What do you imagine when you think of Vietnam? I’m going to take a wild guess that Halong Bay comes to mind. Magical Halong Bay was high on my list of places to visit when I visited Vietnam and it didn’t disappoint.
One of the most magnificent sights in Vietnam, and possibly the world, UNESCO World Heritage site Halong Bay should absolutely be visited if you get the chance. When we visited it was overcast and grey, but the area was still stunning. However, I can easily imagine how amazing it would be on a clear day.
|Residents of a Halong Bay floating village, Vietnam|
Place of legends
Halong Bay is not only incredibly beautiful, it is a place steeped in mystery and romance. According to local legend the area was home to dragons sent by the gods to defend Vietnam against invaders. The dragons spat out jewels which became the islands in the bay. Halong Bay is the site of the dragons' descent, hence the spectacular scenery. Different areas are associated with different dragons. It only takes a little imagination!
|Junk at Halong Bay, Vietnam|
Pretty much the only way to explore Halong Bay is by boat and with traditional junks available to cruise the bay that is not a hardship! The elegant old boats
Cruise slowly around the outcrops past old floating villages, where you can hire kayaks to explore independently or a local will show you around in a teeny tiny (and very wobbly) rowboat.
|Exploring Halong Bay in a rowing boat, Vietnam|
You can also visit cave systems, of which there are several. These are often enormous inside and involve a fair bit of walking to explore properly. Weirdly, the cave we visited, Dong Thien Cung, was a bit psychadelic inside; there were so many different colours illuminating the cave. It also had plastic waste bins throughout shaped like penguins, which seemed a little out of place in the 38+ degrees heat.
|Inside Dong Thien Cung Cave, Halong Bay, Vietnam|
There are several adventures to be had in Halong Bay, but to be honest the scenery is that spectacular that even just sitting on deck and admiring the view is pretty awesome. As you cruise around you can see how locals live their lives, watch other boats and simply enjoy the peace as distant rocky outcrops fade in and out of view.
|Cruising Halong Bay, Vietnam|
Overnight cruises make the most of the bay and provide the best opportunities for impressive sunset and sunrise photos. For those who don’t wish to overnight on a boat, nearby Cat Ba Island provides several accommodation options too.
|The design on a 200,000 VND note in front of the inspiration for the drawing, Vietnam|
Halong Bay’s landscape combined with the local stories is awe-inspiring. It should definitely be somewhere every traveller visiting Vietnam makes the effort to visit.
Halong Bay is around three hours drive east of Hanoi and it is very easy to organise a tour as just about all tour operators run trips to Halong Bay and back. I'd recommend visiting as part of a tour because the harbour in Halong Bay is chaotic at best with limited English spoken. Hopefully, you will also learn a lot more about the area if you go with a guide.
When will you go to Halong Bay?