Halong Bay is a unique natural monument that has long been a major symbol of Vietnam. Millions of years ago the waves of the sea invaded the coastal plain teeming with limestone cliffs. It is estimated that 90% of those coming to Vietnam cite Halong Bay as the main goal of their often short trip. This place is truly unique and inimitable. There are 1,969 islands scattered over a relatively small coastal area of 1,500 square kilometers, of which only 989 have names.
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There are actually two bays here: Halong and Bailong (Vinh Bai Tu Long), which lies to the east. Both are literally strewn with islands, towers, built of limestone and shale. By the way, the area protected by UNESCO, occupies less than a third of the total area and has “only” 775 islands. Only tourist and passenger ships of small displacement may enter this fabulous area. The rest of the water area is active shipping and sea fishing.
Most of the rocks in Halong are covered with curly caps of greenery, many of them are deep karst caves that hold ancient secrets. Among them there are no twins – each of them has its own unique shape, sometimes so bizarre that locals relate to such rocks legends. Only half of the islands have names, and there is a permanent population on only two. Bay landscapes can be admired forever – at different times of day, in different light and weather Halong appears in a new, but invariably beautiful appearance. For a long time, wars and political disasters have made it inaccessible to travelers, but now it is the most popular natural monument in Vietnam.
Halong Bay in the movies
Camille and Jean-Baptiste, young characters in the film Indochina, escape their pursuers in a junk that glides effortlessly across the calm sea. The cloud-covered sky is reflected in the waves, giving them a metallic sheen. As the boat drifts further out, the fog begins to thin and you can see the outlines of countless cliffs, topped with curly caps of vegetation, rising straight up out of the water like towers. Cameraman Francois Katonné masterfully captures Halong Bay, the pride of Vietnam. Régis Varnier’s film is by no means the only movie to feature scenes shot against the famous scenery of the bay. In 1997, Halong appeared in Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th episode of the famous Bondiana.
For entire geological eras, the sea and the land disputed their rights to Halong, which went deep under the water, then “resurfaced” back. About 500 million years ago the struggle of the elements ended in a compromise and brought to the world the Halong, which today is admired by visitors to Vietnam. About 16 thousand years ago people – fishermen – first appeared on the islands of the bay to hide from the dangers that awaited them on the “mainland”. The primitive sites found on the bay islands are the oldest monuments of their kind in the whole of Vietnam.
Historically, Halong islands, full of karst caves, were used as a base by all kinds of forces, from pirates plundering to patriots defending Vietnam’s shores from overseas foes. This tradition was suddenly reinvigorated in the twentieth century. During World War II and Indochina I the local grottoes housed guerrilla hospitals and arsenals, and during the American War the “mosquito fleet” of the DRV took refuge among the islands, waiting for the approach of Star-Spangled Banner ships. In response, U.S. aircraft pelted the bay with floating mines. With the end of the war, the bay became a restricted area for a long time, opening up to mass tourism only in the early 1990s.
Almost all islands are uninhabited. There is a permanent population in the bay only on the largest islands – Catba and Tuantiau. And there are people who have chosen to settle not on the islands but right on the water. About 1,500 people live in several floating villages anchored at different ends of Halong.
There are two main seasons in Halong Bay. From May to October, there is a warm and humid summer season. The average temperature during these months is 26.4 ° C, but it can rise to 35 ° C. If your visit to Halong happens to be during the humid season, it doesn’t mean it will rain all the time. It falls once a day, and usually at night. A far more serious problem is the typhoons, whose season in Halong lasts from August to October. The weather in Halong is cool and relatively dry during winter, with an average air temperature of about 20 ° C (can drop to 15 ° C) .
Cruises on the bay
Travel agencies, of which there is no number in the Old Town of the Vietnamese capital, offer different programs to visit the bay and the islands in prefabricated groups. A 2-day program with one night on the boat will cost 16-18 USD. A 3-day cruise with two nights’ stay on the boat and in a hotel on Catba Island costs from 45 to 55 USD. Trekking Travel (www.trekkingtravel.com.vn) , South Pacific Travel (www.southpacifichp.com) and Vega Travel (www.vega-travel.com) have a reputation as reliable and not too expensive Halong cruise operators. At the tourist harbor, you can join a group for a day trip to the nearby islands (including a visit to Daw Zaw Cave), but such a voyage will not likely cost you less than 10 USD and in addition will be deprived of the charms of the sunset and sunrise among the islands.
A standard 2-day trip to Halong begins around 8 am with the group leaving Hanoi. The journey takes about 3 hours (including one rest stop) and ends at the pier of Bai Chai Tourist Harbor, the western district of Halong. Tourists are accommodated on a double-deck motorized junk, over which the prop sails (usually red or brick-colored) are raised, and the boat sails southward.
The first stop for all cruise ships is a small group of islands 15 km from the harbor, where tourists take a stroll. The ships enter a bay framed by high rocks and, turning their bows toward the shore, line up along the concrete pier. When there are no available “parking spaces” at the pier, captains begin mooring to the stern of their faster-moving counterparts and offer passengers to go ashore on someone else’s deck. Landing on the islands includes a visit to Halong’s largest karst cave, Dau Go, or Bamboo Pillars . Before disembarking the group guide gives out tickets (30,000 VND, included in the price of the tour), which should be presented at the entrance of the grotto, located in the rocks high above the harbor.
The existence of the cave known since ancient times. At the end of the XIII century fighter for the country’s independence, General Chang Hung Dao used it for ambushes and surprise attacks on invading Mongols. The French dubbed the cave Grotte des Merveilles, meaning Grotto of Miracles. Today, Dau Zo has cemented walkways and garlands of limestone stalactites illuminated by multicolored lights. The bizarre limestone formations resemble anything: depending on the citizenship of the tourists, the guides show them either the Olympic Bear, or Donald Duck.
After leaving the cave, the group slowly returns to the ship. During their visit to the cave, the crew manages to prepare dinner, which always comes in handy. After setting sail, the boat skirts the island from the west side and deepens into the maze of islets surrounding the large island of Catba. After passing floating village 13, consisting of two dozen rafts with colorful plywood houses bobbing in the water, she comes to the Kissing Rocks I. Long ago, the winds and sea waves destroyed the middle part of the tiny island. The wreckage left above the water is tilted toward each other and truly resembles a couple in love, ready to merge in a kiss. The stroll around the bay continues into the evening, after which the ship anchors under the shelter of one of the picturesque cliffs. Depending on the season and weather, evening entertainment includes swimming, kayaking, a visit to the floating village, or lounging in the liner’s cabin. Some companies arrange cooking classes, film screenings and similar events with a national flavor for the passengers. The next morning the boat disembarks after breakfast and around 10 a.m. disembarks the tourists where they started their voyage the day before.
Sometimes ships visit Sung Sot (Sung Sot, or Amazing) cave instead of Dauso .
All vehicles coming from Hanoi enter the provincial capital of Quang Ninh from the southwest on Highway 18. Tourist buses that bring cruise groups drive right up to the pier. If you arrive in Halong this way, you have to drive about 1.5 km from the pier to Vuon Dao Street, where most of the budget Baichai hotels are located. The beginning of the street looks like a vast crossroads along the line of the main coastal highway – Halong Road. At the very beginning of Vuon Dao you will see two fish restaurants with aquariums and open-air tables. On the opposite side of the street is the post office. The gently sloping street to the left of Halong Road is Vyung Dao. Hotels start just behind the aforementioned restaurants. Regular buses arrive at the Mientai Bus Station (Ben He Mien Tau) at Ca Lan Street in Baichai. You can get to Vyung Dao St. from here by motorcycle carriage (10,000 VND) .
Most tourists visit Halong as part of a tour purchased in advance in Hanoi. The lion’s share of the crowd is made up of tourists who have paid for accommodation on a ship plowing the waters of the bay. If you belong to the few who prefer to sleep on solid ground, you can find a shelter both in the western (Baychay) and eastern (Hongai) part of the city divided “fiord”. The best place to stay is Bai Chay, which is indicated on some tourist maps as Halong City West. Most of the hotels in Bai Chay are within a kilometer of the tourist harbor.
Bai Chay Hotels
Lodging in family-run mini-hotels on Vung Dao, Anh Dao and Hau Can Streets costs from $5 – 8 USD. The price depends mainly on the location of the room (the higher the floor – the cheaper) and the availability of windows. If you want to save money – take a room on the fourth floor or higher, then the night can cost only 4 USD. Most hotels are newly built or regularly renovated. A standard room includes a well-appointed room and private bathroom with shower. The room has new furniture, color TV, air conditioning and a fan.
Monsters of Halong Bay
There is no person who has not heard of the mysterious inhabitant of Scotland’s Loch Ness. Available historical evidence suggests that in the waters of Halong Bay may also be lurking some large animal unknown to science.
On February 15, 1897, the crew of the French gunboat “Aqualanche” (“Avalanche”) had to endure several unpleasant moments when a creature, most resembling a snake, suddenly surfaced near the side of a small vessel. Except that the “sea creature” was too big: 20 meters from head to tail and 2 meters thick! The body of the beast seemed to bend in waves as it moved. The encounter took place in Halong Bay, which the gunboat was patrolling in search of smugglers. With a noise of sucking in air, the unknown beast passed under the keel of the gunboat and, appearing for a second more on the surface, finally disappeared into the depths. Imagine the astonishment and dismay of the seamen when, on February 24, the gunboat ran into two gigantic “snakes” in the bay! That was not the end of the story. The crew of the patrol boat had two more chances to observe these mysterious creatures – in July 1897 in Halong Bay and in February 1898 in the neighboring Bay of Bailong. By the time of the last encounter, the sailors became so bold that they tried to catch up with the “snake”, but the speed of the steam ship was not enough for this. Unwilling to concede defeat, the commander ordered the animal to be fired on from his cannon. Several shells fired from a distance of 300-400 meters, did not reach the target, but, apparently, strongly frightened the animals: no more “snakes” on the path of the “Avalanche” were found.
In July of the same year the battleship “Woban” came to Halong. On a clear day of July 11 one of the officers was standing by the board enjoying the scenery. Suddenly a movement attracted the seaman’s attention, close to the side of the ship. Looking into the clear water, the sailor was dumbfounded: at a shallow depth was moving a giant “snake” about 15 meters long, covered with large scales. The thin neck ended with a small head, on which large eyes were clearly visible.
On February 12, 1904, Lieutenant Perron sailed in a motorboat to Halong Bay. The officer was accompanied by several sailors and a Vietnamese fisherman. The Lieutenant was far from thinking of an idle stroll: he was about to ascertain the coordinates of a number of dangerous underwater rocks. Perron was just discussing something with the fisherman when the lookout gave a loud yell. Looking in the direction the excited sailor was pointing, the lieutenant saw what he thought was a “monster eel. First a mysterious mass of gray appeared on the surface of the sea. Then, in the same place, two rings of a long, wriggling body, about a meter thick, rose above the water. The officer estimated the length of the animal at 20 meters. Sailors attempted to get close to the animal, but it submerged, leaving a strange oily trail on the surface.
The last documented sighting of the “monster of Halong Bay” was in June 1908. The French steamer Hanoi was approaching the bay when the bridge captain noticed a black object rising from the water directly ahead. The sailor grabbed his binoculars and made out a glossy body with a crest along the back. Then a turtle-like head, about a meter long, appeared over the water. The creature looked at the approaching ship and immediately disappeared into the abyss…
World Wars and the dramatic events of recent history of Vietnam forced to forget about the mysterious “snakes” Halong, scaring the sailors at the dawn of the XX century. And yet the bay with its secluded corners and mysterious grottoes can still hide in its depths an animal of any size. Ironically, the name Halong means “dive the dragon. Who knows, perhaps the mysterious “dragon” will still surface?
From Halong to China
If you have the desire and a Chinese entry visa, you can easily enter the PRC from Halong. The closest border crossing is in Mongkai Town, northeast of Halong. The trip by shuttle bus takes about 4 hours (40,000 dong) . When you leave the hotel, all you need to do is to say to the motor coach driver the cherished words: “Se bit Mongkai!” (“Bus to Mongkai”) . For 10-15 thousand VND se om will take you to the suspension bridge connecting Bai Chai and Hong Gai, where you just have to wait for the bus, with the appropriate inscription on the windshield. The road looks quite decent, but in some places it is broken up by charcoal trucks. To get from the Mongkai bus station to the border crossing point, you can once again use the se om service (15,000 VND, less than 5 minutes) . After paying the border fee of 15,000 VND, you complete the entry formalities and get to the “central lane” with a duty-free store where you can exchange your remaining VND for PRC yuan. Then you walk across the Friendship Bridge, at the opposite end of which are the beginning of the Dongxing neighborhoods. The bus stop (1 yuan) is behind the cordon. The route is close to the Dongxing bus station, from where an overnight sleeper bus (130-160 yuan) will take you to Guangzhou in 12 hours.
You can also get to Mongkai by sea: half way from Wuong Dao to the bridge there is a pier of “Comets”, which cover the distance to Mongkai in 3,5 hours (two trips a day, about 12 USD) . Schedules and tickets can be found at the Mientai bus station.
The Mongkai/Dongxing crossing is busier than the Langshon/Pingxiang crossing. The latter is a well-trodden tourist trail: most Chinese tour groups visiting Halong go through it. There is a regular road (as well as trains) to Lang Son from Hanoi.
How to get to Halong Bay from Nha Trang and Hanoi
One of the most visited attractions – Halong Bay (Vietnam) – how to get from Nha Trang and what to see read in our article. This picturesque place is located in the Gulf of Tonkin. The distance from the Vietnamese capital of about 170 kilometers, move north. The bay consists of three thousand small islands, sharp rock formations, cliffs and fairy caves. The bay covers an area of one and a half thousand kilometers. The same name – Halong – has a city located in the province of Quang Ninh, this is where the bay is located. Typically, tourists do not stay long in the city, because there are no attractions here, it is often used as a transfer base.
The name of the bay means “the bay where the dragon descended. At the end of the 20th century, the bay was included in the list of world heritage UNESCO. And at the beginning of the 21st century the bay was included in the list of Seven Modern Wonders of the World. Halong Bay in Vietnam is revered and protected as an iconic landscape of the country. The scenery here is amazing and breathtaking. You can fully enjoy the beauty of the place during a boat trip.
Important to know! There are many colorful booklets on the Internet depicting the beauty of Halong Bay. All of them correspond to reality. The only thing to note – tourists are not taken on luxury sailing ships, as shown in the booklets, and the usual motor boats, but the trip does not become less spectacular.
Most of the islands of the bay are covered with rocks, inside which hundreds of caves of different shapes are hidden. Here you can admire the rock formations and even see small waterfalls. The most visited caves are equipped for tourists, and the colorful illumination gives them a fabulous look.
People do not come to the bay for a long time, but use it as a guided tour. Come here for just a few days. You can live in the hotel, located on the island of Catba.
How to get to Halong Bay from Nha Trang
From Nha Trang to Halong, there are scheduled tourist buses. You can buy tickets at any travel agency. The trip takes 20 to 22 hours. More details about the excursions are written below.
Given the long distance between Nha Trang and the bay – 1400 km – the easiest way to get to the bay is to fly from Nha Trang to Hanoi and then get to the destination by bus. The flight will take about 2 hours.
This is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Halong Bay from Nha Trang. There are several flights daily from Nha Trang (Cam Ranh) airport. Planes arrive at Non Bai Airport, which is a half hour drive from Hanoi. You can take a bus to Hanoi from there.
Useful information! You can use flights of three airlines – Vietnamairlines, VietJet and JetStar. If you plan a trip during holidays book your tickets several weeks in advance or even better several months in advance. The flight will cost more.
If you have time and want to see other places besides the bay, take a bus. Since there is no direct flight from Nha Trang to Hanoi, you will have to change in Hoi An and Hue. In each city you can stop for 1-2 days and see the local attractions.
If you don’t want to stop at intermediate points of the route, buy a ticket for an evening bus flight from Nha Trang.
Useful Information! All buses are air-conditioned, so take a plaid to keep warm. Some buses depart from the offices of the carriage companies.
Another way to get to the capital from Nha Trang is by train. The route is suitable for tourists who have enough time and want to travel in comfort. The trip will take a day. There are eight trains a day.
Four classes of carriages are provided:
- double wooden benches;
- upholstered seating;
- three-seat compartment;
- double compartment.
It is important! Tickets for the train buy only at the railway station. It is best not to buy tickets from resellers or travel agencies. In this case, you can lose money and the ticket.
On a side note! See here what to see on your own in Nha Trang and its surroundings.
There are several routes from Hanoi to Halong
- At Hanoi’s Gia Lam Station, take the express bus that goes straight to Cat Ba Island. The ticket costs about $10. Travel time is 3 hours and 20 minutes. You can check the current schedule and buy tickets at https://vexere.com.
- At any hotel in Hanoi book a transfer to Cat Ba Island. The transfer involves a bus ride to the large Vietnamese city of Haiphong, a boat ride to Cat Ba and a transfer to the center of the island. The trip will cost about $17-20. The option is generally a good one, since you don’t have to get to the bus station on your own. However, you have to pay extra for hotel services, and during the transfer tourists are often taken to souvenir shops and stores.
Keep in mind that the bus schedule varies periodically, so you should check it in advance.
On your own in Halong Bay is appropriate to go when you want to get acquainted with this part of Vietnam, stay here a few days to visit the reserve, relax on the coast and stroll the streets of the city. If your goal is to visit the bay and water walks, an independent travel will not be fun and will require unnecessary financial expenditures. As a rule, traveling independently in the country is more expensive than traveling with a tour group. It is very likely that the additional cost of a cab.
Excursion Tours from Hanoi
You can get to Halong Bay as part of a sightseeing group. If you are already in the bay and want to buy a tour, use the ticket office at the marina of the bay. Also, tours are sold by travel agencies, but you can buy a trip only if you are confident in the company you choose. Under no circumstances do not buy a tour from resellers, as in this case have to overpay by 3-4 times more, but not necessarily that the quality of the trip will be better, in some cases, the tour is uninteresting and uncomfortable.
A standard sightseeing tour consists of:
- transfer from the travel agency to the shore;
- boat trip;
- swimming with a snorkel and flippers;
- transfer to the travel agency.
The trip involves a visit to Monkey Island, if the tour is individual, you can always change the itinerary and visit several caves instead of the island. Also included in the cost of the tour is lunch.
If you want to explore the bay carefully, such a tour is certainly not enough. The trip takes place only in the vicinity of the island of Cat Ba.
Cost depends on the number of people in the group and the type of boat:
- up to 30 people – from $18;
- From 1 to 3 people – from $45.
The program includes:
- visit to Monkey Island;
- Kayak trip for those interested;
- fishing village on the water;
- A visit to one cave.
In addition, lunch and drinking water are included.
Approximate cost of the tour:
- group of 20-30 people – $20;
- group up to 15 people – $35;
- group of up to 5 people – $30;
- group of 1 to 3 people – $80.
If you want to visit more than one cave, you will have to pay an additional $5.
The program includes:
- A visit to Monkey Island and the fishing village;
- cave exploration;
- fishing and rock climbing.
Also included are two lunches, dinner, tomorrow.
- Group of 5 to 8 people – $50 to $70;
- group of 1 to 4 people – from $130.
It is possible to rent a ship, the trip will cost $260 for two people, for each subsequent passenger you will have to pay another $35.
Excursion tours to the bay from Nha Trang
Given the distance between the two geographic points, the minimum length of a tour from Nha Trang to Halong Bay is a day and a half (two days and overnight). The average cost of the tour is $250-300, the price of the trip varies depending on the duration and the transport you use to get to the bay.
As a rule, tourists prefer to travel in a tour group – it is much more comfortable and easier.
This is important! All tours in Halong are in the morning, as a rule, the last boat sails at 13-00. Be sure to take this fact into account, if you do not want to waste a day of travel.
If you plan to buy a tour to Halong Bay from Hanoi, do not take a day tour. In this case, a lot of time will be spent on the road, and you just do not have time to look at the surrounding area.
Before researching information – how to get to Halong Bay, check the weather forecast. The most favorable months for travel are spring, September and October. In winter, the bay is quite cool and windy, and in summer it often rains.
Among the list of the most interesting tourist destinations is undoubtedly the picturesque Halong Bay (Vietnam). How to get from Nha Trang, when to arrive and what to consider during the trip – all useful information is collected in our article. We hope that this article will be useful and that the trip will bring a lot of positive emotions.
All prices on this page are updated in March 2021.
Video: how to get to Halong Bay on your own, where to stay, views of the bay from the air and useful travel tips. You must see it!
Author: Julia Matyukhina
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