Halong

15 Things To Do in Halong Bay: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Halong Bay (Vietnamese spelling: vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Quang Ninh Province about 180 km east of Hanoi. The best things to do in Halong Bay are to revel in the wonders of the natural world.

With a billion years of surreal geological formations and scenery straight out of the movies, this 1 500 km2 area within Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin harbors around 1 600 limestone islands and islets. In Vietnamese, the name Halong derives from the mythical past and means ‘descending dragon’

Top Things To Do in Halong Bay

Halong Bay attracts countless visitors to its towering karst seascape and emerald turquoise waters. People come here to cruise around the islands, but there are also mysterious mountain caves and mountain tops to explore. Down on the ground, Tuan Chau and Bai Chay and the places to go for relaxing on the beach or fun day of watersports. Alternatively, try a full frills cruise or seaplane tour for an unforgettable memory. And don’t forget to add all those exotic seafood dishes to your list of incredible things to do in Halong Bay.

View all the locations mentioned in this article.

1. Get Cheaper Halong Bay Tours at Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island
[ by Amy Rollo from Unsplash ]

Cat Ba Archipelago (quần đảo Cát Bà) in Lan Ha Bay (vịnh Lan Hạ) is an excellent middle ground between Hanoi and Halong Bay for booking tours at a much cheaper price. One of the easiest ways there is by coach (or travel bus in Vietnamese), or a limousine coach (VIP limousine) from Hanoi

While there, you can take a day tour to Cat Ba National Park (Vườn quốc gia Cát Bà) to explore its natural caves or Canon Fort (pháo đài thần công) for a hill-top view of the island. 

Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike at the ferry terminal to save money. There’s also a boat to Monkey Island (đảo Khỉ) if you’re interested in wildlife, or just relax on the beautiful beaches. 

Protip: This island is a popular attraction so avoid weekends and holidays. Also, local diners serve up the same signature delicacies as restaurants, but at a cheaper price.

More About the Cat Ba Island

2. Amazingly Lively Bai Chay Seaside

Amazingly Lively Bai Chay Seaside Area
[ by huyenxu94 from Pixabay ]

Bai Chay (Bãi Cháy) is the main seaside area in Halong Bay and gateway to tours, cruises, and public ferries to the islands. It’s also easy getting here by coach or limousine coach. 

Besides amazing beaches, Bai Chay also has the Sun World Halong Complex which includes Dragon Park a recreational theme park— and Typhoon Water Park linked via the Queen Cable Car (cáp treo Nữ Hoàng). 

This cable car also connects to the adjacent seaside area of Hon Gai (Hòn Gai), where Sun World Wheel a tall vantage structure of Halong Bay— is located. To stretch out your day, you can stroll along Japanese Zen Garden and Koi Bridge across some hilltops. 

In Hon Gai, you’ll also find Halong Marine Plaza, Halong Market, Quang Ninh Museum (Bảo tàng Quảng Ninh), and the popular escape to Bai Tho Mountain.

3. Tuan Chau Island and Fun Things to Do in Halong Bay

Tuan Chau Island and Fun Things to Do in Halong Bay
[ by Valeriy Ryasnyanskiy from Unsplash ]

Tuan Chau (Tuần Châu) is a popular island with white sandy beaches and a recreational park. Tuan Chau Park has many family-friendly activities like musical water performances, and animal shows featuring dolphins, seals, and sea lions. 

Besides relaxing by the seashore, there are water sports such as jet skiing, water skiing, kayaking, and canoeing. If you haven’t booked a tour, Tuan Chau International Port is one of the places where you can book cruises on the fly.

Protip: Halong Bay tours usually start at Tuan Chau Island. Tours may include the park entrance fee, and famous sea caves with kayaking and canoeing included. 

4. Natural Getaways on Titov Island 

Natural Getaways on Titov Island
[ by smith1727 from Pixabay ]

Titov Island (đảo Ti-tốp) is another highlight of things to do in Halong Bay. It’s  7 to 8 km away from Bai Chay Ferry Port. Activities include fun by the beach, water sports, and a climb up 450 steps to the summit of Titov Mountain

A recently popular activity is seaplane tours to take in the magnificence of the entire Halong Bay. These can be booked on Vietnamseaplanetours.com and depart from Tuan Chau Island and land at Titov Island.

Titov is a popular stop for cruise tours around Halong Bay. The island was initially named Graveyard Island (đảo Nghĩa Địa) to commemorate victims of a Russian cargo ship accident in 1905. 

Afterward, in 1962, Former President Ho Chi Minh renamed it Titov Island after cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov during their visit to this island as a token of friendship to the Former Soviet Union. 

5. Nature’s Opera House at Sung Sot Cave

Nature’s Opera House at Sung Sot Cave
[ by SimonAlpha from Pixabay ]

Sung Sot Cave (hang Sửng Sốt) is one of three popular caves on Bo Hon Island (đảo Bồ Hòn). It was discovered and named ‘La Grotte des Surprise’ by the French in 1901.

Known as one of the 7 Best Caves of Vietnam, this karst cave is roughly divided into 2 sections covering over 10 000m2. Water turbulence formed the scallops on the ceilings, and wind erosion smoothed out the walls to create a natural opera house.

Visitors will have to climb up 50 steps, then climb down 10 steps to reach the entrance to the hall. Step down to the first section filled with puddles, then narrow your way to nature’s masterpiece of peculiar shaped stalactites and stalagmites set to colorful lighting.

6. A Natural Maze Masterpiece at Me Cung Cave

A Natural Maze Masterpiece at Me Cung Cave
[ by SimonAlpha from Pixabay ]

Located on Lom Bo Island (đảo Lờm Bò), Me Cung Cave (hang Mê Cung) is a natural maze and another amazing cave of Halong Bay. This karst cave is a prime archeological site with fossil shells betraying human activity back 10 000 years. 

Wander through the complex maze of stalactites and stalagmites to the other side and be astounded by Me Cung Lake. This salt lake and surrounding forest create a unique ecosystem which is quite something to behold.

Google Maps Link

7. Experience Life on the Sea at Cua Van Fisherman Village

Experience Life on The Sea at Cua Van Fisherman Village
[ by Mariamichelle from Pixabay ]

Cua Van Fisherman Village (làng chài Cửa Vạn) was nominated as one of the world’s most beautiful ancient villages, and it’s a testimony to human coexistence with nature. 

The village is 20 km offshore and a great getaway from the noisy tourist centers. The surrounding mountains create perfectly calm scenery. Most tours around Halong Bay include this village. However, you can book a full-day tour or take a ferry there and purchase tourist services.

During the day, visitors have a wide array of exciting things to do. Row around the village in bamboo-woven kayaks and catch the daily life of fishermen on their boats and raft houses. Afterward, you can experience work on a fish or pearl farm. 

The ambiance couldn’t be nicer with traditional melodies sung by locals on the boats while casting and recoiling nets to catch that hefty lunch! After dinner, the fishermen will take you out for some evening squid fishing.

8. Easy Hiking on Bai Tho Mountain

Easy Hiking on Bai Tho Mountain
[ by Trần Thị Thanh Mai from Facebook ]

If climbing up to caves isn’t enough to satisfy you, add hiking up Bai Tho Mountain (núi Bài Thơ) to your things to do in Halong Bay. The 200m hike to the top only takes around 30 minutes. 

You’ll find yourself surrounded by trees and intricate rock formations with the distant hum of the busy Halong city below. At the top, you can see a stone stele and a Vietnamese flag raised during the revolution against French Colonialists.

Due to a recent fire, the main path is closed to the public, but you can go via the local path. To get to the base point, you have to go through a small valley before passing through a gate. 

Locals are always happy to help if you get lost. The gate is a local household and just ask the people inside to unlock if it’s not open. The Mountain is not big so it’s a nice day trip of hiking and taking photos.

Protip: Remember to bring a good pair of hiking shoes, some water, and insect repellent. Don’t eat the fruits on the trees along the way to avoid risks.

9. The Magnificence of Bai Tu Long National Park

The Magnificence of Bai Tu Long National Park
[ by Taylor Simpson from Unsplash ]

Located in Bai Tu Long Bay, Bai Tu Long National Park (vườn quốc gia Bái Tử Long) is about 58 km away from Halong Bay. It covers 16 000 hectares with biodiversity of over 2 200 species, of which 108 are endangered. 

Visitors can kayak to the islands, caves, and view saltwater forests and coral reefs. On land, follow forest trails and catch a glimpse of animals in their natural habitat, or just simply relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches.

Protip: One of the easiest ways to get here is by coach from Hanoi which lasts 4-5 hours and costs 120 000 – 220 000 VND.

10. The Mecca of Vietnamese Buddhism at Yen Tu Relics

The Mecca of Vietnamese Buddhism at Yen Tu Relics
[ by vietnguyenbui from Pixabay ]

Yen Tu Relics Complex (Khu di tích Danh thắng Yên Tử) on Yen Tu Mountain is the birthplace of Truc Lam Zen (thiền phái Trúc Lâm). It’s an astonishing combination of natural and spiritual presence. 

Yen Tu is in Quang Ninh Province about 52 km from Halong Bay or about 120km from the center of Hanoi. The first structure within the 9 295 hectares complex was built in 1226 under the reign of King Trần Thái Tông

The best way is by coach from Hanoi or Halong Bay, but it’s better to book a 1-day or 2-day tour from Halong Bay. Once you’re there, you can walk or take cable cars to the various religious sites and other attractions. 

Protip: Travel light by leaving your luggage at your hotel in Halong Bay. Bring a good pair of hiking shoes, adequate water, and enjoy local vegetarian food in the pagodas.

11. Additional Islands to Check Out

Additional Islands to Check Out
[ by Minh Bách Trương from Unsplash ]

These islands are worth checking out if you really want to go offshore into the more remote and quieter places.

  • Dau Go Island (đảo Đầu Gỗ) offers a unique biosystem within Dau Go Cave, along with Paradise Cave (hang Thiên Cung). It showcases stalactites and stalagmites retelling mythical tales.
  • Mat Rong Island (đảo Mắt Rồng) looks like a dragon’s eye from above because a sole lake is surrounded by mountains and trees creating a unique ecosystem.
  • Co To Island (đảo Cô Tô) is home to one of the thirty active national lighthouses— the Co To Lighthouse, Lovers’ Road (đường Tình Yêu), and Cau My Stone Shore (bãi đá Cầu Mỵ).
  • Soi Sim Island is covered in purple myrtles during May.
  • Ngoc Vung Island (đảo Ngọc Vừng) and Quan Lan Island (đảo Quan Lạn) are some of the more untouched islands.

12. Additional Caves to Check Out

Additional Caves to Check Out
[ by Geoff Brooks from Unsplash ]

Halong Bay isn’t just about islands, but also caves scattered around which you can get to by kayak, boat, yacht, or canoe: 

  • Luon Cave (hang Luồn) is an arched cave which you can kayak through and see monkeys along the way.
  • Trinh Nu Cave (hang Trinh Nữ) and Trong Cave (hang Trống) stand 700 meters apart opposite each other and depict a fateful story about a virgin and her lover.
  • Kim Quy Cave retells the story of the golden turtle and the victory at Bach Dang River through stalactites and stalagmites enhanced with lighting. 

13.  Water Sports Galore

Water Sports Galore
[ by liberini96 from Pixabay ]

The modern and busy beaches of Bai Chay and Tuan Chau are where you’ll find all types of water sports from extreme parasailing and fly-boarding, to snorkeling and scuba diving trips to coral reefs. 

You can rent kayaks, yachts, boats, and canoes to venture out to the islands of the Bay.  Ask your tour agency, hotel, or hostel where you stay for more information. There are also tour websites providing information.

14. Tours Extravaganza

Tours Extravaganza Halong
[ image from toquoc.vn ]

There are other things to do in Halong Bay if you wish to take your holiday experience to the next level. Selected cruise tours include more than just sailing around islands and sightseeing grottos. 

Tours could include full-course menus, entertainment, professionally assisted snorkeling and scuba diving, kayaking, and visiting fisherman villages. For the ultimate experience, some tours may also include seaplanes for a magnificent airborne adventure around the entirety of Halong Bay.

15. Exotic Signature Foods

Exotic Signature Foods Halong
[ image from toplist.vn ]

Besides common seafood which you can get in any local seafood hotpot, Halong Bay has many exotic signature dishes that you can get from local diners and restaurants:

  • Fried Squidcakes (chả mực) eaten with sticky rice or steamed rice paper is stable in Halong Bay cuisine and a go-to for visitors.
  • Horseshoe Crabs (sam) are prepared in many ways from steamed, stir-fried, to grilled and is a unique delicacy that you wouldn’t want to miss.
  • Sipunculus Nudus (sá sùng) is a unique type of marine worm. They can be used fresh to make congee rice porridge or simply stir-fried. Dried ones also make for some interesting take-home gifts. 
  • Crawfish noodle soup (bề bề) consists of crawfish cooked in a pork bone broth with rice noodles and local veggies.
  • Stir-fried Austriella Corrugata with noodles (ngán) will bring a special sensation to your pallet that you can only tell once you’ve eaten it.
  • Tai Long Ep Cakes (bánh tài lòng ệp) is a local sweet cake that requires a lot of effort to make.

How to Get to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island

You can book a tour directly from Hanoi, but these are more expensive. The other choices are either Cat Ba Island or go straight to Bai Chay in Halong Bay. Coaches and limousine coaches to these destinations can be booked from Mỹ Đình Station in Hanoi.

Coaches (Travel Buses) cost around 200 000 VND per person and have around  20 seats or more. Reliable brands include Hoàng Long bus and ferry company or Kumho Việt Thanh intercity bus services. A good booking agency is Viator.

Limousine Coaches (VIP limousine) with wifi, air conditioning, and free water cost a bit more than travel buses and usually have 9 seats. Operators will group people to make sure all seats are taken before departure. 

Reliable brands include AB Vietnam Travel which is a large travel agency, and King Kong VN who run tours, transfer services, and visa applications. An alternative way to make a booking is with Viator.

Seaplanes from Nội Bài International Airport are a great way to go straight to Halong after your international flights. After landing on the waters of Tuan Chau Island, you can choose to purchase an additional flight around Halong Bay.

Getting Around Halong Bay

You can use the ferry terminals to get to the key islands and or kayaks to islands nearby.On the islands, there are motorbike rental services usually found close to the ferry terminal. In the area of Bai Chay and Hon Gai, you can use Grab to conveniently move around. 

Grab is the equivalent of Uber in Vietnam and is cheaper than regular taxis for single person rides. It requires an Internet connection and a phone number for SMS. Check out their official English website for more information.

Traveling Tips for Halong Bay

Best Time to Visit: From April to June, and September to November when the weather is nice and the deals for tours are in your favor.

Accommodation: Local hostels offer a reasonable price while cruise ship tours make for an interesting experience.

Food: Local diners are a go-to when you want to save a bit of money. 

Environment: Be as mindful of the environment as possible. Most coral reefs in Halong Bay have been seriously damaged due to pollution after the spike in tourist numbers.

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