Halong Bay Tours…
The fog lifts slightly and you see the first outcropping of limestone pinnacles shooting straight up from the water.
The air is cool; the water, emerald-green and slightly murky.
You can hear the mild putter of the boat’s engine and waves gently tapping the boat, rocking it back and forth.
The eerie yet calm feeling about Ha Long Bay will make you realize why its name means “Descending Dragon Bay.”
About Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay spans 600 square miles (1,553 sq km) and is home to thousands of limestone karsts, a geologic formation created by the dissolving of layers of limestone that formed over 500 million years.
Most of the small monolithic islands tower 50m to 100m and are inhabitable with thick jungle vegetation topping them. The decay of limestone has also formed gigantic caves and lakes formed by sinkholes.
Due to the non-inhabitation of the islands, small floating fishing villages are common around the area. There are 1,600 people who live in these villages that make their living fishing the shallow waters for over 200 species of fish and 450 mollusks.
In 1994, the unusual beauty of Ha Long Bay earned it the right of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Credit: Meng Tian
Halong Bay Tours
The only way to explore the bay is on one of the many Halong Bay Tours offered.
Most Halong Bay Tours are booked in Hanoi and include transportation to/from the bay, sleeping accommodations on the boat or a local island, meals (don’t expect anything gourmet), and day activities.
The “Junk” boats (derived from the Chinese word for “ship”) range in size but are typically three-stories with an open patio at the top for sightseeing, covered dining area for lounging, and port rooms down below.
Credit: A. Strakey
Halong Bay Tour Activities
Cruising the bay and karsts are worth the trip alone, but the day activities add another layer of fun.
The calm and soothing waters make kayaking one of the most popular activities in the bay. You’ll get the opportunity to see the amazing karsts up close, sometimes even going underneath the lower overhang.
Cave exploring is also a popular activity. Hang Đầu Gỗ (or “wooden stakes cave”) was discovered by French tourist in the late 19th century and is the largest cave in Ha Long Bay. The three large chambers contain hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites illuminated by rainbow colored fluorescent lights.
The two larger and inhabited islands in Ha Long Bay are Tuần Châu and Cat Ba. Both islands offer low- to high-end resorts, a plethora of restaurants and with sandy beaches for swimming and sunbathing.
Credit: No Lands Too Foreig
When To Go
The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is in October, March or April when the weather is mild and visibility is better. Other months can get foggy making it difficult to see the karsts.
Ha Long Bay has a tropical and wet climate with a hot/humid summer and cold/dry winter. Average temperatures span from 59 to 77°F (15 to 25°C) throughout the year and the annual rainfall is 79 to 87 inches (2,000 to 2,200mm).
Getting There & Around
Ha Long Bay is located 105 miles (170 km, 5 hours) from Vietnam’s capitol and second largest city Hanoi. Most people sign up for tour packages in Hanoi that provide transportation to and from the bay, but you can also make the journey yourself by bus.
Prices vary depending on the type of package you book. For a 2-day cruise aboard a “junk boat” with transportation, meals, rooms and activities included, budget $175 USD per person.
- Be prepared to pay hefty prices for alcohol on board.
- Bring a waterproof jacket in case it rains or you go kayaking.
- Prance around the boat in your swimsuit unless your solely sunbathing – the Vietnamese are conservative.
- Get to know the crew – they can help you with your Vietnamese and they love to learn other languages.
- Miss out on wooden stakes cave. It’s worth a trip.
- Ha Long Bay was nominated as one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders in 2009.
- 14 endemic floral and 60 endemic faunal species live in Ha Long Bay.
Credit: Pedro Alonso.
Feature Image Credit: gregw66