The Vietnamese named it “The Bay of the Descending Dragon,” and the majestic grandeur of this place along with its mysterious ambience became the inspiration for dozens of legends and poems since ever. No wonder that Ha Long Bay was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This magnificent coastal area is dotted with thousands of uniquely shaped limestone islands, ridges, hidden coves and echoing caves, towering over motionless waters.

Ha Long Bay, traditional sail ship

WHY VISIT HA LONG BAY

Although being almost a banality the beauty of Ha Long Bay is simply timeless. The place provides a perfect escape from Hanoi (and after spending a few days in the city you will highly likely need it) and it is an ideal destination for both solo travellers and couples.

Ha Long Bay is quite touristy yet extremely captivating and surprisingly peaceful; the whole area radiates undisturbed tranquillity and silence that is solely broken by the re-sounding squawk of hunting eagles. Moreover, the Ha Long sunsets are simply surreal.

Ha Long sunset is one of the highlights of the cruise

BOOK A TOUR OR TRAVEL INDEPENDENTLY

Ha Long Bay is reachable from Hanoi in a few hours by public bus, if you like to travel independently. You can join any tour from there, and it will likely be much cheaper (various options available).  This is a good option for those who have unlimited time and plan on staying in the area a little longer, e.g., exploring the surrounding islands, do trekking, diving, visit the floating villages and other bays.

However, most of the visitors (especially couples) prefer to take an all-inclusive tour from Hanoi to avoid the hassle at the main bus station which can be a complicating matter (tours can be booked at your guesthouse/hotel or any local travel agency).

This is a fantastic way of discovering the basic attractions in comfort without wasting time. There is a wide range of tours, ranging from one-day basic tours to multiple-day combined package cruises that include various activities and experiences.

Various types of boats and ships can be booked

HA LONG BAY CRUISES

An overnight cruise from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay will cost around between $150-500USD (depending on a company and type of ship you choose), and it is good value for the money. It is typically a 1, 2 or 3-night all-inclusive package tour with everything provided and the passengers can enjoy the impressive scenery in full comfort.

Such cruise normally includes visiting Sung Sot Cave – the most visited limestone cave in the area (accessible only by boat) and the Ti Top Island where you can do some trekking and swimming.

Also, you will have the chance to see some of the characteristic floating villages, get wet while kayaking in the serene, emerald waters of the bay and appreciate its fabulous beaches.

Sea kayaking in Ha Long Bay is a popular activity

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES ON A HA LONG BAY CRUISE

  • sea kayaking
  • swimming & beach
  • Ti Top Island (summit point for panoramic views)
  • Sung Sot Cave
  • Halong Pearl Museum
  • traditional floating villages

Ha Long Bay floating markets

CAT BA ISLAND

The independent travellers are highly recommended to discover the natural beauty of the largest island in the Ha Long Bay with excellent tourist infrastructure – Cat Ba. The island is known for the endangered Cat Ba Langur primate but also civet cats, giant squirrels and monkeys.

Monkey Island became famous for the ‘biting monkeys’ that come to the shores to greet tourists and not rarely bite them. There are resorts, bamboo huts and beach bungalows built at secluded beaches around the island. Hospital Cave is a famous James Bond filming location and Cannon Fort the best spot for sunsets!

The surrounding is quite rugged and dramatic, with many grottos, caves, and caverns, and it provides a good deal of water-adventure – sea kayaking, diving, swimming, and fishing. Enjoy the laid-back lifestyle,  search around the island`s lakes and waterfalls, hidden in dense vegetation – cycling and jungle trekking are extremely popular.

Cat Ba Island

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN CAT BA

  • Cat Ba National Park (trekking)
  • Monkey Island (macaques monkeys, beaches)
  • Hospital Cave (James Bond filming location)
  • Cannon Fort
  • Cat Ba Market (local cuisine, seafood, fresh fruit)
  • Rock climbing and caving (tours available at your hotel)

NOTE

Unless the island is not included in your all-inclusive cruise package, you will need to catch a ferry from Ha Long Bay (easy access, 2-hour trip). To move around the island, it is suggested to rent a scooter in Cat Ba. Also, it is always good to book the accommodation online prior to arrival.

Lan Ha Bay

LAN HA BAY (CAT BA)

For more seclusion and pristine beaches, visit the lesser known, yet more authentic – Lan Ha Bay, surrounding the northern coast of Cat Ba. The island`s gorgeous setting, white-sand beaches, limestone outcrops, terrific sunsets and peaceful atmosphere offer great conditions for romantic holidays.

There are three species of dolphin in the area and traditional floating villages to visit.

NOTE

You do not need to book a tour of the floating villages; hire a sea kayak or small boat with a local guide to take you to the villages.

Traditional floating villages, children coming back from school

OTHER POPULAR ISLANDS IN HALONG BAY

  • Ban Sen – dense uninhabited island great for jungle trekking and deserted beaches (access by ferry from Cai Rong to Quan Lan)
  • Quan Lan – historically the most important islet with little tourist infrastructure, quite authentic
  • Van Don – a big, well-developed island yet little visited by the Westerners
  • Dau Be – most popular with scuba divers, caves, coral grottoes, inland lakes
  • Bo Hon – typically visited by the Ha Long cruises, known for the Virgin Cave with a shrine

Ha Long Bay is filled with thousands of islands and islets

WHEN TO TRAVEL

Best time to visit is March-May (dry and warm weather) or October-November for cooler and clear days. However, Ha Long Bay tends to get fairly expensive and crowded in these months. Better deals for a cruise are between June and September when storms can occur. Nevertheless, Ha Long Bay is as impressive on rainy days as on sunny ones.


HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Hanoi.

  1. Book a desirable tour to Ha Long Bay at your hotel
  2. Take a bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay  (3-4 hr drive) and take a desirable tour

For all international flights check out www.skyscanner.com or www.momondo.com

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Eva Bodova

By Eva Bodova

Friday 12 August 2016

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