Ha Long Bay Travel Guide

Ha Long Bay has UNESCO World Heritage status and is Vietnam’s most stunning natural attraction. It is home to a number of limestone islands off the northern coast of the country and has unbeatable kayaking.

Ha Long Bay features nearly 2,000 islands, islets and karsts and is one of the most delectable spots on the planet. Just a few of these islands are inhabited, making it all the more special. The rest of it is pristine and loaded up with all sorts of flora, fauna and marine life, along with beaches and interesting villages.

The downside to Ha Long Bay, however, is the tourist trap scenario; everybody and anybody who visits Vietnam seemingly heads there. This is particularly so during the December through March peak winter season. There are boats of all description buzzing about all over the place which spoils the effect somewhat.

Despite this, Ha Long Bay is a must-see and includes innumerable highlights. Of these, Cat Ba Island is the main one; the largest and most developed of the islands in the Ha Long Bay archipelago. It makes for the ideal base from which to explore the rest of the bay and comes with a decent amount of accommodation, restaurants, shopping and beaches. Cat Ba National Park encompasses 50 per cent of the island and is a major highlight of Ha Long Bay.

Tuan Chau is another major island in Ha Long Bay and far more laid back and traditional than larger Cat Ba. Ho Chi Minh’s hut is a popular side attraction here, which is reputedly where he stayed when he visited the archipelago.

There are all sorts of activities available to visitors in Ha Long Bay, with kayaking, snorkeling, swimming and boating being the main ones. The kayaking is some of the best in Southeast Asia; on par with Thailand’s Pha Nga Bay region. Expect calm waters and amazing scenery. Boat cruises of Ha Long Bay range from a few hours on a junk to an all-inclusive trip on a luxury cruise ship.

A typical mid-range two-night, three-day tour of Ha Long Bay should get you a night aboard a semi-deluxe junk; a night in a Cat Ba Island quality hotel; an English-speaking guide; loads of activities, like kayaking and swimming; visiting various islands; and side attractions such as visiting caves and villages.

Everyone needs to buy a ticket from Ha Long Bay management, which entitles visitors to two routes: Sung Sot Cave and surroundings and Thien Cung Grotto.

Getting There & Away

Ha Long Bay lies 170kms east of Hanoi, the capital, and is around 10kms offshore at Cat Ba Island. It is accessed by boat mainly from Ha Long City and nearby Hai Phong, farther south. Ferries run to Tuan Chau and Cat Ba islands, from where private services depart all over the region. The waters around Ha Long Bay are usually calm meaning reliable ferry times. Visitors can also get to Ha Long Bay by boat from the Bai Tu Long Bay archipelago, which lies farther north.

There is no major airport in Ha Long Bay, although Hai Phong has a domestic one with flights under an hour from Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. The majority of travelers fly into Hanoi and catch a bus or taxi from here. Journeys to Ha Long City, take four hours via highway 18.