Halong Bay, literally meaning descending dragon bay, is located in the Quảng Ninh Province in Vietnam. The beauty of the bay is due to the thousands of limestone karats and isles in different shapes and sizes. It’s a popular travel destination in Vietnam. Most tourist don’t dare to skip this place; it’s a definite must-visit. During our visit to Hanoi, we also included a two-day tour to Halong Bay. In this post you can find everything you need to know about Halong Bay and your visit.
Some facts about Halong Bay
Halong Bay is located in Quảng Ninh Province, near the border of China. Since 1994 Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and since 2012 one of the Seven Wonders of Nature. It’s a large area of 1,553 km2, including around 2000 islets and islands.
A lot of limestone islands have caves and grottoes. The majority of the limestones are vertical cliffs, with heights ranging from 50 to 100 meters. The limestones of Halong Bay have been in formation for over 500 million years in different conditions and environments. It has taken approximately 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate.
The water in Halong Bay is less than 10 meters in most places, and contains a rich biodiversity of approximately 1000 marine animals. There is also wildlife on the islands, these include deer, mink, squirrels, monkeys, birds, lizards and antelopes.
The Legend behind Halong Bay
The name Halong Bay has quite the story behind it. It literally means descending dragon, which comes from a legend of this ancient land.
According to the legend, when the land of Vietnam was formed, Vietnamese had to fight against invaders from the North of the sea. The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children to help the Vietnamese to defend the country.
The Mother Dragon and her children burned the enemies with their fire and giant emeralds. Peace came back to Vietnam, as the dragons won from the Northern invaders. During the battle, the emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were spread around the sea to create a defensive wall against the enemies. The wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes.
The Mother Dragon and children stayed in the mortal world, turned into humans and helped the people of Vietnam. This legend is also part of the general belief that Vietnamese people are originated from Dragons.
This legend was told during our tour and afterwards we found it here too.
How to get to Halong Bay
It’s quite easy to get to Halong Bay, as it’s a popular destination and basically all tour operators can take you there. As we booked a tour from Hanoi, everything was taken care of. If you book a tour as well (which most people do) you will most likely get picked up from your hotel and get a bus transfer to the pier and get a boat from there.
It’s also possible to arrange a bus, taxi or other transportation to Halong Bay by yourself and fix a boat there. We have also heard about a seaplane, but that it’s very expensive.
Please check this website for some more information about getting to Halong Bay.
Best time to go to Halong Bay
We visited Halong Bay at the end of January. This is not necessarily the best time to go, because the weather between February and April is often cold, foggy and it’s harder to see the beautiful limestones. However, we were lucky and had clear visibility and comfortable weather. This shows that you just can’t predict the weather.
The best time to go to Halong Bay is November; blue skies, pleasant temperatures and calm waters. June to August is the high season in Halong Bay, so that is not the best time if you are looking for peace and quiet. During that period there are also the occasional tropical storms. Then we would rather have the risk of a low visibility than big masses of people and the possibility of cancellation due to a storm.
Always check with your tour operator what happens when your tour gets cancelled because of the weather conditions (e.g. refunds or rescheduling).
Halong Bay on a tour
There are lots of tours to choose from. You can decide to take a day tour or an overnight tour. To make it even harder, you can also choose from an overnight tour on one of the islands or on a boat and for one night or multiple nights. After deciding on this, you also have to decide on the type of tour you will do. The tours in Halong Bay range from budget to luxury. After doing research, we have found that it’s definitely the more you pay, the better you get.
Where to book
In the following sections we will briefly go through the different types of tours you can book; amount of days and type of tour. Additionally, we will recommend some tours that you can book. Please note that we haven’t been on all of the tours ourselves and based our recommendations on the multiple positive reviews of others.
We booked our tour online before we came to Vietnam, as we were there during Tet. It’s a lot harder to book anything (accommodation, transport and tours) during this holiday, as a lot is closed. Therefore we decided to book it up front. Otherwise, we would have booked it once we were in Hanoi.
If you are planning on visiting Vietnam during another period, you could also easily book your tour offline at a tour agency in Vietnam. For instance, we saw a lot of signs of offer for Halong Bay tours in Hanoi that were a lot cheaper than the tours we saw on the internet. If you first check the tours online, you can always go to the tour angencies and see if they offer the same tour for a better price. We also read that the prices are negotiable at the tour agencies, so be sure to get the best price out of it.
Please always research each tour online before booking it. We read several mentions of scams in Halong Bay.
We were in a dilemma to either go on an overnight tour or a day tour. This merely because we saw cheaper and more comfortable day tours than overnight tours. However, many people recommended us to really go for an overnight stay. So we did. We loved spending the night on one of the islands (you can also decide on sleeping on a boat), and we already saw so much beauty of Halong Bay in one day. However, the reason why it’s recommended to go on an overnight tour is because you’ll spent so much time traveling from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back.
We read a lot of positive stories about the Alova Cruises one day tour. The price for the tour is 60 USD per person (the price can change depending on the season) and this includes transfer from the hotel, entrance tickets to sites, water, lunch and an English speaking guide. For 5 USD extra you can go kayaking or bamboo boat rowing.
If you have the budget and time we would definitely recommend to go for at least one night. Like we said before, this is mostly because it would otherwise be a day full of travel to Halong Bay and back. An overnight tour just gives you more time to appreciate Halong Bay without being hasty.
One night versus multiple nights
For us personally one night was enough. It really depends on multiple factors. How much you want to see, how comfortable your tour is (or how much you can handle without comfort) and how much money you have to spent.
With two nights there is of course more possibilities in your itinerary. Think of kayaking, hiking on one of the islands, go cave exploring, sleeping on a boat and sleeping on a island. As we did one night we only experienced sleeping on an island, although we have slept on a boat before elsewhere.
For overnight tours we read positive experiences about Flamingo Cruise, Bhaya Cruises, Oriental Sails and Legend Halong Cruises. These tours all offer one or more night packages with prices ranging from 120 USD per person to 425 USD per person.
There are a lot of tours to pick from and it’s important to choose the one that has the best value for money. Of course if you’re on a very tight budget, you can decide to go on a ultra-budget tour. However, don’t expect the best tour guides and on-board safety here. We read that it’s best to go for a midrange budget tour in Halong Bay. As there is a lot of competition amongst the tour operators, most of the tours offer a lot of fun activities in their itinerary, such as kayaking, hikes and bus transfers.
Prices for midrange budget cruises are between 90 USD and 150 USD per person for overnight trips. The prices can differentiate with each season. As we said before, it might be cheaper to book a tour in Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam than online. We do recommend to research the tours up front.
Midrange budget tours in Halong Bay are mostly with basic but tasty food, most likely on a crowded, not spectacular boat. Just don’t expect anything fancy. However, your itinerary should include fun activities such as kayaking and hiking. As for sleeping arrangements, this could be either on the boat or on an island.
There is quite the difference in quality when you pay a lot more from what we have read from fellow travelers. On a luxury tour boat you can expect great food, a lot more privacy on deck (or even your whole own boat if you really have the cash) and of course your boat will be fancy too. The more you pay, the fancier.
The number one recommended tour on TripAdvisor is Indochina Junk. They have five types of luxury boats, and each boat has a number of staff from different parts in Vietnam. We also liked the fact that they are responsible in their tours around Halong Bay.
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We hope this article helps you find the best experience in Halong Bay! Scroll down for a few more photos of Halong Bay.
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