Halong Bay – or Along Bay – is one of the wonders of Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. With its unspoilt marine panorama and almost 2,000 islands, Halong Bay offers breathtaking scenery!
How do I visit Halong Bay? When is the best time to go? And how can you avoid the crowds of tourists? Here’s a practical guide to help you plan your visit.
What is Halong Bay? Why is it so well known?
Halong Bay is a vast collection of 1969 islands and islets. Most of these islands are of an abrupt nature, making them uninhabitable and unaffected by human presence. It’s a remarkably well-preserved natural area, with landscapes unique in the world, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and considered one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The legend of Halong Bay
Legend has it that Vietnam was attacked by an enemy country. The Jade Emperor, considered the god of gods in Vietnamese mythology, sent a mother dragon and her babies to defend the Vietnamese against the invaders. The dragons then spat jewels and jewels into Halong Bay, which turned into islets to destroy and block the invaders’ ships.
“Ha Long” means “descent of the dragon”, the place where the dragon descends from the sky into the sea.
How to visit Halong Bay
Halong Bay lies 170 km northeast of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It extends over 1,500 km2 and includes some 2,000 islets.
To visit the bay, you’ll need to go to the Bai Chay coastline, or to Cat Ba Island to embark on a cruise. Unfortunately, the numerous constructions in Bai Chay make this area rather unpleasant and contrast with the beauty of Halong Bay. If you can, you’re better off departing from Cat Ba, where the coastline is a little more unspoilt.
There are many ways to visit, from a cruise of a few hours to several days. It all depends on the time you have, your budget and how you want to explore the bay.
I recommend that you spend at least 2 days – 1 night on the bay, and ideally 3 days – 2 nights, to have enough time to really enjoy it and take in the atmosphere, which changes according to the time of day. If you take your time, you can also enjoy activities such as kayaking to discover places inaccessible by boat, or fishing.
When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?
There are only 80 days of sunshine a year in the bay, so it’s important to target the periods that offer maximum sunshine:
- The best time to visit Halong Bay is autumn, between September and November. Rain is rare and temperatures around 25 degrees.
- The period from April to June is also recommended. It can be very hot, but the sun is out and it’s easy to go swimming.
- January, February and March are months with cooler temperatures and cloudier skies. If you go at this time of year, you’ll need to pack warmer clothes.
- Finally, July and August are months to be avoided, as this is the start of the rainy season, when storms are not uncommon.
Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay?
Lan Ha Bay lies just south of Halong Bay, to the east of Cat Ba Island. The landscape is similar to that of Halong, but the islets are a little shorter and have 139 beaches – often deserted – whereas Halong has very few beaches.
The other major difference is that Lan Ha is much less touristy. In Halong, 1,000 boats ply the bay, while in Lan Ha there are only a hundred or so. Visiting Lan Ha means escaping the mass of tourists (at night, some areas of Halong Bay can turn into nightclubs with the accumulation of cruise ships) and feeling almost alone in the world.
I therefore recommend a visit to Lan Ha Bay for a much more authentic experience.
Book a cruise on Lan Ha Bay
There are many cruise operators offering excursions. During my trip, I took a cruise with Parfum d’Automne, a travel agency offering stays on Lan Ha Bay aboard traditional junks.
The big plus of this agency is that its boats are among the ten or so that have the right to anchor in the bay overnight, so you feel as if you’re sleeping cut off from the world. It’s magical to watch night fall over the bay and the sun rise in the morning!
If you can, book a cruise on their “Four Seasons” or “Romance” Jonques, which have only 4 and 3 cabins respectively, allowing you to travel in small groups and enjoy even more the feeling of a private cruise. Each cabin is equipped with a private bed, shower and toilet, making it very comfortable, and the meals on board are excellent.
Depending on the length of your cruise, you can go kayaking, squid fishing, take a bike ride in Viet Hai between the jungle and the mountains, or ride along a fishing village.
In addition, Parfum d’Automne now offers stays for vegans with 100% vegan meals on board.
You now have all the information you need to plan your stay in Halong Bay. Enjoy your trip!