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 visitors 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 on 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 the outlines of countless cliffs, topped with curly caps of vegetation, rise straight up out of the water like towers, become visible through it. 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 who plundered 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 (visiting Daw Zaw Cave), but such a voyage will not 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: a giant “snake”, about 15 meters long, covered with large scales, was moving in shallow water. 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 cross the Friendship Bridge, at the opposite end of which are the beginning of Dongxing city blocks. 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: halfway from Wuong Dao to the bridge there is a pier of “Comets”, which cover the distance to Mongkai in 3,5 hours (two trips per 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 route: most Chinese tour groups visiting Halong go through it. There is a regular road (as well as trains) to Lang Son from Hanoi.
Halong Bay – the main symbol of Vietnam
Halong Bay (Vietnam) – this is one of the most beautiful places in the region, a national park, which is listed by UNESCO. Some 3,000 islands with beaches and grottoes scattered over an area of about one and a half thousand square kilometers. In Halong Bay – beautiful scenery that just captivate everyone who comes here, especially at dawn and dusk.
Where is Halong Bay?
It is said that the word Halong translates as “the place where the dragon sank into the sea”. This is probably because the dolomite and limestone rocks sticking out of the water resemble the vertebrae of an ancient lizard’s giant neck. According to the legend, the local Serpent Gorynych first created Halong Island and then made its tail through the landscape on the shore. Finally, he sank into the water and only fragments of land remain on the surface.
Halong Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. You can get here by van or car from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam (the most convenient starting point for departure). It is about 150-170 kilometers from the city. It will take 3-4 hours to get there.
In the bay is better to come from December to May, when the days are dry and warm. True, in winter the bay is cool, about 20 degrees in the afternoon. From August to October is also good, but there are typhoons, and the temperature stays around 30 degrees. Although Halong Bay is charming at any time of year. Even in the pouring rain, you take a lot of great pictures, and bring back only the best emotions.
A thousand and a half Vietnamese live here, whose main livelihood is tourists. Some take visitors on amazing sailing boats, some sell exotic fruits, some sell fish. There are fishing villages, which also boil their own life. It is hard to believe, but people in Halong Bay buy water (as we have – plots of land), build a raft in its place and so live their families. By the way, floating villages are always “built” near a roomy cave, where you could hide in case a typhoon strikes.
Halong – both the city and the bay
On one of the islands is the town of Halong. There is a huge pier, which find their rest a lot of majestic ships, built in the tradition of Vietnam. The city is about 165 kilometers from Hanoi. It is divided into two parts: the eastern, working part, where there are factories and offices and the western tourist. The two parts of Halong are connected by a bridge.
As a tourist center in Vietnam, Halong is new. It used to be known (besides the bay) only for coal mining. Still, it is not the city that attracts tourists, but the bay itself. Ships on all sides are surrounded by picturesque rocks. Moreover, when sailing on the ship, depending on the perspective of the islands change their color. The islets are green nearby, dark gray farther away, and silvery on the misty horizon. You get the feeling that around – an alien landscape.
Now there are actively offering tours of the bay of Vietnam with a visit to the grottoes, small fishing villages and neighboring islands. On one of the mountains is a great observation deck, where you can take great pictures of Halong Bay. The average tour lasts 4-5 hours (which will fly by unnoticed) and costs from $ 30 per person.
Halong Bay Activities
Halong Bay is an alluring, unspoiled, wonderful place in Vietnam. Here people live on the sea waves, huddled on small pieces of land, in the company of underwater creatures and wild monkeys. The latter are persistently begging for a treat from tourists. Here you are sure to find something to do.
Although Halong Bay, as it is called in English, is protected by UNESCO, visitors are still taken around the islands. However, the Vietnamese are quite law-abiding people, so they try to stick to the rules, so as not to harm the nature. However, this does not prevent especially shrewd sailors to invite tourists to their outdated vessels, luring them with low prices. So don’t settle for suspiciously good deals; some ships are simply not safe.
Halong cruises come in all purse strings and, accordingly, service. Usually a bay cruise also includes food, from rice and potatoes and lecho to the most diverse and exquisite dishes. The programs on bay cruises are rich, so you’ll only have time to sleep in your cabin. From early morning (usually 6 o’clock), the day already begins. Vacationers are offered sizzling and fragrant Vietnamese coffee with scones and fruit. For those who wish – exercise Tai Chi. And, of course, sightseeing.
Local koki love to conduct master classes. They usually offer a simple but delicious Vietnamese dishes like spring rolls or pancakes nem.
Picturesque views between the cliffs and rocks of the bay can be admired even from the cabins. Ships dock at several islands in Halong Bay prepared for visitors. Guides take you to viewing platforms and then to the caves. Grottos, by the way, remarkable. Everywhere stalactites and stalagmites, amazing relief of the stone and, of course, lighting. Somewhere just yellow light is burning, somewhere colored lamps… And somewhere a shy ray of sunlight penetrates from the surface. All together gives the impression of unreality.
Of entertainment on a cruise on Halong Bay will certainly be fishing. And catching fish or squid can be offered even at night. At nightfall, the water in the bay is even more beautiful – in some places it glows, and the bay seems truly mysterious.
At the pearl factory
Halong Bay (Vietnam) is also a place where pearls are grown. During your cruise you may be invited to visit Pearl House, a pearl factory. Here your notions of brave divers risking their lives to hold their breath and scouring the bottom in search of precious shells will crumble. Here, the production of organic jewelry is put on stream.
At the factory will tell you about all the stages of production. No one waits years for the shell to grow a layer of nacre naturally. The shells are filled with blanks – beads made of pressed shells. Then they let the mollusk go out on its own for several months, and then take the ready pearl out of it. After such treatment, some clams die. In general, these sea creatures do not live an easy life.
Tourists in Luong Cave
Luong Cave – a lagoon on the territory of Halong Bay (although strange: from English cave – a cave). It turns out that the lagoon in the bay. Luong Cave is surrounded on all sides by rocks, and to get there is not easy. If you are cruising on a yacht, the ship is anchored to get into the lagoon. Passengers are loaded onto boats or kayaks and floated to the pier. From there – to bamboo boats, because deep into the lagoon on a motorboat can not.
Places where they bring tourists in large numbers, always teeming with enterprising sellers. And even this remote from the cities of Vietnam and the big routes of the lagoon traders did not ignore their attention. Locals deftly maneuver between the boats on which sit foreign visitors, and briskly offer their uncomplicated goods: snacks, drinks, fruit, souvenirs.
Interestingly, in exchange for tax breaks and the opportunity to sell seafood, the Vietnamese from the floating villages have to clean up the garbage left by tourists. By the way, when sailing on a boat, be prepared that the local merchants may take you on board. They come up on the boat, clinging with a gaff and climb into the windows with their belongings.
Cruise prices depend on the length and conditions on the ship, food, and overnight stays (in a cabin or hotel on land). So agencies offer one-, two-, and three-day tours.
- The cheapest one-day cruise with departure from Hanoi can be found for $ 60 per person.
- The two-day tour with an overnight stay on the ship will cost at least $ 90.
- For a 3-day cruise, you will need to pay at least $130, .
For those who are ready to not just sit statically on the boat, and take up an oar, there is another entertainment – kayaking. Here you have to make some effort, but the experience will be even more vivid than when you see all the delights of the bay from the ship. The most amazing thing is that no one restricts you. See a nice grotto – please, swim under it, if you want to land on the shore of the bay and walk for fun – be my guest.
Every rock of Halong, which menacingly hangs over your head, you can touch with your hand. If you get hungry, you will surely meet the aforementioned vendors along the way and they will be happy to sell you something to eat.
Beach Recreation in Halong
Halong Bay has no natural beaches of its own. Most of them – artificially created, so if you want to go to a wild beach, you will need to search the neighborhood bay. Most convenient to do this search by kayak. By the way, each island is special. Somewhere you can dive with a snorkel and flippers and look at the bright fish. Somewhere wonderful catch sea fish at night. Halong Bay in Vietnam (photos confirm it) is amazingly diverse and beautiful.
- Catba (which is a national park of Vietnam) is known for its mangrove groves, coral reefs, and for a beach holiday is better to go here too. The infrastructure of the islands do not reach the popular beaches of Vietnam. But the disadvantages are compensated by the pristine nature and crystal water. Here, as on many beaches, offer camping.
- Bai Chai is an island in the bay with a fairly well-developed infrastructure, although the beach here is not natural. On it you can eat in nice restaurants, take a walk through a nice park or attend a show at one of the musical theaters. On the beach you can go water-skiing or jet-skiing. Tuan Chau Island Hotel
- Tuan Chau Island is famous for its dolphinarium. In addition to great fun on the beach (the coastline is three kilometers long) and entertainment in the bay, here you can do water sports. Fans of rock climbing also come here. Those who prefer just to relax in the shade or camp on the beach also have a place. “Pearl Island”.
- Ngoc Vung, “Pearl Island” is quite large. On the south coast of Ngoc Vung you will find the best beach. There you can grab a bite to eat at one of several decent eateries. The specialties on the island, as elsewhere in Halong, are fish dishes. The basis for them is the fish caught here by Vietnamese fishermen, which ends up on the table with the chef immediately after the catch. On the east side of Ngoc Vung grows an old fig tree, it can be seen in the middle of the beach. It was under it in 1962, Ho Chi Minh stood and talked with the local population.
A side note! If you have a free day, visit the large port city of Haiphong, located between the bay and the capital of Vietnam. Find out what it’s famous for and what you can see there on this page.
Ha Long Bay Facts
A place in Vietnam, where tourists from all over the world prefer to vacation every year (about a million per year) has already become covered with a mass of legends, history and just interesting facts. Here are some of them.
- In Halong Bay (Vietnam) was filmed “Avatar”, a picture about James Bond “Tomorrow Never Dies” and the recent movie “Kong: Skull Island”.
- From the nineteenth century until relatively recently, coal was mined in Halong Bay and coal dust and other wastes were left lying on the shores. All this is still harmful to nature.
- The peculiar shape of the rocks sticking out of the water is due to their limestone origin. Heavy rains dissolve the limestone. Geologists call it “tower karst”. Hang Dau Go Cave
- Hang Dau Go Cave is a “wooden peg cave” as high as 25 meters. From the top there is a stone waterfall of stalactites. But it is not them and not the magnificent natural paintings on the walls of the cave that this place is famous for. During the Mongol-Vietnamese War, the locals whittled stakes and stored them in the cave during the day and poked them into the sea bed at night to harm the enemy’s ships.
- The Drum Cave in Halong has an understandable name. Because of the unusual landscape, you can hear a sound like a drum roll when the wind is strong here.
- On the water are not only houses, but there are also floating restaurants, schools, playgrounds, markets and even vegetable gardens. Some locals even have pets that swim for their owners, too. Titov’s Island
- Russians will be interested to know that there is a cape called Titov. It was named in honor of a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union. There is a pier, a beach and a luxury viewing platform. It takes about ten minutes to get to the observation deck, because you have to climb three hundred steps.
- At the end of 2011, a worldwide voting for the selection of the 7th wonder of the world was completed. Guess which bay won the vote?
That’s it – Halong Bay (Vietnam). Even if you’ve been there before, you always want to go back to this wonderful world, to forget about everyday worries. Sit on the boat, sit with a cup of green tea on the upper deck and just contemplate. It’s like meditating. To imagine the lurking dragons that have taken refuge in the bay. And you can do nothing, Halong Bay will do everything for you. Wipe away worries and sorrows, amazing intricate landscapes … And then wolfish appetite wakes up and you’ll eat everything they serve. In the evening you can wrap up in a blanket and fall asleep sweetly in the cabin, cradled by the quiet waves.
Stunning aerial footage of Halong Bay from National Geographic – a must-see video!
Author: Maria Sibirskaya
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