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Halong Bay Travel Guide | Things to know before visiting Halong

February 03, 2024

Halong Bay in northeastern Vietnam is one of the country’s top attractions thanks to its outstanding natural beauty. With emerald waters dotted by towering limestone islands and caves, it’s easy to see why Halong Bay is a beloved destination. If you’re planning your first visit to Halong Bay, use this Halong bay travel guide covering everything you need to know for an amazing trip.

Luon Cave in Halong Bay

Luon Cave in Halong Bay

Things to know before visiting Halong

1. Where is Halong Bay?

Halong Bay is located in northeastern Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. It’s made up of 1,969 limestone islands and islets covering an area of over 1,500 square kilometers. Halong Bay is situated in Quang Ninh Province, about 170 kilometers east of Hanoi or a 3.5 hour drive. The main gateway city to Halong Bay is Halong City, which was formerly known as Bai Chay.

2. Why is Halong Bay so fascinating?

Halong Bay fascinates visitors thanks to its breathtaking scenery created by the towering limestone karst islands jutting out of the calm emerald bay. The islands come in various shapes and sizes, with some hollowed out by caves. Local legend has it that Halong Bay was created by a family of dragons sent to defend Vietnam against invaders. The dragons spit out jewels that turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay today. Halong Bay reminds many of Guilin in China or Krabi in Thailand but with its own unique beauty. Its outstanding scenery has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status twice.

3. When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?

The best time to visit Halong Bay is during the dry season between February and April when you’ll get sunny skies and calm waters perfect for cruising the bay. September to November is another good period with comfortable temperatures, fewer crowds, and lower prices. The summer months of July and August see more tropical storms but the biggest crowds. Avoid visiting between December and January during the colder winter months where you may encounter fog and mist spoiling views.

4. How to get Halong, Vietnam?

To reach Halong, Vietnam, you have a few options depending on your starting point.

+ By motorbike

You can travel from Hanoi and some Northern provinces to Bac Ninh by motorcycle using Highway 18. From there, head to Pha Lai Ward in Chi Linh District, Hai Duong Province. Once you reach Dong Trieu Town, which serves as the western gateway of Quang Ninh Province, and pass Uong Bi City, you’ll finally arrive in Ha Long City. This journey typically takes around 4 to 5 hours. It’s a great experience for backpackers, but it’s important to be cautious by maintaining a suitable speed, wearing a helmet with goggles, and donning long-sleeved clothing during the trip.

+ By Car

Driving a car is a convenient option for your trip to Ha Long in Vietnam. By taking the Hanoi – Ha Long Highway from the center of Hanoi, you can quickly and safely reach Ha Long City. Compared to traveling by motorbike, it significantly reduces travel time to approximately 2 – 2.5 hours.

+ By public transport

Apart from using your own car, you can utilize public transportation like taxis, buses, trains, or coaches to reach Ha Long. If you’re coming from the Southern provinces, you have the option of taking a flight to Cat Bi Airport in Hai Phong or Van Don Airport in Quang Ninh. From these locations, it’s incredibly convenient to travel to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and experience its stunning scenery.

What to see in Halong City?

Thien Cung Cave, Halong Bay

Thien Cung Cave, Halong Bay

Halong City serves as the gateway to Halong Bay. Formerly known as Bai Chay, there are a number of attractions worth visiting when taking a break from island hopping and cruising across the bay.

Beautiful limestone islands

The top attraction of Halong Bay are the towering limestone islands in all shapes and sizes. Sail around Halong Bay by cruise ship or kayak to admire the islands up close and explore inside immense caves. Popular islands include Ti Top Island resembling an upside-down bottle, Soi Sim Island with a beautiful beach, and Sung Sot Cave on Bo Hon Island with three huge chambers to venture inside.

Tuan Chau Island

Tuan Chau is the closest island to Halong City jetting out from a picturesque bay. It has a popular resort and entertainment complex with attractions like Dolphin Park, Seawater Pool, Marina Club, and Golf Course bringing vacation vibes. Visitors can easily reach Tuan Chau by ferry to enjoy its beaches and facilities.

Ti Top Island

Ti Top Island is one of Halong Bay’s most iconic islands due to its shape resembling an upside-down bottle or chimney. Visitors can climb the 400+ steps to the top for panoramic bay views and photographs with the quirky island in the background. Ti Top also has a cute white sandy beach nestled on its tiny shores.

Quang Ninh Museum

Gain insight into Quang Ninh Province at this museum covering regional heritage and culture. Exhibitions showcase ancient relics, local ethnic minority groups, traditional festivals, folk arts, and historical milestones through photos, videos, and artifacts. It’s a great place to visit before or after your Halong Bay cruise.

Caves in Halong Bay

One delight in cruising Halong Bay is discovering caves inside the islands, many filled with stunning rock formations. Top caves include Sung Sot, Trinh Nu, and Thien Cung which are illuminated to highlight spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Different caves have their own unique formations and atmosphere to explore.

Bai Tho Mountain

Bai Tho is a 92 meter limestone mountain towering over a fishing village on the mainland near Halong City. Climb the 700 steps winding through forest up to the summit for sweeping views of the bay against a backdrop of mountains that’s especially great at sunrise and sunset. Stop by the pretty Trung Trang Cave halfway up.

Cua Van Fishing Village

One of the largest fishing villages in the area, Cua Van gives visitors a glimpse into the local way of life. Wander past stilt houses, boat wharves, and vendors drying squid, shrimp, and fish to see Vietnamese fisherfolk in action amid a backdrop of floating villages.

Bai Chay Beach

Bai Chay Beach is Halong City’s main beach with fine white sand and calm shallow waters perfect for swimming within the scenic bay. Stretching 1.5 kilometers along the Bai Chay Tourist Resort, the beach gets crowded on sunny weekends with street food stalls, coconut drinks, and water activities.

Hon Gai Beach

Another nice beach near Halong City is Hon Gai located next to the Hon Gai Jetty around a small peninsula from Bai Chay. Like Bai Chay it has fine white sand and emerald waters with a more laidback local scene among the colorful fishing boats.

Other Attractions in Halong Bay

Some other sights include Yen Tu Mountain housing ancient Buddhist temples in a peaceful forested setting and Bai Tu Long National Park where the limestone scenery continues across its 400+ islands away from the crowds. There’s also Halong Pearl and Halong Diamond tourist centers introducing Vietnam’s jewelry trade.

What to eat in Ha Long? Some must-try specialties suggested for you

As a coastal city next to one of Vietnam’s finest bays, it’s no surprise Halong Bay is a seafood haven. Be sure to try these local specialties when visiting:

1. Grilled chopped squid

A popular snack in Halong is chopped squid threaded onto skewers then grilled over charcoal served with a salty-sweet dipping sauce. The tender squid hot off the grill is super tasty and fun street food.

2. Peanut-worm

Peanut-worm is a weird looking sea creature which when split down the middle and fried crisp tastes delicious with a nutty flavor. It goes great with beer or rice wine.

3. Stir-fried snails with soy sauce

Snails are abundant in Halong Bay’s rocky shores. A signature local dish is stir-fried snails with lemongrass and chili peppers in soy sauce for a salty, garlicky, spicy bite.

4. Grilled oysters

Visitors can find excellent grilled oysters across Halong cooked on the half-shell basting in butter, grilled to perfection. Squeeze over some lime and enjoy.

5. Seafood vermicelli

Bun cha ca is a popular Vietnamese noodle dish also found in Halong Bay featuring vermicelli rice noodles in a hot broth with an assortment of fresh seafood like shrimp, squid, crab, and fish.

Where to stay during your Ha Long travel?

Most visitors on short Halong Bay trips base themselves in Halong City where there’s accommodation ranging from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts. High-end resorts line Bai Chay Beach offering ocean views.

For a special experience, consider staying overnight on a cruise boat or rent your own kayak or junk boat to sleep right on the tranquil waters of Halong Bay.

Luxury Cruises

The most exclusive way to experience Halong Bay is by luxury cruise spending days venturing through remote areas of the bay. Luxury Halong boats feature lavish cabins with hotel standards like Paradises Cruises or era cruises serving exquisite dining.

Budget Cruises

There are also budget to mid-range cruise tour options still offering comfortable cabins with good food often including kayaking. Many tours depart from Bai Chay Harbor for 1 day or multi-day tours exploring highlights like Ti Top Island, Thien Cung Cave, kayaking into lush lagoons amid the islands.

Hotels & Resorts in Halong City

In Halong City near Bai Chay Beach there is no shortage of hotels from wallet-friendly guesthouses to luxurious 5-star resorts like Muong Thanh and Wyndham Halong Bay. Most lodging offers ocean views and swimming pools in a convenient location.

Must-try Experiences in Halong Bay

Kayaking - Ha Long bay

Kayaking – Ha Long bay

While appreciating Halong Bay’s scenery from your cruise deck is a given, be sure to also try these top experiences:


One of the best ways to explore Halong Bay up close is by kayak, paddling your way around lagoons and beaches tucked away between the limestone islands for a serene experience amid magnificent scenery. Most cruises offer guided kayaking tours as a highlight.


Going inside the immense caves hollowed out of certain Halong Bay islands reveal an underground world of incredible rock formations and stalactites glistening from light beams shining through cave openings. Popular caves to explore include beautifully lit Sung Sot, Dau Go, and Thien Cung caves.

Sunset Watching

Make sure to catch a Halong Bay sunset at least once during your visit for an unforgettable sight as the limestone towers transition to silhouettes against vibrant red and orange skies reflecting across the waters. Good sunset viewpoints include from a cruise boat or atop Bai Tho Mountain.

Squid Fishing

Join squid fishing trips at night to witness fisherman demonstrate traditional techniques used for generations to catch squid. Visitors can observe or try squidding themselves for a cultural local experience.

Cooking Class

Taking a Vietnamese cooking class is a fun way to learn culinary skills to try back home. Classes teach you local specialties often emphasizing fresh seafood dishes using ingredients from Halong markets.

Some Suggested Itineraries for a Tour in Halong Bay

With so many activity options across nearly 2,000 scenic islands, here are some recommended Halong Bay itineraries:

Day Trip from Hanoi

The classic way to see Halong Bay is booking a day trip from Hanoi by air conditioned bus or private transfer included in your tour. Tours usually spend 4 hours cruising around highlights like Ti Top island, Thien Cung cave, and kayaking giving you a solid introduction before returning to Hanoi by evening.

2 Day / 1 Night Cruise

For more time on the tranquil waters, overnight cruise tours allow you to venture deeper through less crowded areas over 2 days rather than racing to see top sights in a single day. You’ll also get to experience Halong Bay waters sparkling at night on your included onboard lodging.

3 Days / 2 Nights Cruise & Cat Ba Island

Some cruises incorporate hiking and swimming excursions stopping at Cat Ba Island, the largest in Halong Bay. As Vietnam’s first national park, Cat Ba has dense tropical forests, beaches, historic caves, and diverse wildlife to discover beyond Halong’s waters.

1 Week Tours

To combine a Halong Bay cruise with other top Vietnam highlights, one week tours often feature 2 days in Halong combined with visiting Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An, and more packed cultural and historical stops around the country.

What to buy as souvenirs in Ha Long?

Bring home some distinctively Vietnamese keepsakes from your Halong Bay trip like:

Pearl Jewelry

Halong is an important pearl cultivating area using sea water to produce gems made into lovely jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, and earrings often embellished with other stones like jade.


Vietnamese ceramics are a popular take-home across the country prized for their meticulous designs, available in items like decorative bowls, tea sets, vases, ceramic paintings, and more.

Paintings by Local Artists

Halong Bay’s iconic scenery has long inspired artists and paintings make wonderful reminders of the bay’s beauty to display back home. You’ll find lots of art shops and galleries along Halong harbor.

Traditional Fabric Souvenirs

Check out stores carrying classic Vietnamese fabrics like silk embroidered with lotus flowers sewn into tapestries, clothing items, hand bags and more. The intricate needlework makes gorgeous gifts and memories.

Local Snacks

Bring back some edible treats for friends like dried cuttlefish, sesame rice crackers, ginger candy, dried fruits, and Vietnamese green tea produced around Halong Bay for some authentic flavors from your trip.

Some tips to have an economical trip to Ha Long, Vietnam

While Halong Bay makes an outstanding vacation, here are some budget tips:

Go during shoulder season

Aim for shoulder seasons like late spring (April – May) or fall (September – November) when there are fewer crowds and tour prices can be around 20% cheaper than busy summer months.

Book tours in advance

Pre-booking Halong Bay day trips or multi-day cruises online locks in lower rates months ahead vs last-minute bookings with premium pricing.

Share cruise cabins

Many Halong Bay overnight cruise packages are priced per cabin, so splitting cabins among friends saves quite a bit over solo bookings.

Use public buses

For transportation, use cheap public buses instead of private transfers or flights between Hanoi and Halong Bay to save around 50-75% on transport costs.

Eat street food

When staying in Halong City, skip expensive resort restaurants and head to lively street food stalls lining the harbor for tasty local dishes priced only a couple dollars instead.

Avoid unnecessary extras

When comparing tour packages, opt for simpler itineraries skipping extras like seaplane scenery flights or unnecessary expensive add-ons that quickly increase costs. The sights themselves are already impressive!


With towering limestone islands, hidden caves and grottoes, emerald waters, fresh seafood, and cultural sights, it’s easy to appreciate why Halong Bay is regarded as one of Vietnam’s crown jewels drawing visitors worldwide. Use this first-timer’s guide when planning your Halong Bay adventure to help craft an epic trip seeing the bay’s highlights while exploring less touristy sides fewer experience. Whether you opt for a quick day trip from Hanoi or leisurely multi-day cruise, gazing upon Halong Bay’s drowned karst scenery is bound to be a highlight when traveling through Vietnam.