ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Top Tips for Visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam

Updated on November 2, 2019
Iammattdoran profile image

Matt is an avid traveller and a keen photographer who showcases his work on Flickr & sells his images through Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.

The UNESCO-listed Halong Bay in Vietnam
The UNESCO-listed Halong Bay in Vietnam | Source

Halong Bay and the Number 1969

Halong Bay, situated off the Northeastern coast of Vietnam comprises an area of over 1,500 square kilometres, featuring a total of 1969 islets, the majority of which are limestone and also uninhabited. The number 1969 is easy to remember for the Vietnamese as this is the same year that their great leader, Ho Chi Minh, died. As there are far too many islets to count, I'm happy to take their word for it even if it does seem like quite the coincidence.

Where is Ha Long Bay Located

A
halong bay:
Ha Long Natural heritage, Vietnam

get directions

A Guide to the Halong Bay Junks

Anyone who is familiar with Ha Long Bay or who has seen images of this famous tourist destination will most likely have seen an image showing a boat cruising on an emerald sea through tall karst peaks jutting out of the water. It's that postcard image of glorious brown junk ships zig-zagging their way around the hundreds of karst peaks. Whilst the zig-zagging part is still accurate the actual image of the 'Chinese junk ship' is likely to shatter the illusion somewhat.

The Halong Bay Junks are no longer brown, even though all the publicity material still shows them as such. Indeed, a couple of years ago a Vietnamese government official, clearly trying to make a name for himself, had obviously been looking at harbours around the world and was taken with the image of white yachts. He decreed, to the huge opposition of Halong tour operators, that all boats operating in world heritage site should be painted a specific shade of white, or more specifically off-white.

The result has left a lot of tourists disappointed, not only because the boats aren't as envisaged or indeed as marketed in the brochures and online, but also because they simply don't look very good and devalue the whole Halong Bay experience in some peoples' eyes. The paint is peeling off many of the boats making them look cheap and untidy, something that I'm sure the old brown boats did a better job of hiding.

How the Ha Long Bay boats look today
How the Ha Long Bay boats look today | Source

However, a visit to Ha Long Bay isn't all about the aesthetics of the boat you're on, after-all you'll be on it so you don't have to look at it. You will, however have to look at the hundreds of other boats plying the same route but we'll skip over that for now.

Floating House at Ha Long Bay
Floating House at Ha Long Bay | Source
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera 24.3MP SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) w/16-50mm Power Zoom Lens
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera 24.3MP SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) w/16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

I travel a lot but when I look back at some of my old travel pics they don't seem to be as good as I remember. And it's because I used to use a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Nowadays I use the Sony A6000 to capture all of my travel pics. It's the best camera I've ever had. Absolutely amazing!

 

Planning a Halong Bay Cruise - How Long to Visit?

Most people who visit the Halong Bay area take a cruise on a boat which covers a number of points of interest around the UNESCO site as part of a 2 day / 1 night package. Personally I think this is the right length of time for the tour. Some people opt to stay for 2 nights but unless there is a specific activity planned such as spending one of the nights having dinner in the cave at Halong Bay, there can be too much free time with not enough to do.

As well as the wonder of the hundreds of karst peaks and small islets towering out of the water, there are some really cool places of interest that you will come across during the trip. The floating villages, where whole families live and rarely step foot on dry land, are a fascinating sight and experience.

Floating village at Ha Long Bay
Floating village at Ha Long Bay | Source

Kayaking in Halong Bay

Generally on one of the two or three days on in which you will be one the cruise there will be a kayaking activity which involves stopping off at one of the floating villages. Here you can collect kayaks then have freedom to go off exploring to your hearts content. This is really cool as there are lots of caves to cruise in and out of and you can get quite close to the floating houses.

Kayaking at Ha Long Bay
Kayaking at Ha Long Bay | Source

Halong Bay and the New 7 Wonders of Nature

In 2011 an international competition was held to find the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature'. Apparently millions of votes were cast and Halong Bay made it into the final as one of 28 finalists in the new 7 wonders of nature category. I've been to some of the sights that are included in the 28 finalists of the new 7 wonders of nature including Angel Falls, Iguazu Falls, Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Grand Canyon (to name but a few). Don't get me wrong, it's a truly incredible place, like nothing I've seen before (although I've since seen plenty of similar places) but the sheer number of boats and tour companies operating in this space lessens it's impact in my eyes. However, Halong Bay did in fact make it into the list of the 7 new wonders.

Although I did go swimming in the water and really enjoyed it, I couldn't help but notice as we cruised along that there is a lot of pollution in the water that has surely been caused by the boats. I'm talking about oil floating on the surface, glass and plastic bottles floating on the surface and other piles of trash and litter floating about. To appreciate the beauty you have to ignore this, but I think for a genuine top 7 wonder there wouldn't be such a grim downside.

Halong Bay at dusk
Halong Bay at dusk | Source

Food is generally included in the price of your tour ticket and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's generally a case of the waiters bringing out several plates of food and you have to share it out between you. On our boat they brought out loads of food for each meal so we were never hungry. They provide soft drinks but alcoholic drinks need to be paid for and they can cost up to 4 times as much as they do on the mainland. It seems unfair at first but then you remember that even at the 4 times as much price they are still less than a quarter of what you'd pay back home.

Locals at work in Halong Bay
Locals at work in Halong Bay | Source

Halong Bay Weather

Generally, the weather in Halong Bay is fine all year round. Here, the weather doesn't change too much throughout the year but if there was a best time to go then it would be during the months of September and October and March and April. These are the quiet, calm periods of the weather cycle in this part of Vietnam.

The weather in Halong Bay can be very hot, humid and wet during the summer months (Jun-Aug) making a trip at this time of year rather uncomfortable. In the winter months (Dec/Jan), although the weather is generally fine, there is an increased chance that the weather could turn cold and strong winds are more common. This rarely effects the running of the cruises and tours but it can make your trip less than pleasant.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this practical guide to planning a Halong Bay cruise. If you have any feedback please feel free to leave a comment below. If you are interested in reading further travel guides to other popular destinations in Vietnam please click on one of the links below. Happy travels!

BBC Top Gear Vietnam Special in Ha Long Bay

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Matt Doran

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      18 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      We had a wonderful cruise in Ha Long Bay when we worked in Hanoi. We had one with Emerald and it was a great experience. We spoiled ourselves by getting the best room as it was only overnight. The sun rise was just amazing.

    • profile image

      orientalsails 

      6 years ago

      @TravelingCrab: HI, sorry to hear about your bad trip. We are also a provider of Halong bay tours and we understand the problems you had. When you visit Halong bay, you SHOULD request direct to provider that have good review on Tripadvisor. When you book tour thought provider, if have any problems, you can give feedback and get refund. Hope that you will comeback Halong Bay - Vietnam.

    • Iammattdoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt Doran 

      6 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Many thanks for reading and commenting April. Glad you liked it! Matt

    • April Dawn Meyer profile image

      April Dawn Meyer 

      6 years ago from Belle Fourche, South Dakota

      What a beautiful area! Thank you for sharing. :)

    • Iammattdoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt Doran 

      6 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Hi, sorry to hear about your bad trip. I've no idea how much it would cost to hire a private boat but there's certainly no way we could have afforded that. I enjoyed meeting other people on our boat so I still would prefer the way we did it. We just asked around different places in Hanoi and spoke to other travellers and soon got a good idea of which were the reputable companies and which were not. Hope you like the hub anyway! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Matt

    • TravelingCrab profile image

      TravelingCrab 

      6 years ago from USA

      I went to Ha Long Bay a few years ago. Be very careful on who you choose for your tour experience. Some companies will offer you a "luxury" option however when you get to the bay they will stick you in the cheapest option. I had a terrible experience with the tour guide, at nine they told us we had to go to bed and shut down the lights, there was no kayaking and food was limited. We tried to file a complaint with a Tourism Organization and physically tried to find them. The address listed online is bogus and no one could tell us where to go and they laughed at us because we were trying. Went back to the hotel to get a refund, the hotel called the tour operator, he just laughed and said we couldn't prove anything. The hotel gave us a couple of buck back but the whole thing just ruined our memory of Ha Long Bay. If you can afford it- rent a private boat, avoid the hassle.

    • Iammattdoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt Doran 

      6 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Thanks Brownella. My Mom and her husband are flying out to Vietnam today and are doing 2 nights at Ha Long Bay. I really sold Vietnam to them so hope they enjoy it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Matt

    • brownella profile image

      brownella 

      6 years ago from New England

      Great hub. I visited Ha Long Bay last spring and have to agree with you on the distracting amount of tourists. We had planned to stay two days but ended up only staying one. That said, the site itself is gorgeous, especially when your out kayaking away from the group. Thanks for sharing :)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)