Being confused about what are the best things to do in Halong Bay? Read on our guide of wonderful spots, exciting activities, as well as useful tips from pros when traveling to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Vietnam, in fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, consists of a series of amazing limestone islands greatly varying in size and shape. This 75-mile-long (120-kilometer) coastline, literally translated as the “Bay of Descending Dragons”, features thousands of limestone monoliths rising from the water, natural stalactite caves, picturesque islands and unique fishing villages to explore. If you like walking, then you can also enjoy the craggy bluffs that cover the islands of Halong Bay, and also explore isolated bays and dainty inlets. If you prefer to stay in the thick of things, then you can enjoy seafood barbecues, sea kayaking and a whole host of attractions in the main towns such as forts and other monuments. Researching no more, below is our top recommendation for you to do while visiting Halong Bay.
Getting to Halong Bay
Taking a cruise tour
First of all, if you wish to see the true beauty of Halong Bay, there is no other better way than taking to the water and signing up for a boat cruise then. While there are a huge number of companies offering the service, it’s quite easy for you to pick a cruise and hop in Halong Bay for an amazing tour. Depending on your request to a tour operator, you can enjoy a buffet meal as part of the cruise, or even stay on the boat overnight gazing stars from the deck and drift off to sleep lulled by the ocean waves for a truly memorable cruising experience.
Taking a seaplane tour
Despite being rather costly, jumping on a seaplane and flying over Ha Long Bay is one of the most thrilling and scenic activities you can do. Halong Bay is known for its karst formations, and there is no better way to see these than from the air. The seaplane rides in Halong Bay will take you up to a height of 300 meters above the water and you will be rewarded with a beautiful birds-eye view of the bay and of all the peaks in their entirety, while flying over spots of interest like Dau Go Cave, Tuan Chau Island and plenty of other highlights.
Sporting at Halong Bay
Diving is one of the top activities in Halong Bay and islands in this part of Vietnam is perfect to enjoy the underwater delights. The waters here offer excellent visibility and you can go diving and swim through scenic underwater caves grottoes. One can go diving by booking a class from diving schools, or taking a boat to the islands and swim and snorkel around.
Anyone looking for an adventure at Halong Bay should consider going kayaking. This is kayaking with a twist, however, as the sea here is studded with eerie rising karst formations that jut out of the water. If you want to explore these up close, then you need to get into a kayak and get out on the water, and the conditions in Halong Bay are perfect as the seas are calm and the visibility is excellent.
The most common areas for kayaking, also diving are part of 3 Peaches islets, Dark and Light Cave.
Halong Bay is well known for its laid back atmosphere and if you prefer to check this out while doing exercise, then you need to rent yourself a bicycle. There are bicycle tours that you can take all over the region, or you can go it alone and explore at your leisure. It’s a great idea to tour Halong Bay by cycling down to the various beaches on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a refreshing swim at the end of a long bike ride.
For hiking lovers who wish to hide away, let’s head to Ban Sen Island. This is one of the lesser-visited islands in Halong Bay and is covered with thick forest lands offering breath-taking scenes of pristineness. To get here, you need to take a ferry to Quan Lan from Cai Rong and then you can head off on your hike. It’s advisable to have a guide who can show you the often hidden routes and also regale you with tales of the flora and fauna found on the island.
If your love to the wild nature is greater than anything else, consider going to Cat Ba National Park, a gorgeous national park which boasts 32 different kinds of mammals. Some of these include langurs which are the most endangered primates in the world. You will also find some amazing hiking trails here which include an 18 kilometers climb to the summit of the main peak in the national park.
Another option is Cat Co 3, which is nestled close to Cat Ba Town although the stretch of sand itself is not very large. The cliff-side has a walking trail that will take you to other beaches like Cat Ba 1 and 2 and this is one of the best walks on the island.
Go night squid fishing
Night time in Halong Bay is perfect for squid fishing and you may experience a time being a fisherman like local. When signing up the activity, you will be provided with a fishing rod and able to take in large shoals of squid which swim around in these waters after darkness falls. Once you have caught the fish, you can also cook and enjoy a barbecue right after then on the boat yourself.
Tourist attractions visiting at Halong Bay
Visiting Lan Ha Bay
Lying south and east of Cat Ba Town, the 300 or so karst islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha are just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay and have the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches. Around 200 species of fish, 500 species of mollusc, 400 species of arthropods, and numerous hard and soft coral live in the waters here, while larger marine animals in the area include seals and three species of dolphin. Due to it being a fair way from Halong City, not so many tourist boats venture here, meaning Lan Ha Bay has a more isolated appeal. Sailing and kayak trips here are best organized in Cat Ba Town.
Visiting Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the most popular attraction, also the biggest island in Halong Bay. The island sits around an ancient fisherman’s port and as such has a relaxed atmosphere that makes it the perfect place to spend an afternoon. One of the best things to do here is to rent a bicycle and ride to the idyllic countryside just outside the main town. This is also the spot where many of the boats leave for island trips so it makes a good place to base yourself while you are in Halong Bay.
Visiting Dau Be Island
Dau Be Island is a great spot if you want to go swimming or diving. The reason for this is due to the amazing coral gardens here as well as deep grottoes which are located inside three large lakes. If you want to get the underground cave and grottoes, then you need to row across to them at low tide which is the only time that you will be able to climb inside.
Visiting Monkey Island
Monkey Island, aka Cat Dua, is a great spot if you are looking to take a boat trip in Halong Bay. There is an idyllic private beach here and you can spend your time topping up your tan on the white sand or go swimming and snorkeling in the azure seas. If you are feeling adventurous, then you can also go sea kayaking here or you can hike across the island as there are a huge number of scenic trails that take you through the lush greenery.
Visiting Sung Sot Cave
Sung Sot Cave is located at Bon Hon Island and you will need to hike up a steep path to get here, although it is worth the effort for the inner views. There are two different chambers in the cave which soar to a height of some 30 meters. The inner chamber is known for having a number of stone formations that are said to look like sentries lining up and there is even a stone in the center of the cave that looks like a general talking to his troops. As the light streams across the water and makes flickering patterns on the inside of the cave, it looks as if the formations are coming to life.
Visiting Trinh Nu Cave
The Virgin Cave (Hang Trinh Nu) is one of the most famous caves in Halong Bay. It is probably best known for its shrine. Legend claims that a beautiful woman committed suicide in the cave, unable to return home after being forced to marry an old Mandarin. Here her body turned into stone. Another similar legend says this girl escaped from a Mandarin that forced her to marry him because her father could not pay a debt. When fishermen found her body, they buried her here and built a small shrine inside the grotto.
Visiting Quan Y Cave
During the American War, Quan Y (Hospital) Cave served both as a secret bomb-proof hospital and as a safe house for Viet Cong (VC) leaders. This incredibly well constructed three-story feat of engineering was in constant use until 1975. The cave spans 17 rooms, including an old operating theatre (complete with patient mannequins) and a huge natural cavern that was used as a cinema (and even had its own small swimming pool). The cave is about 10km north of Cat Ba Town on the road to Cat Ba National Park entrance.
Visiting Cannon Fort
The Cannon Fort, which was built by the Japanese in WWII with tunnels and gun emplacements – later utilized by the French and Vietnamese during subsequent conflicts, may impress visitors by its “military look” among the peaceful views Cat Ba Town. From the Cannon Fort, visitors can’t help admiring the stunning panoramas of Cat Ba Island’s jungle-clad hills rolling down to colorful tangles of fishing boats in the harbor, and out to the karst-punctuated sea beyond. Exploring the Cannon Fort, one may see well-labelled paths guide visitors past underground tunnels, and two well-preserved gun emplacements. There’s even a cafe (with more great views from its terrace) and a tiny museum. The entrance gate is a steep 10-minute walk from Cat Ba Town.
Locals life experiencing at Halong Bay
Touring the floating villages
The bay’s floating villages draw a lot of attention and are one of the highlights of your trip. Locals have been living in these floating houses for many generations as fishing is still the villagers’ main income. They can live on a floating village cooks, washes, hangs out with friends, and even learns or works in this environment. Some communities offer reasonably priced home-stays to visitors, too. If you pass by them on your cruise, don’t be surprised if the boat’s on-board chef stops to shop for fresh seafood from one. Visiting these villages is a fascinating and humbling experience. Take your time visiting one or more of the four main floating villages in HaLong Bay: Cua Van, Vung Vieng, Cong Dam and Ba Hang.
Shopping at Bai Chay Market
If you want to sample some of the local products in Halong Bay, then one of the best places to do this is at Bai Chay Market. This is a local Vietnamese market where you will find huge heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of seafood. You can also buy other local items like clothing and textiles, so this is a good spot to visit if you want to stock up on souvenirs.
As you may see, Halong Bay is an interesting destination that has many amazing sites to visit, many activities to join, and many traditional practices to witness. As long as your time permits, we suggest you to experience most of them. For your tour planning, we hope you enjoy our guide of the best things to do in Halong Bay. In case you wish to have your own travel agent, who can offer a wonderful and hassle-free trip, please hesitate not to contact us for the tailored request.