Escorted Vietnam Cambodia Tours

A popular destination in Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam, Halong Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Vietnam. Lying off the coast of Ha Long City, just 150 kilometers from the city of Hanoi, this stunningly beautiful bay is the home to thousands of limestone karsts that stand up from the water like jagged teeth. These towering limestone pillars and small islets are often covered with forests and many include grottoes and caves that have been carved out by the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Eroded and formed by wind and waves, the karsts are a vision of spectacular natural beauty and are the number one tourist destination for foreign travelers to Vietnam.

The sprawling city of Ha Long, known locally as Bai Chay, is the gateway to the bay’s karst formations, but is a disappointing town, full of bland and boring high-rise buildings and shoreline hotel developments. Most travelers tend to skip the city in favor of the bay itself, which gives rise to the budget hotels being some of the cheapest in Vietnam. The shoreline hotels have casinos and videoke bars for the Chinese and Korean tourists who prefer the solid land beneath their feet after a day of exploration in the bay.

The stunning natural wonder that is Halong Bay has more than 1,600 limestone islands, and islets, and this unique area was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Like something out of a movie, the bay islands feature a wide range of bio-diverse flora and fauna, and the area has actually been used in many movies for the spectacular beauty of the scenery. Chinese and Vietnamese boats sail between the islands and karst cliffs, taking tourists around the bay on cruises that run from a day cruise to three days of sailing. Many of the islands can be landed on, and you can explore the caves and forests that can be found there.

The site is great for tourists, and large parts of the bay and islands are protected from development to safeguard their natural beauty. Ideally, a few days is needed to explore these stunning attractions.

Top Attractions in Halong Bay

Halong Bay Cruises

Cruises are one of the most popular attractions in the bay for foreign tourists, and there are many types of cruise to be found there. Day cruises are the most popular, and you can choose from a Vietnamese junk or a motorised tourist boat to explore the bay’s many islands for the day. You can also choose to join pre-arranged small group tours of the islands, which sail regularly from Ha Long harbor, or take a private boat and go where you like.

There are also two, and three-day cruises around the bay area, which covers more of the islets and islands, and some offer a seaplane flight as part of the cruise.


The most popular island destination in Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, which is the largest of the islands in the bay. A rugged, jungle-clad island, with Cat Ba Town on its southern shore, majority of the island is untouched, and affords its visitors with a beautiful place to explore the forests and cliffs. Most of the island is included in the national park area that was inaugurated in 1986 to protect the diverse ecosystems of the forests and cliffs, and the coastline includes rocky cliffs and sandy beaches with small fishing villages in hidden coves along the shore. The limestone hills are dotted with small lakes and waterfalls, and caves can be found along the shoreline that leads right into the center of the island.

To the southeast of Cat Ba Island lies the smaller island of Dau Be, a popular spot for swimming and diving, rich with coral reefs and deep grottoes. The island has six inland lakes, and while not a very big place, it is counted as one of the most beautiful of Halong Bay’s islands. The island has become popular with tourists because of the intense natural beauty of its unspoiled interior, and the stunning limestone cliffs that surround majority of its shoreline. Covered with dense jungle, the island has a wide diversity of plant life, and is a protected area within the national park.

Another of the island’s big attractions are the six lakes on the island, with the largest being Dau Be Lake. The only way to get to the lake is by kayaking or taking a small skiff at low tide from the ocean. The entrance is through Dau Be Cave, which connects the lake with the sea, and small boat rides run through the caves twice a day at low tide.

Dau Go Island is another famous tourist attraction, known for having the largest cave of all the islands, Dau Go Cave, or Wooden Stakes Cave. Sitting 27 meters above sea level, the cave entrance is 12 meters wide and 17 meters high and the interior covers an area of around 5,000 square meters, with the dome of the cave being 25 meters from the floor. The cave is a magnificent world of stalagmites and stalactites, and is seen in many different shapes and sizes. The legend of the cave’s name tells of how the cave was used as the hiding place for the wooden stakes that the people embedded into the bed of the Bach Dang River, which would trap the ships of the Invading Mongols and destroy the bottoms of the boats, sinking them into the riverbed.

Floating Villages

All across the bay, one can find the unique floating villages of the fish farmers that live out on the bay throughout the year, abandoning them for land only when the typhoon season hits. The local fishermen have been living this way for generations, and fishing is the main source of income of these spectacular villages. There are also some villages that offer homestays for visiting tourists, and they are a popular stop for the boat cruises to pick up fresh fish for dinner.

Famous Caves

Hung Sung Sot Cave

Located on Bo Hon Island, Hung Sung Sot Cave is a twin-chambered cave with a 30-meter ceiling and a square outer chamber. Inside the inner chamber, the formations are lined up like facing sentries, and lined troops with a surveying general. Legend has it that these caves were the assembly place of an uprising army that became trapped inside during a very high tide and turned to limestone where they stood. The light from the entrance, reflected off the water in the entrance actually makes the formations seem to be alive and moving.

Virgin Cave

Also on Bo Hon Island, the Virgin Cave is one of Halong Bay’s most famous caves. Inside the cave lies a sacred shrine, and legend proclaims that a beautiful girl, after being forced to marry a Mandarin her father owed money to, hid in the cave and committed suicide rather than stay with the Mandarin. When the fishermen found her body in the cave, they buried her there, and built a shrine inside in her honor.

Best Time to Visit

Situated in the northern part of Vietnam, Halong Bay has a four-season climate, although the main climate can be divided into a hot humid summer and a cold dry winter. Winter runs from November to March, and it can get cold during January and February, so it is not the ideal time for swimming. However, the fresh cold sea air is bracing and invigorating, and it is a great time to explore those islands that are dense with forests and wildlife.

Summer runs from May to September, and the weather in the bay area is hot and perfect for swimming. The skies are clear and blue, and it is the peak tourist season for travel to Halong Bay, so is the busiest time of the year. While it is the monsoon season in the area, summer rains rarely happen during the day, and those that do are just light showers. However, one should be aware that monsoon season is also the typhoon season, and there are times when boat trips are suspended due to inbound typhoons and tropical storms. Temperatures in summer can range to as high as 30 degrees in the daytime, with little drop in temperature at night.

Spring and autumn, March to May and September to October respectively, are two of the best times to visit the bay area, and the weather is cool enough to enjoy the daytime while being warm enough in spring to swim. April is the time of many festivals in the area around Halong Bay, and it is a good time to visit to learn more about Vietnamese culture and people. Boat trips around the islands are popular, and spring is a good time to take a kayak out to explore the islands on your own, as the boat traffic is less than in summer. Autumn is not as good as spring for swimming, as the water is already getting cold on the road to winter, and it is a good idea to have some warm clothes handy for those chilly autumn evenings.

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