Halong Bay best things to do & travel guide

Halong Bay is one of the most famous places in Vietnam and consists of a series of impressive limestone islands that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are around 2000 islands in the bay and many of them are with beautiful lush vegetation, making them ideal for walking. Many of the islands are also the home of caves. The best thing to do in Halong Bay is taking a cruise, where you can see these islands up close and take trips to caves and floating villages.

5 reasons to visit Halong Bay

  1. Take a fantastic cruise through the beautiful landscape.
  2. Do an adventurous activity such as kayaking or rock climbing.
  3. View the local life in the floating villages.
  4. Explore different islands with viewpoints and caves.
  5. Be romantic with a luxury cruise, spa and dining in a cave

What is in this Halong Bay travel guide

Book your local Halong Bay experience

Practical information

Recommended days to stay

There are day tours from Hanoi that give you a good impression of the bay, but if you have time try to stay at least 1 night here. Keep in mind that the travel time between Hanoi and Halong is already 3 hours.

ATM's & money exchange

There are ATMs In Halong City and Cat Ba Island. You can pay by credit card on almost every cruise.

Best time to visit

  • The best travel time for Halong Bay is spring (March, April) and fall (September, October). The weather is cool and you enjoy the best time of the year.
  • The summer time lasts from May to early September, when the bay is sunny and warm to swim under a clear blue sky. In some days there will be light rain and even an unexpected typhoon that could cancel your cruise.
  • The winter in Halong Bay lasts from November to March, leading to cold weather, especially in January and February; not ideal for swimming. The foggy days and the strong monsoon are also present during this period.

10 best things to do in Halong Bay

The thousands of islands and floating villages already make an unforgettable experience, but there is more to see and do at Halong Bay. Most of these sights are included with the cruise that you book. Therefore, pay attention to which cruise you book. Below you can read the best things to do at Halong Bay.

1. Cruise through Halong Bay

Halong Bay cruise
Halong Bay cruise
The best thing to do in Halong Bay is no surprise; a cruise. There are hundreds of boats, from very small to large, from luxury to cheap and from day boats to multi-day boats. So no matter what kind of traveler you are, there is always a cruise in Halong that suits you. The water in the bay is very calm, so you don’t have to worry about waves and getting seasick. You will also not get bored quickly, because there are many activities available during the boat trip. You can kayak, swim (in the right period), explore caves, visit floating villages and take walks on the larger islands. If you prefer to relax at the end of your active Vietnam vacation, you can simply stay on the cruise to admire the beautiful landscape of uninhabited islands and karstones jutting out of the water.

2. Scenic flight over the bay

scenic flight over Halong Bay
scenic flight over Halong Bay

The coolest way to see how magnificent this UNSECO sight is, is taking a scenic flight in Halong Bay. It is perfect for when you want to see the bay in a short time or when it fits your budget you can also combine it with a cruise.

The flights last 25 minutes and start from the water in Halong Ciy by seaplane. Taking off from the water and landing alone is a great experience, but the real highlight is of course when you fly above the islands and rocks.

It is possible to take pictures during the flight with a camera or mobile, so that you can capture this special experience.

3. Kayaking

kayaking in Halong Bay
kayaking in Halong Bay

From a cruise you can admire the landscape perfectly, but with a kayak you can get to places that boats cannot reach. It is also a wonderful activity on the water, with little current and no waves. For that reason, kayaking is one of the best things to do in Halong Bay.

There are caves that you can paddle through, ending up in a completely hidden part of the bay. You can also visit various beaches with a kayak. Almost all cruise boats, from day trips to multi-day trips, have included this activity in their travel program. If you don’t feel like it or it is raining, you can also choose to skip kayaking.

4. Floating fishing villages

Floating fishing village Halong Bay
Vong Vien Floating fishing village Halong Bay

In Vietnam they love seafood. In order to meet the high demand for these sea delicacies, you will see fishing boats all along the coast. Because the water in Halong Bay is so still, this is also a place where floating fishing villages have sprung up. Here people literally live and work on the water.

Many of the floating platformers are used for fish and shellfish farming. It is a unique experience to visit a floating village where you can see how the people work here and sometimes live for days.

5. Relax on beaches

Halong Bay beach
Halong Bay beach

Despite the fact that Halong Bay consists of hundreds of islands off the coast, it is not a most popular beach destination in Vietnam. This is because many islands do not have a beach and the islands that do have a beach are often small and difficult to access. For this reason they can only be visited on a cruise. This makes a visit to one of the beaches in Halong Bay extra special.

If you would like to visit beaches but do not depend on a cruise, it is best to travel to the island of Cat Ba. On this island you can stay and there are many beaches that you can visit on your own.

6. Explore Cat Ba

Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay and one of the few islands where you can also stay. The island has a beautiful wild national park where you can take walks, spot animals and enjoy beautiful viewpoints in the middle of the jungle.

Other fun activities include cycling or scooter around the island, kayaking or just relaxing on the beach. If you want to see a little more of the bay, you can also take a day tour by boat from Cat Ba.

7. Visit Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay
Lan Ha Bay

Almost everyone knows Halong Bay, but did you know that there are two other bays next to Halong. Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are smaller than Halong Bay, but just as beautiful. But the best thing about these two Halong Bay alternatives is that far fewer boats come here and therefore fewer tourists. So you don’t have to be so afraid that you have to share a beach or cave with many other travelers.

Because both bays are a bit further from Hanoi, you will be on the road longer. Furthermore, you will see similar landscapes and engage in similar activities such as visiting floating fishing villages, exploring caves and kayaking on your own.

8. Caves

Hang Sung Sot Paradise Cave in Halong Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay cave dining

The islands of Halong Bay are made of the same rock as the landscape in Phong Nha, where you will find some of the most impressive and largest caves in the world. So there are also plenty of caves in Halong Bay.

You can actually visit a number of these caves and there is often always one included in every cruise itinerary. Some caves are also beautifully lit with various colors. Another unique experience is dining in a cave.

9. Nice viewpoints

Halong Bay viewpoint
Halong Bay viewpoint

From a boat trip you often have to look up to get a good view of the islands, but the best view is often from above. If you don’t have the time or budget to take a scenic flight, the best alternative is to visit a viewpoint higher up in the bay.

The best viewpoints in Halong Bay are spread out. For example, you have Bai Tho Mountain near Halong City, Ti Top island in the middle of the bay and on the island of Cat Ba you even have several viewpoints that you can visit.

10. Rock climbing

rock climbing in Halong Bay
rock climbing in Halong Bay

If you don’t mind putting in some effort to reach a viewpoint, go rock climbing in Halong Bay. Not only the view from above is worth it, but the entire climb is a great adventure. The rocks in the bay are perfect for climbers and it is possibly one of the best places in the world for climbing. There are also options for deep-water soloing.

Where to stay in Halong Bay

On a cruise

As already mentioned, the best thing to do in Halong Bay is to stay on a cruise. It provides a unique experience and is also a nice change from a stay in a hotel or homestay during the rest of your holiday. You can stay on a cruise in both Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Lan Ha Bay.

Because there is so much to offer you can check our selection of the best cruises in Halong Bay.

Cat Ba Island

There are several islands that offer accommodation in Halong Bay, but Cat Ba is the first choice for most people. Here you have the most options in hotels, hostels and resorts. Another advantage of staying here is that the island is so big that you have plenty of activities. If you still want to take a boat trip, you can also arrange that from here. There are plenty of freshly caught seafood restaurants, pier access, scooter rentals and close to things to do such as Cat Ba National Park.

Tuan Chau Island

Tuan Chau Island is where you will find the harbor from which most boats depart. In addition to the port, there is also a large landscaped area for tourism with hotels, resorts and beaches. However, this island lacks the local atmosphere. The island can be reached from the road.

Halong City

Ha Long City actually consists of two cities, Bai Chay and Hon Gai, which are connected by a bridge. The first is the tourist district of Ha Long City, while the second is more of a local scene.

Food & drinking

When you choose a cruise, all food is always included. Each multi-day boat also has its own restaurant. Drinks are usually not included.

When you stay in Halong City or Cat Ba you will mainly find seafood restaurants, but there are also plenty of other options.

How to get there

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Cruise packages

Most cruise lines include pick-up and drop-off to Hanoi. It is not always included for boats going to Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, but there is always an option to book this. This is because these depart from another port that is further away.

Buses to Halong Bay

There are buses from Hanoi to Halong City, 160 km away and takes about three and a half hours. Buses leave from My Dinh, Gia Lam and Luong Yen bus station and the ride costs between $ 5 and $ 10. Most buses stop at a terminal near the Bai Chay bridge.

Booking a mini bus is more convienent with pick up in the city center. The limousine buses are very comfortable too. Another options is to take a private car.

Flights to Halong Bay

There is a sea plane flying from Hanoi to Tuan Chau Island in Halong Bay, close to Halong City.

How to get around

On Cat Ba island you can rent a scooter or car with a driver to go around and visit places of interest. Another popular way is to go cycling. Many accommodations on the island have a bicycle to borrow for free or else you can always rent one somewhere.

If you want to see more of the bay, you should always take a boat trip.

Itinerary 2 days in Halong Bay

A standard 2 day Halong Bay cruise itinerary looks like this:

Day 1

  • Transportation from Hanoi to Halong Bay
  • Board your cruise and enjoy the views
  • Explore by kayak
  • Go swimming
  • Watch the sunset with a coctail.

Day 2

  • Watch the stunning sunrise.
  • Tai Chi lessons in the early morning
  • Visit a cave
  • Visit a floating fishing village
  • Cooking class
  • Early lunch
  • Transportation back to Hanoi

More tips for traveling in Halong Bay

Halong Bay alternatives

As mentioned before, it is highly recommended to check out the Halong Bay alternatives to avoid mass tourism.

Where to go next?

Because cruises pick up and drop off from Hanoi, this is also the logical next point for most people. From Hanoi you can also reach all parts of North Vietnam by bus, south by train or even further south by domestic flights.

However, from Halong it is also possible to arrange your own transport to Ninh Binh, so that you do not have to travel to Hanoi first.

Halong Bay with kids

If you are traveling through Vietnam with children, Halong Bay is highly recommended. They can swim, kayak and do other activities. It is useful to take a good look at which boat has the best offer in child-friendly activities.

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