A 2018 Travel Guide to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam | Smarter Travel

Local Legend tells of how Ha Long bay came to be.  

"The Vietnamese people were constantly at war so the Gods sent down a Mother Dragon and her children to help turn the tide and protect the Vietnamese people.

As the Dragons flew low to the earth they carved deep valleys and etched out gorges with their massive tails. As the rains came and the oceans began to rise the gorges and valleys filled with water leaving huge limestone Karsts as a reminder of the land that once was."

Sunrise in Ha Long Bay is cleansing for the soul.

Sunrise in Ha Long Bay is cleansing for the soul.

Ha Long Bay is easily the most visited destination on the Vietnam tourist circuit. Once you travel to this incredible destination it is easy to see why. There is no were else in the world quite like Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site that needs to be seen to be believed.

With stunning limestone Karsts covered in dense jungle and surrounded by deep blue oceans it makes sense that Ha Long Bay has been named one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World.'

We will assume that you are definitely going to book your trip to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (makes sense right... you are reading a travel guide to Ha Long Bay). Now for the tricky part; 'How do I make the most of this incredible place.'

A 2018 Travel Guide to Ha Long Bay.

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A Brief History of Ha Long Bay

Today Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular travel destinations in Vietnam & a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ha Long Bay is part of a greater area containing similar bays like, Bai Tu Long Bay & Cat Ba Island. Research suggests that ha Long Bay has been a significant destination for much longer than we once thought.

Historical research surveys have shown the presence of pre-historic human beings in the area as early as 18,000 BC. That's 20,000 years ago! Artefacts suggest that the area has been considered a sacred place ever since it was first discovered.

Humans have always found a certain fascination with the incredible limestone Karsts of Ha Long Bay. Karsts that began forming over 20 million years ago.

Oh Ha Long bay! Take us back!

Oh Ha Long bay! Take us back!

Why Go to Ha Long Bay?

Why Not?

Yeah fair enough that isn't really an explanation as to why you should visit. The landscape is stunning no matter what time of year you choose to go. There is simply no where quite as breathtaking as Ha Long Bay. There is a reason why it is the number one destination for tourists visiting Vietnam.

The local culture is like no other. Entire communities actually live on the water, their houses are constructed on top of pontoons and each day they live by fishing, trading and exchanging resources.

The Hikes and bike tours will take you through amazing dense jungle and lead you to hidden viewpoints that will invigorate your soul. Sleeping on the boat and waking to the famous Ha Long sunrise is like nothing else you will experience. 

Ha Long Bay will give you a sense of peace and allow you to truly be present.

You also get to go squid fishing and wake up to Tai Chi! Bonus!

Found this little fella on Cat Ba.

Found this little fella on Cat Ba.

How To See Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is an ocean based adventure. The best way to enjoy this incredible place is on a boat surrounded by Limestone Karsts as you sleep under the stars awaiting a famous Ha Long Bay Sunrise. Get yourself ready for a boat tour.

Do it Yourself Option:
You have a few options when visiting Ha Long Bay. One of which is to just, 'figure it out yourself.' Making your way to Ha Long Bay by yourself and then attempting to jump on a cheap boat tour is not the best plan of attack. It has worked for some but in most cases it ends up being more expensive and leaves you with a pretty sh*t experience.

Trying to plan the tour yourself will be stressful if you do not speak Vietnamese. You will end up spending more money trying to link everything up & you will be thrown on a tour with huge groups that have probably just booked through a travel agent.

Legit! The whole place goes pink at sunrise & sunset.

Legit! The whole place goes pink at sunrise & sunset.

Book a Tour:
We recommend booking a tour ahead of time and spending a little bit extra to ensure that your experience is everything you want it to be. Cheap tours are appealing but they are often cheap for a reason.

The last thing you want is to book onto a boat tour for 2 nights only to be told 30 minutes into the trip that they don't serve food and your room has been double booked. The best place to book your tour is through your Hostel/Hotel in Hanoi.

If you are booking from another town, Hostels/Hotels are still the most reliable option. We booked all our tours through Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel. The staff at this Hostel are the best we dealt with in Vietnam, they really go out of their way to ensure you have the best journey possible to suit your budget.

Most tour companies will offer one and two night packages and two nights is probably the most you will need if you are after 'just a taste.' However, if you want to truly explore the bays their are options for longer cruises/ boat tours.


When to Visit

If you want to see Ha Long bay at it's finest then March - June is the window to aim for with April being the sunniest month of the season. For those wanting to avoid the main tourist season try June - September, just prepare yourself for a potential thunderstorm.

You can actually visit Ha long Bay year round but if you want to avoid the colder months then don't book your trip between November - March. Although these times are colder the weather is dryer so your chances of encountering rain are far lower.


Must Visit Spots & Must do's While on Your Tour

When looking to book the right tour it is important to find out where your tour will take you and what activities you will be doing. Try and find a tour that includes all or most of these options:

-Go Kayaking through the limestone Caves.
A huge number of the towering Limestone Karsts actually have hollow sections inside. This gives you the chance to kayak through some of these Karsts as you find yourself in remote bays hidden from the world.

-Sleep on the Boat Over night.
Don't book a One Day Tour, it will be a waste of money & you won't really get to see the best Ha Long Bay has to offer.

-Visit the floating villages.
Explore the incredible floating towns of Ha Long Bay, it is a one of a kind travel experience.

-Practice Tai Chi on the boat deck.
Such a relaxing way to see in the day.

-Go Cycling on Cat Ba Island.
We had such a blast cycling around Cat Ba island, it reminded us of scenes from Jurrasic Park with so many lush greens and towering limestone hills. Explore the local villages, talk and laugh with the locals as you try to understand each other.

Jurrassic Park aka Cat Ba.

Jurrassic Park aka Cat Ba.

-Check out the beautiful beaches on Lan Ha Island.

-Scuba Diving.
You may need to book a specialist tour if you want to include some Scuba on your itinerary.

-Go Climbing or Visit a Cave.
There are plenty of spots to climb in Ha Long Bay with differing levels of intensity. If you love rock climbing their are now Sport climbing routes in the area (this may have to be a specialist tour) or if you prefer hiking then book a tour that includes a hike and cave visit (Sung Sot Cave & Thien Cung Cave are two popular caves in the area).

See Also - Old Quarter Hanoi | 8 Things to do in a Day


A trip to Ha Long Bay will leave you wanting more, you can experience a lot during a 3 day tour but you will still only scratch the surface of what can be found in this 1,553 kmΒ² area. Mother Nature really turns it on as you witness and explore some of the most incredible landscapes on earth.

Explore, Enjoy, Be Present but remember to conserve. Keep this incredible Heritage Site clean, green and available for future generations to enjoy.

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Paulo & Jacques