It’s no exaggeration to say that Halong Bay is torn right out of a fairy tale book. It’s too beautiful to be true. Halong Bay of Vietnam has been a UNESCO Heritage Site for a long time now and its beauty has never failed any I promise.
It’s just true that this attraction is becoming more touristified and taking a lot of cash out of your pocket. In this blog post are my tips, experiences and list of top things to do in Halong Bay to help you plan a more affordable trip.
How to get to Halong Bay.
The distance from Ha Noi to Halong city is about 180km (110 miles ). So buses are absolutely the best choice for a 4-hour ride. There is a good abundance of buses to Halong in a day.
If starting at 7am, you will arrive in Halong City at around 12pm.Top things to do in Halong Bay for 2 days
– Morning: Go to Halong city from Ha Noi to arrive around noon, have lunch and take a break.
– Afternoon: Climb Bai Tho mountain (poem mountain ). This is a beautiful mountain of Halong city, in Hon Gai area, close to the coast and near Bai Chay bridge. From the summit, you can have a panoramic view of Halong city and of Halong bay.
– Evening: Enjoy specialties (remember to eat rice paper – squid ball), visit Halong night market and wander around the city.
-Morning: Get to Bai Chay tourist port, buy ticket of attractions and ship to visit the bay.
There are 2 types of ship visiting Halong bay, 4 hours and 6 hours. With the 6 hours, you will be taken to more sites.
Ship are from $5 to $8/person (you will be joint-in with other tourists). If travelling in family or big group, you should rent one ship for private use. Price for a ship is $75/4-hour trip or $85/6-hour trip. (more expensive in tourism season, from May to Aug )
Stops in 6-hour trips:
Thien Cung cave (heaven cave ) has small gate but the inside is very big and beautiful.
Dau Go cave, the biggest cave in Halong with many massive stalactites.
Titov beach, a small, beautiful and quiet beach.
Ga Choi islet (fighting cocks islet), the symbol of Halong bay. The islet has the shape of 2 cocks fighting against each other.
2 day – 1 night tour, overnight on cruise
This is tour from tourism company in which you will have one night on ship and enjoy many activities on Halong bay. There are many types of ships, from 3-star to 5-star, from $75 to $110 with 3-star ship, $170 to $300 with 4-star and over $350 with 5-star.
General schedule for this tours.
Day 1: Arrive in Halong around noon time, then aboard your booked ship and set out visiting the bay. You will have lunch on board then go to Titov beach, Sung Sot cave and so on. Evening will be for dining and entertaining on ship.
Day 2: After breakfast, you will kayak to other attractions (with instruction of tour guide). At noon, have lunch on the ship or in a restaurant in Bai Chay and then return to Ha Noi in the afternoon.
If you buy 3 days – 2 nights tour then on the second day, you will travel to Cat Ba island (a big and beautiful island of Halong ) and kayak on the last day.
Hotels in Halong city
Halong city is divided into 2 areas: Hon Gai and Bai Chay, connected by Bai Chay bridge. You may choose bus to move between 2 areas. Hon Gai is administrative center with many residents, Bai Chay is the center of tourism with long beach and many hotels.
– Bai Chay has long beach, many hotels, restaurants, tourist port, night market,..and is very convenient for moving and visiting other attractions. Hotels in Bai Chay are gathered on Vuon Dao street, from $13 to $18/night, more expensive in Summer.
Bai Chay also has many restaurants, you should choose some small restaurant at junction post office, affordable and tasty.
– Hon Gai is far from tourism center but near the city center. You may find out about the life of Halong people. Prices in Hon Gai are also cheaper than in Bai Chay.
Combine traveling Cat Ba island.
If you have more time, you should add Cat Ba in schedule. Read more about Cat Ba Island on my article below:
Things to see and eat in Halong bay
Halong Bay – Unique marvel of nature
Located 150km from Hanoi, Halong Bay – Vietnam is a spectacular island waters of Quang Ninh, a top-leading marine tourism site in Vietnam. With outstanding value in the universal landscape and geology, Ha Long Bay has twice been recognized by UNESCO as a world natural heritage.
Halong Bay with nearly 2000 multifold “pearl” islands above sea level, covering an area of over 1500 square kilometers, creating an extremely poetic and majestic natural wonder. The abundance of styles and the diversity in shapes of thousands of islands creates a forest of natural sculptures, a rare natural impression over the world with the fortified attraction and capacities satisfying the rich imagination of humans.
Bai Chay is a man-made beach with a beautiful wide and sandy beach by over 1km long, 100m wide, located along the shores of the bay, suitable for swimming and relaxation. Bai Chay resort is windy with cool climate throughout the year that attracts a large number of visitors.
Tuan Chau Island, 8km far from Halong city, is the most beautiful island of nearly 2,000 islands in Halong Bay with many of the modern international standard establishments such as: restaurants with royal architects, villas, marine animal presentation parks. Tuần Châu is a glamour place where visitors can swim and play water sports: waterskiing, parasailing, windsurfing, fishing, boating, etc.
Ti Top Island is a small island about 14km from Ha Long city center. Coming to Ti Top, visitors can swim or climb up the stair to the top of the mountain or to halfway up the mountain for a breathtaking view over the bay.
Sung Sot cave, which the French call Grotte des surprises (Cave of the shock), on Bo Hon island, is one of the most spectacular and largest grottoes of Ha Long bay. The 30-meter high roof of the grotto is decorated ingeniously by small dents, steady and smooth as sponge, with many stalactites hanging from the high ceiling glittering as the lights from the dome of the great theatre which is very magnificent.
Virgin Grotto, also located on Bo Hon island, is 15km from Bai Chay. Found in the middle of the grotto is a giant stalactite block imaging a petrified girl with long hair, toward the far shore.
Wooden Stakes Cave, on Driftwood Island. The celling of the grotto is about 25m high with hundreds of stalactite blocks and stalagmites falling down, creating many strange shapes to satisfy human imagination. Standing under the arch of the cave, visitors would be lost in an ancient castle with monumental and majestic architecture.
Thien Cung cave is situated on a cliff on a driftwood island with two flanks covered by overgrown plants. Thien Cung is like an “Fine Arts Museum” of nature with countless massive stalactite paintings fascinating viewers.
Me Cung Cave is situated on Lom Bo Island, 2km from the Ti top beach. Not massive and majestic as Dau Go or Sung Sot cave, Me Cung is modest in size. Small and narrow but incredibly sophisticated.
Cua Van fishing village is one of the most beautiful ancient fishing villages in the world, a place visitors should not miss while in Ha Long Bay. It is made up of those tumbledown houses connected together on calm sea, at the foot of the majestic limestone mountain.
The relic group of Bai Tho mountain, Tran Quoc Nghien temple, Quang Ninh museum… are those monuments that many tourists visiting Ha Long Bay are interested in.
What to eat in Halong bay
Fried squid ball is a delicious famous specialty of Ha Long. It can be served with the sticky rice, rolled cake and very popular in daily meals.
Quang Yen Sam (carcinoscorpius rotundicauda): Quang Yen is well-known for a kind of highly nutritional seafood, Sam, which can be made into a variety of attractive different dishes such as Sam pudding, sam salad, fried sweet and sour sam’s legs, Sam sauteed peppers, fried eggs.
Ngan (Austriella corrugata) is a kind of krill living in mangrove estuaries, and could be made into such dishes as: grilled, steamed, cooked porridge, stir-fried with vegetables or noodles. For the male visitors, Ngan is a wonderful experience to taste with some wine to wash down.
Gat Gu cake is an extraordinary and special cake that is similar to steamed rolled rice pancake.
Tien Yen chicken is a kind of hill pastoral farming chickens. After being boiled, it is tasty with typical yellow skin. The dish really captures the distinctive taste of chicken and creates the most natural rich and authentic flavour possible.
Nem Chao is confidently considered as the pride of the people in Quang Yen – Ha Long. As a great cuisine, the food is a combination of three: sour, specifically spicy, sweet and really flavourful when dipped in chutney.
Hoanh Bo soaked rice wine – an unparalleled drink is local culinary delight of Ha Long made from a kind of glutinous rice that can be found only in Ha Long. Rice wine Hoang Bo has stimulative effect on digestion that brings out benefits for health.