Bay, Tai Chi is a great alternative for a morning workout as gyms are unavailable onboard.
With so much fauna and flora available for exploration and discovery, nature watching in Halong Bay is more of a pastime activity rather than a vocational activity.
Also one of the most common activities onboard overnight and 2-night cruises, cooking classes usually take place in the afternoons after all the off board activities and right before everyone settles down for the dinner.
Spa & Wellness
Usually available in luxury cruises, spa and wellness services are readily available for those who want to maximize their relaxation time in Halong Bay, most ideal while cruising over the calm waters of the bay.
The cruise activity that everyone looks forward to, squid fishing is the only thing you could do once nighttime falls on the cruise, and it brings people together and has a good laugh at the same time.
As a destination expert, we wouldn't really advise doing some shopping in Halong Bay as everything in the area can be also be found throughout the country. There are some items you can only buy in the cruises though such as the Cat Ba Langur stuffed toys by The Au Co Luxury Cruise and some local products that you can only get in the province such as Squid Cakes or Cha Muc in Vietnamese.
Probably quite difficult to do if you don’t have any local friends to bring you here or unless you book a private tour with a travel agent that specializes on these kinds of tours, minority visits around the remote areas of Halong City and Quang Ninh Province are a great way to stay away from the tourist crowd and definitely a more interesting itinerary once you’ve seen the bay.
Eating & Drinking
Last but definitely not the least, eating and drinking in Halong Bay, both on land and on water is a big culture in the province of Quang Ninh. So make sure you save your taste buds and your stomachs for the gastronomical experience of a lifetime.
How to get to Halong Bay?
Depending on where you’re coming from, whether from the US, Europe, Australia, or somewhere already in Asia, getting to Halong Bay is not as easy as it sounds (and can take hours of long rides and stops along the way).
To have a better view and feel on how you can reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are main 3 ways to get to Halong.
Click here for a more in-depth look at possible options coming from the capital city of Hanoi and other regions in the country.
The most common and the most time-consuming out of all the options. This option is also the most cost-efficient. Most visitors get to Halong Bay by land, whether by shuttles service booked through a travel agent or a cruise company, a private car, or a limousine service for those who need utmost comfort and privacy. Prices range from US$15 to US$200 depending on which service you want to use for yourself and for your family/friends.
The next best option to reach Halong Bay is through air transfers. This could be anything from seaplane services to and from Halong Bay or by booking a private helicopter to Halong Bay (mostly booked by VVIPs). For those who have an extra budget or who want to experience a more luxury Halong Bay journey, booking a seat on a seaplane is the way to go. With this option, you’ll be able to get a scenic bird’s eye view of the bay that only a few select have done.
Lastly, and the least common option for reaching world-renown Halong Bay, arriving by water can only be done if you’re doing a trans-pacific cruise stopping in major areas such as Halong Bay, Da Nang/Hoi An, Nha Trang, Saigon, and other parts of Southeast Asia. These are rare occasions and are mostly done by Chinese tourists coming from mainland China.
Being one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country and in all of Southeast Asia, hotels are by large not a scarcity in Halong Bay, or Halong City for that matter. With accommodations ranging from 3-stars to 5-stars, with unique experiences to offer to visitors, there are heaps of options to choose from if you’re the type of traveler who wants to see the bay from afar and not having to worry about getting seasick.
With so many last minute Halong Bay cruise deals available online, opting to cruise Halong Bay instead of staying in your typical hotel accommodation is a more interactive way of experiencing the World Heritage Site. Ranging from day cruises to over 5-day cruises, and 3-stars to a 5-star level of services, there are more than enough options for you to see Halong Bay on a more up-close and personal experience.