So, is Halong Bay worth visiting in 2023? Here are 7 compelling reasons to visit this stunning destination in Vietnam, as well as some top tips from us on our recent visit!
For many first time visitors to Vietnam, Halong Bay is at the top of their bucket list! But the question is, is Halong Bay really worth visiting?
Imagine sailing through turquoise waters, surrounded by a majestic landscape of over 1,600 limestone islands and islets. That’s the stunning beauty of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. Spanning approximately 1,500 square kilometres, this picturesque bay boasts diverse ecosystems and mesmerizing scenery that will leave you in awe.
In this blog post, we’ll cover EVERYTHING you need to know when you want to visit Halong Bay. We’ll detail the pros and cons based on our own experience of visiting Halong Bay last summer.
EVEN BETTER: We’ll provide you with insider tips and tricks AND Instagrammable locations!
Whether you’re an adventure seeker or simply seeking relaxation, a tour of Halong Bay promises unforgettable experiences. Let’s get started!
Planning your trip to Halong Bay last minute?
Below are some of the top tours, hotels and more! Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting Halong Bay and nearby!
TOP TOURS AND CRUISES IN HALONG BAY:
1. ALL INCLUSIVE 2 DAY / 1 NIGHT CRUISE (#1 selling Halong Bay tour!)
2. LUXURY ASPIRA OVERNIGHT CRUISE (another top-seller!)
3. BHAYA 2 DAY HALONG BAY TOUR (traditional Vietnamese boat!)
4. HALONG 5-STAR DAY TRIP (more affordable option!)
TOP HOTELS IN HALONG BAY:
1. CAT BA VIEW HOTEL (we stayed here and recommend it!)
2. CAT BA ISLAND HOTEL (we also stayed here – recommended for budget travellers!)
3. FLAMINGO CAT BA BEACH RESORT (great for a splurge!)
Where is Halong Bay?
First things first, before we tell you our reasons why you should or should not visit Halong Bay, it’s important to know where Halong Bay is located.
Halong Bay is located in northeastern Vietnam, east of Hanoi, in Quang Ninh Province.
How to Get to Halong Bay
To get to Halong Bay from Hanoi, you have several options:
By Seaplane: A seaplane is a faster and more adventurous option. It only takes 45 minutes from Hanoi to Halong Bay and offers an incredible aerial view of the bay. However, when compared to other modes of transportation, this option is quite expensive (as you probably would have guessed).
By Road: The most common mode of transportation to Halong Bay is by car. Travel time by car or bus is approximately 3 to 4 hours, depending on traffic conditions. There are numerous tour companies that provide daily transportation between Hanoi and Halong Bay. We booked a tour that picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi and dropped us off at the cruise ship in Halong Bay.
By Train: You can also take a train from Hanoi to Halong Bay. This route is more scenic, but it is also longer, taking approximately 7 hours. The train departs from Hanoi’s Yen Vien Station and arrives at Halong City Station.
EXIT45 TRAVELS TOP TIP:
Our go-to site for booking transportation on-line in Vietnam is 12Go.Asia. They have all transport services covered including vans, buses taxis, trains and ferries.
By booking with 12.Go Asia you can read the reviews and see what other travellers have said about their journey with different companies. Once you have booked your ticket through their website, they will email you a copy of your booking. It’s super easy!
7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Halong Bay
The question that is often asked is – Is Halong Bay overrated? Below, we’ll give you our reasons why we think that you should visit Halong Bay. All these reasons are based on our own personal experience visiting and cruising Halong Bay last summer.
1. UNESCO World Heritage Site
One of the must-visit reasons is that Halong Bay is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding, universal aesthetic value, as well as its geological value. It’s just something you don’t see anywhere in the world except for Asia. In Europe we don’t have limestone cliffs arising from the water. Giving it a UNESCO title acknowledges the bay’s exceptional natural beauty and its importance in the earth’s history.
Moreover, the bay has been named a world heritage site twice before, in 1994 and 2000. The recent addition of the Cat Ba Archipelago (islands) to the heritage listing further emphasizes the area’s biodiversity importance.
BTW: Did you know that Halong Bay contains more than 1600 islands and islets? Some of them are even more than 500 million years old, going back a long time into the past of this earth.
2. Amazing Scenery
The bay is home to thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. The crystal-clear emerald waters and the panoramic views provide an amazing scenery that leaves visitors in enjoying the beauty of the bay.
There are a couple of reasons why the scenery is one of the most important reasons to visit Halong Bay!
Incredible Caves: Many of these limestone islands house fascinating caves, such as Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave) and Dau Go Cave. These caves are adorned with stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over centuries.
Beautiful Beaches: Halong Bay also boasts beautiful sandy beaches, such as Ti Top Beach and Bai Chay Beach. These quiet beaches offer stunning views of the bay and are perfect for relaxation or a refreshing swim. If you book a tour, you’ll probably spend some time here! The beaches are also known for their instagram-worthiness!
Sunsets and Sunrises: The sunsets and sunrises in Halong Bay are truly magical. Watching the sun slowly rise or set behind the limestone karsts is a serene experience that leaves a lasting impression. You’ll have to get up early if you want to see a sunrise, but it’s worth it!
Floating Villages: The bay is dotted with floating fishing villages where you can witness the traditional way of life of the locals. Some tours also visit these villages!
3. Fresh Seafood
Being a coastal location, Halong Bay offers of course a variety of fresh seafood. Many locals are fishermen, as fish is the biggest income stream in Halong Bay (next to tourism). Many restaurants serve dishes made from freshly-caught fish and crabs.
There are a couple of reasons why Halong Bay is known for it’s quality seafood.
Variety: Halong Bay is renowned for its wide variety of seafood. From crabs and prawns to horseshoe crab (Sam), Sa Sung, Ngan, oyster, and Ha, there’s something to suit every palate. And trust us, we tried it all!
Quality: The seafood in Halong Bay is also known for its freshness. Caught daily from the sea, you can enjoy seafood at its peak flavour and nutritional value. They catch the fish at night, distribute it in the morning to the restaurants, and in the evening, you can find the fish on your plate.
4. Activities to Suit All Types of Travellers
In Halong Bay you can do many activities including cruising, kayaking, and swimming, exploring caves, visiting fishing villages, rock climbing, relaxing on beaches, culinary experiences, and you can even go biking on some islands! So it’s safe to say that there is something you will like in Halong Bay.
Below, we’ll go into detail for every one of them.
Cruising: The best way to experience Halong Bay is by taking a cruise through its waters. Cruises offer opportunities to admire the limestone pillars, caves, and islets up close, providing an amazing experience. BONUS: You’ll get away from the mass tourism as you get to spend the night on the boat, they can go further into the amazing waters and navigate between the pillars and islands.
Kayaking and Swimming: For adventure seekers, Halong Bay offers activities like kayaking and swimming. Kayaking allows you to explore hidden corners of the bay, while swimming lets you immerse yourself in its clear waters. This is often included in tours; they will take you to a hidden gem where you can get to kayak in caves and next to the limestone cliffs!
Exploration of Caves: Many of Halong Bay’s islands feature fascinating caves that can be explored, such as Sung Sot Cave. These caves, with their stalactites and stalagmites, offer a glimpse into the region’s geological history. WARNING: This looks idyllic, but make sure you have a guide who can tell you all about it. This is often not included in tours, so you visit it but you do not really know what you’re visiting.
Visiting Fishing Villages: Travellers can visit floating fishing villages like Cua Van and Vung Vieng to learn about local life and traditions. This is particularly interesting to people interested in culture wanting to understand more about the bay’s inhabitants.
Rock Climbing: For those looking for a physical challenge, rock climbing on the limestone karsts provides an adrenaline rush coupled with stunning views. You can book tours that include this in the itinerary!
Relaxing on Beaches: If relaxation is your goal, Halong Bay’s tranquil beaches offer a perfect escape. Ti Top Island, for instance, has a beautiful beach where visitors can relax or swim.
Biking: Some parts of Halong Bay offer biking trails, allowing visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area at a slower pace.
Culinary Experiences: Food lovers can enjoy fresh seafood and local Vietnamese cuisine at various restaurants and markets in Halong Bay (see #3 above).
5. Various Accommodation Options
The variety of accommodation options in and around Halong Bay is indeed a significant reason for its popularity with tourists. Here’s why:
Cruise Ships: as we already talked about, cruising is one of the most popular ways to experience Halong Bay, especially overnight cruises. These cruises provide a unique opportunity to wake up surrounded by the stunning karst landscapes and emerald waters of the bay.
Hotels and Resorts: There are many expensive and budget hotels and resorts around Halong Bay that cater to different budgets and preferences. These range from budget-friendly hostels to luxury resorts with private beaches, spas, and fine dining options. Some of these accommodations offer fantastic views of the bay.
Private Island Resorts: For those seeking a more exclusive experience, there are luxury resorts on private islands right off Halong City. These resorts often come with private beaches and offer stunning bay views, providing a serene and luxurious retreat.
Homestays and Guesthouses: For travelers wanting to immerse themselves in local culture, homestays and guesthouses are available. These accommodations offer a more personal and authentic experience. Another advantage is that this is the cheapest option to stay somewhere in Halong Bay. Prices start from 10 USD / Euro per night.
Exit45 Travels Top Tip: We highly recommend staying in Cat Ba rather than Halong City as it is more directed towards tourists with various things to do such as exploring the Cat Ba National Park, great restaurants and bars.
Best Halong Bay / Cat Ba Hotels and Accommodation Options
6. 1 and 2 Night Luxury Cruise
For the best experience, consider taking a 1 or 2 night Halong Bay trip. As we talked about, these cruises include meals, activities, and accommodations in the price. Here are 5 reasons why a cruise on Halong Bay is worth doing:
Experiencing Local Culture: Overnight cruises often include visits to local floating villages, providing a unique insight into the lives of the local people who have lived in harmony with nature for generations.
Adventure Activities: These cruises often come with an array of activities such as kayaking, swimming, and trekking on islands like Titop Island. This allows you to explore the bay’s beauty up close.
Luxury Amenities: Luxury cruises offer high-end amenities such as private cabins with sea views, en-suite bathrooms, fine dining experiences, spas, and more. Some luxury cruises even have larger rooms and better amenities for longer stays. We recommend you to book a high-end cruise, how often will you visit Halong Bay in your life and can you say that you spend the night on an amazing cruise ship?
Flexible Itineraries: With options for 1- or 2-night stays, you can choose the itinerary that best suits your travel plans and budget. If you’re short on time, a 1-night cruise still allows you to see many of Halong Bay’s highlights. If you have more time, a 2-night cruise offers a more leisurely exploration of the bay. We regret only booking one night as the area is so big that it’s impossible to cover everything in just two days.
Breath-taking Sunrises and Sunsets: Staying overnight on the bay gives you the chance to witness the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, which are often cited as highlights of these cruises.
Best Halong Bay Cruises
7. Can Be Visited Almost All Year Round
We believe that this is another major advantage, namely, to be able to visit Halong Bay almost all year round. Here’s why:
Stable Climate: Halong Bay has a tropical monsoon climate, which typically means warm temperatures throughout the year. This makes it possible for tourists to visit and enjoy the bay at any time.
Seasonal Variations: While there are two main seasons – hot with sporadic rain from April to September and cool with frequent drizzle from October to March – these variations offer different experiences. The summer offers clear skies and calm waters, ideal for swimming and sunbathing, while the winter provides a mystical ambiance with the foggy weather.
Fewer Tourists in Off-Peak Seasons: Traveling during off-peak seasons means fewer crowds, which allows for a more peaceful exploration of the bay. The prices for cruises and accommodations are also often lower during these times.
Wildlife Viewing Opportunities: Different seasons bring different wildlife viewing opportunities. For instance, summer is the breeding season for many species of birds and fish.
Flexible Travel Planning: As Halong Bay can be visited nearly all year round, this gives travellers more flexibility in planning their trips.
3 Reasons Why You Should NOT Visit Halong Bay
While we highly recommend visiting Halong Bay, there are also some factors that may deter potential visitors. It’s essential to consider both sides before planning a trip.
Here are some reasons why you might decide not to visit Halong Bay:
Halong Bay has become extremely popular with tourists, creating a crowded atmosphere in the summer that may detract from the natural beauty of the area. The large number of boats and people can lead to an overwhelming experience rather than a peaceful retreat. You will see by looking at some of our pictures just how many boats there are in the bay at any one time.
The bay is facing severe environmental issues primarily due to over-tourism. The increasing number of visitors has resulted in an accumulation of plastic waste, posing a threat to the aquatic ecosystem and the overall beauty of the bay. We made it our goal during our stay to collect the plastic waste from other tourists on the beach.
Some visitors have expressed that beyond the stunning rock formations, caves, beaches, and floating villages, there isn’t much else to see or do in Halong Bay. We do not agree with those people, if you go to Halong Bay, you should know what to expect (see #4 above where we have detailed the numerous activities on offer).
How to Choose the Best Cruise in Halong Bay
When planning a trip to Halong Bay, it’s essential to choose the right cruise that suits your preferences and budget. Here are some tips to help you make the best decision and ensure an unforgettable experience.
Research Different Cruise Options: Take your time to research and compare various cruise options available in Halong Bay. Look for cruises that offer overnight stays as they allow for a more immersive experience. Consider factors such as the duration of the cruise, activities offered onboard, and the level of comfort provided.
Consider the Duration of the Cruise: If you want to fully explore Halong Bay, opt for a longer-duration cruise. Longer trips give you more time to soak in the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and engage in various activities like kayaking or exploring hidden caves. Shorter cruises may feel rushed, limiting your overall experience.
Read Reviews and Check Ratings: Before booking a cruise, read reviews from previous travellers to get insights into their experiences. Websites like TripAdvisor can be helpful in finding authentic reviews from real people who have been on these cruises. Pay attention to both positive and negative feedback to make an informed decision.
Exit45 Travels Top Tip: When checking reviews on different companies, look for those that have been reviewed a lot and also make sure the reviews are recent.
Choose Reputable Operators: To ensure a high-quality cruise experience, choose reputable operators with good track records. Look for operators who prioritize safety measures, provide excellent customer service, and maintain well-maintained boats. Reputable operators often have experienced guides who can enhance your understanding of Halong Bay’s history and culture.
Consider Transportation Options: When planning your trip to Halong Bay, consider how you will reach there. You can either take a flight to Hanoi followed by a bus or private transfer to the harbour, or book a tour package that includes transportation from Hanoi directly to Halong Bay.
Be Mindful of Your Budget: Set a budget for your Halong Bay cruise and look for options that fit within it. Keep in mind that prices can vary depending on the level of comfort, amenities, and activities included in the package. It’s important to strike a balance between your desired experience and what you can afford.
Pack Essentials for the Cruise: Make sure to pack essential items for your cruise, such as comfortable clothing, sunscreen, insect repellent, swimwear, and a camera to capture the stunning landscapes. Check with your chosen operator if they provide any specific recommendations or requirements for the trip.
Be Open to New Experiences: Halong Bay offers a plethora of unique experiences, so be open-minded and embrace them. Try local cuisine onboard the cruise and interact with fellow travellers from different parts of the world. Engage in activities like squid fishing, kayaking or Tai Chi sessions offered by some cruises to make your experience even more memorable.
Alternatives to Halong Bay
There are also alternatives to Halong Bay where you will find hidden gems with less tourists. Some are very close to Halong Bay, and some are a bit further away in Vietnam.
Our Top Recommendation as an Alternative to Halong Bay: Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay has emerged as a compelling alternative to Halong Bay for several reasons, offering a different take on the iconic Vietnamese bay experience.
Same Scenery as Halong Bay: Lan Ha Bay is right beside Halong Bay and you can expect to see exactly the same scenery i.e. limestone karst mountains, beautiful, bays and beaches, caves and floating fishing villages on a day tour.
Less Crowded: Unlike its more famous counterpart, Lan Ha Bay is less frequented by tourists. This makes it an ideal destination for those seeking a peaceful and serene environment amidst stunning natural beauty. Friends of ours went there and absolutely recommended it!
Pristine Environment: With fewer boats and less habitation than Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay is cleaner and doesn’t receive constant pollution from large numbers of boats.
Budget-Friendly Options: Lan Ha Bay offers plenty of affordable cruising options, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious travellers.
Adventure Opportunities: Both Halong and Lan Ha Bay are blessed with numerous caves and grottos, but Lan Ha Bay may appeal more to adventure-seekers eager to explore these natural wonders in a less crowded setting.
Remote and Enchanting: Due to its greater distance from the mainland, Lan Ha Bay is often described as more remote, serene, and enchanting than its counterparts, providing a unique and unforgettable cruise experience.
All these reasons combined make Lan Ha Bay worth visiting!
Cat Ba Island
The largest island in Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island is known for its rugged limestone mountains, jungle parks, and biodiversity. It’s a great place for trekking and wildlife spotting, and the jump-off point for a Lan Ha Bay cruise.
Bai Tu Long Bay
This bay is just next to Halong Bay and offers the same jaw-dropping scenery, but it sees only a fraction of the visitors. It’s a compelling alternative if you seek a quieter, less touristy experience.
Van Long Nature Reserve
This is the largest wetland nature reserve in the Northern Delta and is renowned for its green scenery and diverse ecosystem. It’s a paradise for nature lovers.
Ninh Binh is famous for its stunning karst landscape, ancient temples, and tranquil rivers. It’s a haven for both history buffs and nature lovers. It is also home to Tam Coc, also known as the “Halong Bay on land”, and Trang An, both great destinations for boat tours.
Known for its cave systems, including the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, Phong Nha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers unique spelunking and trekking experiences.
If you’re more into mountains and cultural experiences, Sapa is a great alternative. It’s known for its terraced rice fields, mountain treks, and rich ethnic diversity.
Exit45 Travels Top Tips for a Halong Bay Cruise
Here are some of the lessons we learnt and our top tips for a better Halong Bay experience:
Pack essentials for a hassle-free trip: When planning your trip to Halong Bay, make sure to pack lots of water, sunscreen, insect repellent, comfortable shoes, and swimwear. Trust us, you’ll want to take a dip in those crystal-clear waters!
Be prepared for changing weather conditions: The weather can be quite unpredictable at times so, to avoid any inconvenience, it’s essential to come prepared with layers of clothing that can be easily added or removed depending on the weather conditions.
Respect the environment and practice responsible tourism: As travellers, it is our responsibility to respect and preserve the natural beauty of Halong Bay. Follow responsible tourism practices by refraining from littering or damaging coral reefs.
The price is worth it: You might wonder if visiting Halong Bay is worth the price tag. Let me assure you that it absolutely is! The stunning scenery and unique limestone formations are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The memories created here will be priceless!
A lot can be explored in many ways: There are numerous ways to explore Halong Bay depending on your preferences and budget. Whether you choose a luxurious cruise, an adventurous kayak tour, or even a traditional junk boat ride, each option offers its own unique experience. Pick the one that suits you best!
Be prepared for an unforgettable experience: Visiting Halong Bay is not just about sightseeing; it’s also an opportunity for personal growth and exploration. Embrace new experiences, try local cuisine, interact with locals, and immerse yourself in the rich culture of Vietnam.
The trash problem and the reason to act: Over the years, Halong Bay has faced challenges with waste management, particularly the issue of plastic pollution. It is crucial for every visitor to be mindful of their impact on the environment and take steps to reduce waste. By being conscious of our actions and minimizing plastic usage, we can contribute to preserving this natural wonder.
FAQs: Is Halong Bay Worth It?
What is the best time to visit Halong Bay?
The best time to visit Halong Bay is during spring (March – May) or autumn (September – November). These seasons offer pleasant weather with mild temperatures and less chance of rainfall. Avoid visiting during summer as it can get extremely hot and crowded.
How long should I spend at Halong Bay?
It is recommended to spend at least two days and one night in Halong Bay to fully experience its beauty. This allows you enough time for cruising around the bay, exploring caves, kayaking, and enjoying the stunning scenery.
Are overnight cruises worth it?
Yes, overnight cruises are definitely worth it as they provide a more immersive experience of Halong Bay. You’ll have the opportunity to witness mesmerizing sunsets and sunrises, enjoy delicious meals on board, and even try squid fishing at night.
Can you swim in the water at Halong Bay?
Yes, swimming is allowed in certain areas of Halong Bay. However, it’s important to follow safety instructions from your cruise operator and be cautious of jellyfish during certain seasons.
Do I need a visa to visit Halong Bay?
If you’re visiting Vietnam as a tourist, you will likely need a visa. Check with your local Vietnamese embassy or consulate for specific visa requirements based on your nationality.
Are Halong Bay cruises eco-friendly?
Halong Bay cruises are not consistently eco-friendly due to issues such as pollution, overcrowding, and damage to marine life and ecosystems.
Is it worth staying in Halong?
No, we would recommend staying in Cat Ba instead as it is more directed at tourists with various activities, tours, restaurants and bars.
Which is better Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay?
Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay both offer stunning natural beauty and unique experiences, but personally we would recommend Lan Ha as it less touristy and cheaper!
In Summary – Is Halong Bay Worth Visiting?
So, is it worth visiting Halong Bay? Despite the difficulties associated with mass tourism, Halong Bay’s natural beauty and unique experiences make it a must-see destination.
The towering limestone pillars, emerald waters, fascinating caves, and diverse cultural experiences are unrivaled. While awareness of the issues surrounding over-tourism and environmental concerns is critical, responsible travel practices can help mitigate these impacts. So we urge you to take this into account to protect the environment!
Visitors can help preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site for future generations by choosing eco-friendly tour operators, respecting local customs, and minimizing waste.
As an alternative to Halong Bay, we propose you visit Lan Ha Bay. It’s worth checking out the variety of tours that are being offered.
You can enjoy everything the bay has to offer while also contributing to its preservation with careful planning and responsible choices.
This blog post is written by Alexander and Laura, the owners of the travel blog Lost Between Oceans. They love writing blog posts about Ireland, the USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica. We recommend you check out their website and leave them a comment!
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