Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 the spectacular soaring limestone islets of Halong Bay are famous for their breathtaking size and mysterious beauty. Towering high out of the emerald waters it feels like you are sailing through another world.
Ha Long Bay travel Guide and Tips
Budget day tours start at around $35 Per person however for this price you can expect a lower quality boat, mediocre service and average food. Of course the Bay is still just as spectacular but some of the cheaper excursions mean that tourists are crammed onto boats with little room to sit and questionable safety standards. Decent day tours will generally be priced around $80- $100.
If you want to spend more time cruising around this majestic natural wonder then tours vary in length (and price) and offer a plethora of additional activities. Prices start from around $150 per person for a 2 day 1 night trip. Activities include canoeing, visiting the floating villages, squid fishing, cooking lessons and cave explorations.
Canoeing around the azure water of the floating villages is an incredible experience. You can see the day-to-day lives of the Vietnamese locals who live on tiny floating houses all moored to each other. Unsurprisingly they do a whole a whole lot of fishing!
You might even be lucky enough to buy snack and drinks from the ‘floating market’ – a little overladen boat usually rowed by a tiny Vietnamese woman. It’s certainly a novel experience!
Most tours include a stop at Ti Top Island, a pretty little island with a nice beach; safe swimming area and the most incredible hilltop look out. The steep climb up to the look-out point is well worth it for the view and the amazing photos. Bring a bottle of water (it’s very expensive on the island)…and a selfie stick!
You can also stop over at Cat Ba Island, the largest of the Halong Bay islands. This jungle filled island has plenty to explore and also has a surprisingly busy town center. The island is geared towards tourism, both Vietnamese and international tourists. Between June and early August the island comes alive with Vietnamese tourists who are on vacation. On Cat Ba Island you can expect to find plenty of souvenirs and a great night out!
Food and activities are generally included in the package price but drinks are not and are expensive on the boats. Buy some drinks before you leave (or even at the shop in the Halong Bay Harbor) and remember to pick up a few bottles of water to take out on activities too.
This is a once in a lifetime, must do experience BUT set realistic expectations. There are hundreds of junk boats that all set off at the same time and moor near each other in the bays. It’s touristy and sometimes a bit hectic but the journey will take your breath away. The pictures do it no justice!
Located 170km (approximately 3 hours) from Hanoi the transfer to Halong Bay is usually included as part of a booked excursion. Most people tend to use Hanoi as a base and then travel to Halong Bay as part of a tour. You can however make your own way to Halong Bay Harbor from Hanoi by local bus, tourist shuttle bus or train.
The train departs from Gia Lam railway station in Hanoi and stops in Halong City, approximately 4Km from the Bai Chay Tourist Wharf. Tickets cost around $20 for a return however trains are frequently delayed or cancelled with no prior warning so leave plenty of ‘wiggle room’.
The local bus costs just $2 each way, departing from Gia Lam Bus station in Hanoi and arriving in Halong city. This really is a local bus so don’t expect anyone to speak English and pray that your sign language is good enough to get to your destination. If you are going to brave the bus, make sure that you have your destination written in Vietnamese so you can always show it to the driver.
If the local bus sounds a little too native for your liking then a ‘tourist’ shuttle bus leaves daily from outside the Opera House in Hanoi costing $12 each way. The minibus holds just 14 people and takes you directly to the wharf in Halong Bay. Make sure you book in advance though; the draw of air-con and an easy transfer make this a very popular transfer!Top Tip 1: If you book a tour during the typhoon season (May to September) then ensure that your booking has a cancel clause so that you get your money back. Most tours are cancelled (for good reason) if the weather is too dangerous but it’s disappointing if you lose your money because you can’t reschedule the trip in time.Top Tip 2: Spend a night on the top deck of the boat. Instead of sleeping in the cabins, get a bottle of beer and go up to the sundeck on top of the boat. There you can lie down and watch the clear starry sky and look out for shooting stars – it’s paradise!