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A Traveller’s Guide to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Located in Northern Vietnam, Halong Bay is the countries most popular tourist attraction. There are over 1500 individual and uniquely shaped limestone formations strewn across the turquoise bay. 

Boats on Green water surrounded by limestone formations in Halong Bay, Vietnem

Even if you’ve never heard of it, you may have seen it. The stunning landscape has appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, including 2015’s Pan and the 1997 James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies. 

Before you discover Never Land for yourself, here is a brief guide to the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Listed site. 

When To Go

Cruise ships and Vietnamese junk boats in Halon Bay, Vietnam

As far as climate is concerned, October to May is the best time to visit Halong Bay. This time of years sees less rainfall than the summer months, but it also sees a lot more tourists.  There will always be tourists in Halong Bay. It’s a fact. But go during the summer months and there will be a few less. From May to September the days will be hot, the rain will be falling (more frequently) and the tourist will slightly less.

How To Get To Halong Bay

A variety is boats in Halong Bay, Vietnam on a sunny day

The most common way to reach the bay is by land. Renting a car and driving or getting a shuttle or bus in from your previous destination. Often tour companies will organise transfers for their clients. So, if you’re exploring the bay with one, make sure you check if it’s included. If you’re an absolute baller and/or wanting to blow all your savings on the trip you can also arrive at Halong Bay via helicopter or seaplane. 

There are a number of cruise ships that will come in via the sea. This is probably the least common way to arrive, however, and your activities/accommodation will be organised so the rest of this article is less applicable to you.

As with all international destination, make sure you check what visas and payments are necessary to enter Vietnam.

Where To Stay

Brightly coloured Vietnamese junk boat cruising past inlets on Halong Bay, Vietnam

There are two main options for accommodation at Halong  Bay:

1. You can stay on a boat. Helped to sleep by the gentle rocking of the calm bay waters. This is arguably the best way to experience the bay, and you can stay out on the water for up to 5 days.
If you choose this option make sure you pick the right type of cruise for you. There are party, family, culture and nature boat cruises on the bay. You don’t want to be cruising the bay on a bird-watching cruise with only your skimpiest bikini and good-luck shot glass. Or vice versa stuck cruising the bay on a party boat full of 20-somethings with your retiree aged parents. Do your research and find the perfect Halong Bay cruise for you. 

2. You can stay in a hotel. If just the thought of sleeping on a swaying boat is making you feel nauseous, you can opt to stay on land. As the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam, you can bet there are a thousand hotels. Once again do your research on the hotels to make sure they suit your particular needs. 

What To Do

A group of 20 somethings sitting on floating mats in the water of Halong Bay.

The main reason people to go to Halong Bay and the most popular activity is a boat cruise. Head out on the water and explore the 1600 limestone formations and discover for yourself why the site is UNESCO World Heritage listed. 

As anyone who has ever been on any sort of cruise knows, there are always 100 included activities. You’ll be taking cooking and yoga classes, bird watching, singing Karaoke and dancing the night and day away on your Vietnamese junk boat. 

A white boat with yellow sails on Halong Bay

Along with organised cruise activities, you can also take the time to relax. Work on your tan on the deck of the boat or, if you’re travelling on a luxury cruise, hunt down the masseuse or wellness centre onboard.

If a cruise isn’t your style but you’d still like to explore the bay up close you can head out on a kayak. This activity is best suited for those with some upper body strength, but the calm waters of Halong Bay are relatively accessible for all. 

If you’re looking for activities to do off the water, there are nature walks and bike tracks through the thick vegetation. For those looking for a real physical challenge, there is also outdoor rock climbing for all levels.

Getting serious very briefly. It’s important when visiting natural sites that you leave them in the same condition you found them. This Vietnamese jewel is a stunning and unique landscape being destroyed by tourism. Keep pollutants and rubbish out of the bay to ensure it’s around in the future.

Share your experience cruising around Halong Bay in the comment section below. Or book your own island weaving escape.