Halong Bay Travel Guide

Mysterious, resplendent and truly glorious, the sheer, stunning beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Northern Vietnam, will completely stun your senses. An overwhelming landscape of the most incredible sights you will ever see, with more than 3000 of the most unique and imperious islands, that are scattered throughout the Gulf of Tonkin, surrounded by a deep emerald sea. Without a doubt the most incredible natural wonders of the world, and it goes without saying, one of the most dramatic tourist destinations in Vietnam.

Getting in and around

The best way to get to Halong Bay, will be to fly into Noi Bai International Airport, 40km outside Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city. From there you will need to transfer to Halong City, and there are a number of ways you can do this. The best way would be to hire a car, mini van or bus, with a driver, this is a relatively inexpensive option and the driver will be able to pick you up directly at the airport. It is not recommended that you take a private bus, although practically free at the price, it is overcrowded, stops every 5 minutes and will take more than 6 hours for your to reach Halong City.

If you really feel like splashing out, you can pick up your helicopter at the airport and zip through from Hanoi to Halong City in just one hour, and enjoy a spectacular bird’s eye view of the bay.

Another exciting option would be to pick up your vehicle and your driver, and get him to make the 2 hour trip to Hai Pong, where you would then board a hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island, where one hour later when you arrive, you board your boat to tour all of Halong Bay. The best way to see Halong Bay is by boat; you can either join a tour, hire a private boat or junk, and spend up to 10 days cruising around Halong Bay at your leisure.

Bay of the Descending Dragon- Halong Bay

With more than 1500 square kilometers of deep, green emerald water running along more than 120km of coastline in the Northern Region of Vietnam, with a thick gathering of some 3000 monumental limestone islands, Halong Bay is most certainly one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of the world.

Caves and Grottos, fill these limestone islands and are full of hidden passageways, impressively large chambers, plenty of stalactites, stalagmites, mystery, history and intrigue. Many of these caves and grottos are only accessible by charter boat, but can be visited on a tour of Halong bay. The islands all have their own unique and interesting names, not all, but 989 of them at last count, acquired by their odd and unique shapes, topped like some surreal lopsided muffin with sprinkles of thick, jungle vegetation. Some of the islands are an integral support for some of the local floating fishermen, who make use of the clear, shallow waters to catch their pick of more than 200 species of fish and more than 450 different species of mollusks. The islands are literally teeming with wildlife, bantams, iguanas, antelope and monkeys, to name but a few.

Hang Dau Go (Grotto of Wooden Stakes) is the largest of all the grottos in the bay. Known to the French as the Grotto des Merveilles, after they stumbled upon it in the early 19th Century, it consists of 3 colossal cave chambers. Not for the faint hearted, it is accessible after climbing some 90 steps to get to the entrance, and worth every step climbed to get there.

The walls of the second chamber sparkle and glisten when bright light is shined on them, but the really interesting chamber, is the 3rd one in the cave. Said to have been used in the 13th Century by Tran Hung Dao, the Vietnamese folk hero and war general, who hid his stash of the sharp bamboo stakes that were planted in the Bach Dang River during the invasion of Mongolian general Kulai Khan.

Hang Sung Sot (Surprising Cave) is for sure, the most popular cave for visitors to stop and see. Like its counterpart (Hang Dau Go), it also has three magnificent chambers, and plenty of steps to reach the entrance at the top. In the second chamber, there is an unusual shaped rock lit up in pink, regarded as a symbol of fertility. The cool air temperatures inside the chambers are a welcome reprieve from the balmy air outside, and visitors can take the gentle walk throughout the cave, looping back to the entrance of the bay.

Cat Ba Island

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Halong Bay is a distinctive landscape showcasing the most dramatic invasion of the sea in a rugged landscape. Evidence of the sheer molding force that water has on solid stone and rock is apparent in the out of worldly shapes left behind in the natural rocky architecture, dotted all over the bay. The dynamic diversity of the reserve is one of the most unique in the world, and is fast becoming a premier destination for visitors from all corners.

The density of rare and beautifully preserved wildlife and natural ecosystems has quickly become one of Cat Ba Island’s most famous landmarks. Spiraling coral terraces, tidal flats, winding willow swamps lurking under twisted mangrove forests, all spilling out onto the cashmere sands of postcard perfect beaches, maintain the home for some of the world’s most endangered animals, like the Golden-headed Langur, Black Giant Squirrel and Leopard Cats.

Bai Tu Long Bay, situated just next to Halong Bay, is the quieter, less touristy counterpart of its dramatic and outgoing neighbor. Just as, if not more beautiful, because of the lack of modern development and massive tourist invasion, it trickles along quietly all the way down to the Chinese border. The incredible islands along the way, have a fascinating history and charm, and well worth the visit, however, because of the lack of visitor’s infrastructure, it can be extremely difficult to get around, or stay here, without a Vietnamese speaking guide.

The historical, mystical maze, of romance, stunning beauty and incredible scenery, should make Halong Bay soar to the top of any travelers bucket list. The bay offers discerning travelers a rare chance to experience the other side of Vietnamese life, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. Travel through the mysterious emerald waters of the bay, on an authentic Vietnamese junk, while surrounded by limestone forests as far as the eye can see, and be prepared for a spiritual awakening like none other.