The limestone karsts and tree-topped islands that rise from the crystal waters of Ha Long Bay are exactly as beautiful as the tourist sites have been telling you. Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 because of its biological interest. The bay contains over 1600 islands and islets, most of which retain their unspoiled beauty because they can’t be explored. To help you learn what you can explore, here’s our advice on how to see Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Boat tours are the most common way to explore the bay. If you’re short on time you can do a day tour, but many visitors recommend spending at least one night on board a ship. Having a few days to spend will let you see the most of the region. You can alternate your time between putting your feet up while marvelling at the passing limestone formations and hopping off the boat for a sightseeing hike or a quick paddle. 

For those who prefer a DIY approach to travel, there are several spots in the bay that visitors can explore by kayak on their own. The waters of the bay are famously calm (although care should be taken around the rocks and caves and you should insist on a lifejacket). There are also companies that provide all-kayak trips with guides, usually for more experienced kayakers.

Highlights

  • Cat Ba Island is a must-see. Its national park offers excellent hiking as well as one of the only chances to spot the world’s most endangered primate – the golden-headed langur
  • While on Cat Ba, visitors can trek up to Cannon Fort for incredible views of the island and bay as well as a glimpse of the region’s military history
  • Explore Ha Long Bay’s many caves, some of which are accessible on foot and some which must be approached by kayak
  • The floating fishing villages of Ha Long Bay offer an interesting opportunity to think about how traditional communities navigate the social and economic impacts of tourism
  • Ti Top Island can be crowded but the view from the top is worth every one of the 400+ steps to get there
  • Go a little further afield and experience Lan Ha Bay, which enjoys the same geological features of Ha Long Bay as well as incredible white, sandy beaches

How to Get There

Ha Long Bay is 174 kilometres east of Ha Noi. You can travel by bus, private transfer or train. Some cruise companies will include transportation from Ha Noi, so check into that when you book. There are also full-day excursions from Ha Noi that feature a short boat tour of the bay. The main city on the bay is Halong City (Bai Chay). You can arrange a day trip from there if you haven’t booked ahead. Entry tickets to the national park are usually included with your tour. Other attractions may have separate admission fees.

Best Time to Go

The best time to go is between October and early December and between March and May. The weather is usually lovely and the crowds should be lighter than in the peak season.

Happy Travels!  

Image credit: Huyen Tran Nguyen Ho