Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Ha Long Bay offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Vietnam. It is located off the far northeastern coast and comprises an area of 1553 square kilometers that is dotted with thousands of islands and islets made of limestone. Erosion from wind and water has transformed many of them into dramatically shaped pillars sticking out of the turquoise green waters, giving the landscape its fairy tale-like appearance. The islands are home to numerous grottoes and caves, their floors and ceilings covered with fantastic stalactites and stalagmites.
The name Ha Long translates to "dragon descending" and comes from a prominent legend about the birth of Vietnamese civilization. According to this creation myth, a dragon and a fairy gave birth to 100 children, half of whom settled with their fairy mother in the mountains and plains, while the other half conquered the sea with the dragon father. To this day, Vietnamese think of themselves as "children of the dragon and fairy".
Ha Long Bay is largely uninhabited except for some floating fishing villages, and therefore has remained mostly unspoiled by human activity. Gliding through the deep green waters of Ha Long Bay past hundreds of tiny islands with their razor sharp limestone formations is a truly magical experience and one of the highlights of a trip to Vietnam.
Note: Please take extra care not to leave any rubbish behind on any of the islands or in the caves. The influx of tourists has given rise to littering in some places. Help protect the environment and do not buy anything made of or with corals, seashells, stalactites, or stalagmites.
Places to See
The limestone islands and islets are home to thousands of grottoes and caves, some very large, some tiny. A number of the caves can be visited for a small entrance fee. The most popular and most impressive ones include Hang Dau Go (Cave of Wooden Stakes), Hang Thien Cung (Grotto of the Heavenly Palace), Dong Me Cung (Grotto of the Labyrinth), and Hang Trong (Drum Cave), all of which feature magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations. These caves are all equipped with wooden stairs, walkways, and lights and very much worth a visit. Some of the access paths and entrances to the caves offer breathtaking views of the surrounding waters and islands.
Whether you hire a simple wooden boat for a day trip, or you go all out on a relaxing multi-day luxury cruise aboard a splendid junk, Ha Long Bay does not disappoint. Most tour companies, especially in Hanoi, can arrange for you to either hire a boat, or book a cruise. Highly recommended!
Paddling through the calm, emerald green waters of Ha Long Bay is a special experience. Steering your own boat gives you the added bonus of being able to stop anywhere you want and explore the smaller beaches and hidden bays larger boats cannot access. Hanoi is the best place to arrange for a kayaking trip with a reputable tour operator. This can range from a one day excursion to a multiple-day adventure complete with camping on some of the small islands.
For recommended hotels in Halong Bay, click here: Halong Bay Hotels.
Ha Long Bay can be visited throughout the year, but winter months (February to April) can bring a lot of precipitation and fog, obscuring visibility. Typhoons and tropical storms are common during the summer months, and can make the delay or cancelation of boat trips necessary.
Notes From the Field
“The limestone formations rising up from Halong Bay are one of the most recognizable images of Vietnam, and for good reason. They're an incredible site. When we arrived at Halong Bay the weather was overcast and a bit foggy. We were initially disappointed by the bad weather, but the fog combined with the turquoise green waters of the bay and the limestone pillars created a mystical atmosphere.
Neither of us are generally interested in caves, but the caves of Halong Bay are definitely worth a visit. Not only are the insides amazing, with huge open areas and beautifully shaped rock formations, but the views of the bay from some of the openings are spectacular.
There are plenty of tour companies in Hanoi that can arrange a trip to Halong Bay either with a group or alone. Private trips are surprisingly inexpensive and allow you to explore the waters and caves at your own pace and without a crowd of people to get in your way. If you're going to spend any length of time in Hanoi, you should definitely at least make a day trip to Halong Bay.”
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