Ha Long Bay features a wonderful network of 3,000 islands displaying towering limestone pillars, emerald waters and evergreen forests. It also has a surprising selection wildlife living in the bay, including elegant eagles and monkeys swinging around in the forests. It’s no wonder Ha Long Bay is a hot spot for tourists.
Hạ Long Bay has a legend that influenced the names of the islands. The legend states that the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending to earth to help the Vietnamese people defend their country against the fierce Northern invaders. With the dragon’s fire they won the battle. This influenced the names of the areas, “Ha Long” or “Halong” where the Mother Dragon descended and her children also had an area named after them “Bai Tu Long”, which means, “Thanks to the Dragon’s children”.
What’s the best way to do Ha Long Bay and should I book in advance?
There are a couple of options for Ha Long Bay; you can do either a day trip or an overnight stay which are generally two days and one night or three days and two nights. There are other longer trip options if you really love the islands.
We chose the two days and one night with Golden Lotus, I read a couple of blogs that mentioned the company and the reviews and price met what we needed. I booked this about three weeks in advance. I am glad I did, we met a lot of people who rocked up in Hanoi trying to book a trip in a day or two days time and struggled to find any availability on the cruises. Other people that booked last minute ended up being charged 75% more than we paid. My suggestion is to book in advance if you can, especially if you are on a budget.
What time of year should I go?
We were advised by our tour guide that about 50% of tours get cancelled during monsoon season. Monsoon season is between June to August and the best time to go is from September to May, depending on how much heat you can handle as it can get up to 40 degrees in Vietnam.
Cruise suggestions and cost
Cruise in Ha Long Bay vary in price, tours start from $60 to $480 USD per night. A decent cruise will cost you between $100 to $130 USD. Paying more doesn’t mean that you will avoid the overcrowded areas if you are looking for less touristy spots head to Lan Ha Bay near Cat Ba island.
There are lots of companies that you choose from, here are a couple of recommendations:
- Golden Lotus – who we travelled, the price for the classic cruise two days and one night is $100 USD each
- Castaway – this is aimed at being a party boat, a two day and one night cruise is $125 USD each
- Vega Travel – you will need to inquire a price range with the company
What was included in our Ha Long Bay tour?
Our tour with Golden Lotus included:
- Transfers to and from the hostel – pick up around 8am to 9am, drop off after 5.30pm
- Two lunches, one dinner and one breakfast – they did accommodate vegetarians but it wasn’t the most delicious food (boiled vegetables etc)
- Three excursions (Hang Sung Sot Cave, Dao Ti Top and bamboo boats).
The excursions in Halong Bay
The companies change the order around depending on how they feel. There are three activities for the two-day tour; Hang Sung Sot Cave, Dao Ti Top and bamboo boats through another cave. Be prepared for lots of tourists and boats, there are lines for everything!
Hang Sung Sot Cave
Hang Sung Sot Cave was discovered by three French ladies in 1901 and first listed as a natural heritage site in 1994 by UNESCO. The cave has three chambers and is 800m long, it was full of tourist and very hard to get photos.
Dao Ti Top
This island is great for panoramic views of Ha Long Bay, just a short hike to the top of the mountain with 300 stairs. The island also has a man-made beach for swimming, although looking at the water around us I wasn’t sure that it was very clean to swim in.
When we arrived in Vietnam we found out from other travellers that kayaking was banned by the government and replaced with Bamboo Boats in most of the bay. If you are set on kayaking you will need to do a two-night tour with a stop at Cat Ba island, currently, the only place offering it in Ha Long Bay.
The bamboo boats were my least favourite thing to do in Vietnam, not only was it overcrowded but there were tourists trying to be ‘macho’ by throwing bananas to the bank for the monkeys whilst everyone expressed their disappointment or satisfaction whether the banana made it. This added more pollution to the already heavily polluted Ha Long Bay. The monkeys were happily ignoring the whole situation and continued swinging and climbing around on the rocks.
Is Ha Long Bay on your bucket list? What are you looking forward to in Vietnam?