Emerald waters and thousands of water-eroded grottoes rising from the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay has been the signature of Vietnam. So how to experience the most out of this UNESCO World Heritage, dive on to this guide.
If you want to travel to Quang Ninh province, and Halong Bay in particular, you may have a lot of question: How to get to Halong ? Best time to visit Halong? What to see, eat, discover in Halong? What are the hotels with best value for money in Halong? We have searched through multiple sources for a guide to Visiting Halong Bay for the first time for you.
- 1 How to get to Ha Long?
- 2 What to see in Ha Long?
- 3 Specialties in Ha Long Bay
- 4 Must-try experiences in Ha Long
- 5 Where to stay in Ha Long?
How to get to Ha Long?
It is 180 km from Hanoi capital to Ha Long, with quite good road condition. You can choose among 4 most popular ways to here:
+ Train: At present, the Halong Express tourist train from Gia Lam station been With the price of about 5 USD/way for Vietnamese tourists and 15 USD / way for foreign visitors, this train will take you to Ha Long with travel time of about 5 hours.
+ Coach: Currently, in all bus stations in Hanoi such as My Dinh, Nuoc Ngam, Giap Bat, etc., there are passenger buses to Ha Long. The ticket price for seats is VND 100,000 and for the sleeping seat is VND 200,000. It may take about 3 hours.
+ Private shuttle bus: This can be easily booked via the website or a local travel agency. Service provides will be willing to offer free pick-up at your place. Most of the drivers have a sufficient command of English, and Wi-Fi access and phone charger plugs are available in the bus as well.
+ Motorbike: If you choose to ride a motorbike on your own, the shortest way from Hanoi to Halong will be 155 km long and take about 3 hours.
What to see in Ha Long?
Nature-blessed bays, islands, beaches
Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay consists of hundreds of islands diverse in shapes and sizes, many of which have local people residing on. This bay can be comparable to Halong Bay due to its marine ecotourism attractions like beaches and caves …. This is also home to Bai Tu Long National Park, well-known for its of biodiversity of flora and fauna.
Lan Ha Bay
Located in the south of Ha Long Bay with more than 400 towering islands of numerous shapes and sizes topped by rainforests. With cool climate all year round, this place has been dubbed the “secret paradise” as its beauty can be comparable to Halong Bay, yet tourism has not reached here much
Soi Sim Island
Soi Sim has an area of about 8.7ha located west of Ha Long Bay. On the island is a primary forest with a variety of plants, especially the “sim” tree – that the island takes it name from. In addition to biodiversity, the Soi Sim beach also attract a lot of tourists for its sandy beaches and turquoise clear water.
Tuan Chau Island
Tuan Chau island is considered the most beautiful among nearly 2,000 islands in Halong Bay. It is among the main tourist draw and quite developed in tourism. Coming here, you can have a wide range of services and amenities to choose from.
Bai Chay Beach
Located along the coast of Ha Long Bay, Bai Chay beach is the largest in Halong city, stretching over 1000m long and 100m wide. With it long coastline, white sand, clear water and endless stretch of palm trees, this is a vibrant summer retreat place.
Co to archipelago
About 1.5-hour speed boat ride from the shore, Co To archipelago often bewitches its visitors by its picturesque and pristine nature. Its natural scenery has been the source of inspiration for many poets and musicians.
For adventure seekers, snorkeling to discover the colorful coral reefs or riding a motorbike around the big Co To island will be the best way to explore this island. Travel in rugged roads with trees on both sides or rice paddy field scattered with buffaloes will set your mind at peace. Also, seafood here is incredible and as fresh as it can be.
Dragon Eye Island (Bai Dong Island)
Located to the further south, Bai Dong is an island adjacent to Bai Tu Long Bay. Once you reach the island you will feel the smoothness of sand running through your feet and fresh cool sea water. Especially, the island got it name from the secret circular beach in the middle of the mountain. If you want an excluded, private space, Bai Dong is a good choice.
Quan Lan Island
About 45-minute speed boat ride from the port and 55 km from Halong city, Quan Lan attracts tourists by famous for unspoiled natural scenery, tranquility, white sand dunes and clear sea water, and cultural, historical relics as well.
Cat Ba island
Enchanting tourists from its beaches, limestone cliffs and mountains, Cat Ba island is also famous as a global biosphere reserve recognized by UNESCO. This place has numerous adventurous choices such as rock climbing in Hon Chong, trekking in Cat Ba National Park, cliff climbing,…
Ba Trai Dao beach (Beaches around 3 peach-shaped mountains)
22 km southeast of Bay Chay beach lie these clean and sandy crescent beaches around peach-shaped limestone mountains. Due to these mountains, the beaches are much safer, calmer and shallower than others in Halong Bay. You should wisely choose the time to visit here as Ba Trai Dao beach is only available for only 2 to 3 hours a day until the high tide submerge the entire sandy area.
Ti Top Island
Located at the prime location – center of Halong Bay, Ti Top Mountain has about 400 steps leading from the ground beach level to the top. This is where visitors can admire the panoramic beauty of Halong Bay at different heights. Therefore,
Although a lot of cruises anchor here, Ti Top Mountain is still considered a quiet destination that offers wonderful bay view.
Magnificent caves and grottoes in Halong Bay
Sung Sot Cave (Cave of amazement)
Considered one of legendary must-go destination, Sung Sot cave is the most famous one in Halong Bay. You can experience a splendid karst landscape with its 100 stone steps to different spaces of geological wonder in surreal colors. Venturing to the deepest end of the cave, you will reach the “royal garden”, where you can a clear lake with rich flora and fauna surrounding.
Dau Go cave
This cave is considered the largest limestone cave in Ha Long, with a width of 12m and cave entrance height of about 17m. The age of this cave is estimated to be nearly 2 million years old. As soon as you set foot in the cave, you will see the colorful sparkling light reflected from the stalactites.
Hang Trong and Trinh Nu Cave (Man and Woman cave)
Located on two wings of a small mountain east of the Bo Hon island range, about 3km southeast from the Sung Sot cave, the two caves are separated by a small water area of 700-800m. The two caves get its name from it shape: each one has stones that shape like a lying women and the other has a stalactite that looks like a giant man.
Ha Long possesses a huge cave system, each cave has its own beauty and stories associated with it. One of the typical caves is Luon Cave on Bo Hon Island, 14 km from Bai Chay. You can see the stalactites created for millions of years with different shapes and sizes.
Thien Canh Son Cave (Mountain cave with unearthly scenery)
Thien Canh Son is a rather unspoiled cave located on Bai Tu Long Bay and Halong Bay in the Cong Do Conservation Area. This is also an interesting destination for Vietnamese and international tourists thanks to its natural beauty, pristine limestone stalactites and surrounding landscapes.
Thien Cung cave (Heaven Palace cave)
This cave is located right near Dau Go cave, yet its entrance is much higher, at 25m. This is one of the most beautiful caves in Halong known to us until the present with a width of nearly 10,000m2, a very complex structure, including many levels, many compartments with very high and wide ceilings and walls. Standing inside the cave, you will be overwhelmed by countless emulsions, stalagmites with strange shapes.
Kim Quy cave (Golden Turtle cave)
The cave is over 100m long, running in the North-South direction. The front of the cave faces Dam Bac island and its end faces Soi Sim island. The stalactites in Kim Quy cave all have water running through, hence the falling shape is the common one here. The mysterious lighting even make the scenery more fanciful.
Picturesque coastal villages
Cua Van fishing village
Cua Van is one of the most famous fishing villages in the region. Located in a calm, warm water area, with a little bit of muddy sea bottom, Cua Van has advantageous condition for raising ocean products, particular the oysters that make pearls. The population is up to 733 people over 176 households.
The attraction of this village is from the connection between small house. They are tied together to get through the storms. Coming here, tourists can discover the life of a fisherman while observing the beauty of the ocean right below the boat. It will be a precious and unforgettable travel experience.
Vung Vieng fishing village
Belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay beach, Vung Vieng fishing village is smaller than Cua Van. This village has been following the responsible trend, with fewer families living on water accountable for tourism and environment protection activities.
Ba Hang fishing village
A lesser-touched fishing village is Ba Hang (Three caves) fishing village. As the village is situated near Dau Go islands, Thien Cung cave – the two famous places, visitors to Ba Hang village can experience the life of fishermen and see the idyllic beauty of mountains, water at the same time.
Ha Long from above
Bai Tho Mountain (The Poem Mountain)
Located right in the center of Halong city at the height of 200 meters, Bai Tho Mountain is where you can have broad overview of Halong. On the way up the mountain, you may see a herd of free-range goats or birds fluttering down the Bay, so remember to bring a camera with a full battery to capture all those moments.
Note: It’s quite difficult to find the road to Bai Tho Mountain. My suggestion is go straight to Le Thanh Tong, turn to Hang Pot Street, find Nam Phong cafe and ask people to get the most accurate instructions.
Sun Wheel Halong and The Queen Cable car
The Queen Cable car connects Bai Chay beach to the top of Ba Deo hill is the only way to reach Sun World amusement park. The cable car has been recognized by Guinness Record to have the highest passenger capacity in a cabin (230 passengers) and the tallest cable car tower (188,88 meters). From this height, visitors can admire the beauty of the whole wonder of nature – Ha Long Bay.
Once inside the amusement park, you can also get a panoramic view of Halong from Sun Wheel, and join a whole lot of activities in this over-2-million-square-meter park
Watch Halong Bay from seaplane
This is the scenic flight to truly appreciate Halong Bay’s magnificent seascape. You will have a bird’s eye view of this whole UNESCO-listed destination from 150 to 3000 meters above sea level. Read on this specific review about Halong seaplane or visit the website seaplanes.vn to find out more details.
Spiritual tourist sites
Yen Tu complex
Yen Tu monuments (Photo: ST)
Yen Tu is one of the most famous pagodas in the North of Vietnam for its ancient temples, pagodas, towers and forests blended perfectly with natural landscapes. Yen Tu is famous for its beautiful natural landscape and cultural heritage, called the ancestral land of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism in Vietnam.
Cai Bau Pagoda
Cai Bau Pagoda (also known as Truc Lam Giac Tam Meditation Center) was opened 2009 near Bai Dai – Van Don Tourist Area. The atmosphere here is serene and sacred with temple bell ringing in the distance
Specialties in Ha Long Bay
Sa sung (peanut worm – a sea creature)
Van Don is famous for having the best quality and largest peanut worms – those that live in the sandy beaches here. The locals have various ways of cooking this specialty: stir-fried peanut worms, sweet and sour peanut worms, peanut worms with kohrabi, with chilli,… If you have a chance to come here, don’t forget to buy some peanuts home as gifts.
Price: from 400,000 VND to 1 million VND
Be be noodle (Shrimp noodle)
Be be, a kind of purplish sea shrimp, is abundant in the coastal areas in Quang Ninh province. It has a delicious, sweet taste and nutritious properties that exceed shrimps of the same size. For that reason, be be is usually a essential ingredient of broth for “bun hai san” (seafood noodle). Try once and you will return.
Ca say Tien Yen
Ca say is a bred species between duck and geese that has long been domesticated by locals in Tien Yen. Ca say is much more fragrant and tastier than other poultry. The best way to eat this is raw boiled “ca say” with fish sauce from such brands as Cai Rong, Van Yen, Cat Hai, with minced or thinly-sliced ginger.
Ngan has an outer appearance similar to that of a clam, but it has blacker shell, thicker body body, and waved structure. They live in the mud on the island edge. For the raw ngan, first you should wash mud their shell, then let them sit in a pot for 2-3 hours to release all the dirt. When it comes to cooking, ngan can be boiled, grilled, cooked with spinach or other veggies or simmer with porridge. Especially, the ngan alcohol is also a specialty of Quang Ninh only, which makes it even more special as a gift home.
Xoi trang cha muc (Sticky rice and chopped squid paste)
Xoi, the dish cooled from young glutinous rice, eat with fried chopped squid paste and fish sauce with pepper is the ultimate combination. Each portion of this dish might cost from 15,000 to 25,000 VND. In addition, you can buy chopped grilled squid paste only at the price of about 250,000 VND/ kg.
Chopped squid paste with steamed rice cake
The steamed rice cake with meat and mushroom toppings and fish sauce has been a signature dish in Vietnam. Added the squid paste, the dish is even much better.
In Ha Long, the best dish can be found in the street next to Bach Dang theater with similar price to white sticky rice and squid paste.
Banh gat gu (nodding cake)
This dish making is rather the same with steamed rice cake, but the difference lies in the special dipping sauce – and its stewed marinated meat. It originates from Tien Yen, and has spread to every place in Quang Ninh province.
Seafood noodles are best suited for your breakfast when in Quang Ninh. A full bowl of seafood vermicelli costs about VND 40,000 with shrimps, crabs (or tickles), be be, fish paste, vegetables. This dish is better served with raw vegetables, which will harmonize the sweetness of the broth with the refreshing taste of raw vegetables.
Sam (Horseshoe crab)
Sam can be cooked into a variety of delicious dishes such as sweet and sour stir-frying, paste, fried with eggs,… Overall, horseshoe crab has a cold nature, you should eat less or trying eat it with ginger or hot spices alike. One of the most famous place to enjoy this specialty is Sam Mrs Ty, 06 Cao Thang street.
Oyster porridge is a very popular light meal choice in Ha Long. This dish is often served with scallions, chopped scent, dried onions an youtiao.
- Place to eat: Ha Long market 1
- Price: 15,000 – 20,000 VND/bowl (0.6-0.8 USD)
Fried snail with sauces and herbs
This dish has been a main draw of local to any seafood vendor – with a wide range of tastes from soy sauce, tamarind sauce with coconut and lemongrass. Many snails you may have not known their names. The most famous snail shop is Oc Van Lang, this street food counter provide very delicious snails, yet the price is quite high compared to common ones. Price: from VND 35,000 / dish.
Must-try experiences in Ha Long
Play adventure games at Dragon Park
The adventurous games here are really extremely challenging for even the bravest heart,, however, the feeling of participating in games here, shouting loud and overcoming your fears is also an exhilarating experience.
Kayaking is very popular among foreign tourists and local alike. The feeling of sitting on a tiny kayak and rowing the oars on the emerald blue water of Halong bay, watching the magnificent mountains and rivers is incomparable.
Climb limestone mountain
In addition to kayaking, Ha Long Bay with diverse and dangerous terrain includes many islands and mountains is also a challenge for tourists who love climbing. For those who love mountain climbing, thorny rocky outcrops, majestic curves of mountains, cliffs, caves in Halong Bay will not disappoint you.
Where to stay in Ha Long?
- Location: Tuan Chau Island, Ha Long City
This is a popular form of relaxation in Halong bay, in which visitors will experience resting on luxury yachts, floating on the ocean between mountains and caves while still experience some authentic experience of getting in touch with the local life. The services here are just like any other 4*, 5* hotel, the cruises are equipped with a full range of services from restaurants, bars to karaoke rooms,…
Wyndham Legend Halong
- Address: 12 Ha Long street, Bai Chay, TP. Ha Long
- Standard: 5 stars
Wyndham Legend Halong Hotel is located on the beach road at Bai Chay with views over Halong Bay and Bai Chay Bridge, creating convenience for moving to tourist destinations, entertainment parks and city center. The rooms here are spacious, equipped with modern facilities. High-class services will bring satisfaction to you whether on your vacation or business trip.
Coming to Ha Long, you will not want to miss experiencing one of the highest roller coasters in the world. If you stay at Wyndham Legend Halong, it only takes a few minutes to walk from the hotel to Sun World Ha Long amusement park and the Queen’s cable car station, from here you can experience the “double-decker” cable car while admiring Halong Bay through the cable car window.
Starcity Halong Bay Hotel
- Address: Ha Long Road, Bai Chay, Ha Long City
- Standard: 4 stars
Starcity Halong Bay Hotel is a massive high-rise building with a total of 152 spacious rooms. The bedrooms here have beautiful furniture, full of appliances, equipment to help every customer stay comfortable, modern and most comfortable. In addition, Starcity Halong Bay Hotel is full of functional rooms such as conference, meeting room, smoking room … , and excellent services with professional staff competent in English and Chinese
Condotel Ha Long
- Address: T1-T2, Greenbay Tower, Hoang Quoc Viet, Hung Thang, Ha Long
- Standard: 4 stars
The Condotel Halong is located in the center of Ha Long city, very close to Marine Plaza. This is the first hotel apartment in Ha Long with 20 apartments, a half with seaview and half with mountain view. In an area of 68m2 to 76m2, each condotel includes 02 bedrooms, 1 living room, 1 kitchen, 2 bathrooms equipped with new luxurious furniture, free wifi and additional service system like swimming pool, gym room, car park… This will be suitable place if you go with your family or friends.