Ha Long Bay remains the most visited tourist attraction in Vietnam. This 75-mile-long (120-kilometer) coastline, literally translated as the “Bay of Descending Dragons”, features thousands of limestone monoliths rising from the water, natural stalactite caves, picturesque islands and unique fishing villages to explore. Here is a list of things you can see and do around the bay; however, since this location is an UNESCO protected World Heritage site, it is hard to explore everything by yourself. Instead, you must find a tour with an itinerary that includes everything that strikes your fancy. Some recommendations are mentioned below.
Explore the city.
Ha Long City is not where the fun is at; however, you are in the area, so you might as well explore it. Bai Chay market is a fun option that sells everything from fresh produce to cheap clothing. There are also various restaurants worth eating at, such as Tuan Huong and Linh Dan Restaurant. Both local restaurants serve the most authentic dishes. The world’s biggest aerial tramway also opened here in 2016, with cars that can carry up to a staggering 230 people at a time. The cars run between Bai Chay district and Ba Deo Hill, which has a large observation wheel that gives visitors a nice first view of the bay.
Visit the beach.
Sunbathing on the sand with the beautiful view of the bay in front of you is an absolute must when you are in Ha Long Bay. Some notable beaches include Tuan Chau, Tiptop, Ba Trai Dao, Ngoc Vung, and Soi Sim. The beaches are found in their respective islands, scattered around the bay. Since you cannot visit most of these on your own, you will have to find either a one-day or multi-day tour that includes beach time and other activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, and visiting caves and floating villages.
Visit Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay.
Lan Ha Bay is located in the southwest, and Bai Tu Long Bay is in the northeast, yet they both have similar geological, geographical and cultural characteristics. Small and popular tourist cruises will only take you around the well-known parts of Ha Long Bay, but if you want to check these locations out, you need to look into big cruise operators such as Indochina Junk and Bhaya.
Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is known for hiding the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong Cave, among many other majestic cave systems, such as Hang En—the world’s third largest cave—and Paradise Cave. However, Phong Nha isn’t the only location in Vietnam that has caves. Hidden in the thousands of jungle-covered peaks of Ha Long Bay are picturesque grottoes and caves of all shapes and sizes. Check out Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave) and Dau Go Cave, which are easily accessed from Tuan Chau Port. Plenty of boats and cruises anchor here, offering cave visits.
Tour the floating villages.
It’s exciting to take a two- or three-day-long cruise on the water, travelling from one place to another, but imagine living on a little house built on a boat. Someone who lives on a floating village cooks, washes, hangs out with friends, and even learns or works in this environment. Visiting these villages is a fascinating and humbling experience. Take your time visiting one or more of the four main floating villages in Ha Long Bay: Cua Van, Vung Vieng, Cong Dam and Ba Hang.
Take an excursion to Cat Ba Island.
The Cat Ba Archipelago, with 367 islands, makes up most of the south of the bay. Within these islands, you’ll find Cat Ba island, the biggest of all, which has some impressive natural beauty. It’s also home to the Cat Ba National Park, which is perfect for trekking and climbing. The island is best explored by bicycle or foot, and if you want to partake in the more adventurous activities, reach out to Asia Outdoors, the only company that is legally allowed to provide adventure packages on the island—and more!
Cat Ba Island is also popular for its party scene, and many backpacker tours include overnight packages. Check out Central Backpackers to see what they offer.
Kayak and scuba dive.
With clean blue water and calm tides, Ha Long Bay is ideal for paddling around from one limestone outcrop to the other, and sometimes even through caves. The most common areas for kayaking are part of 3 Peaches islets, Dark and Light Cave. You’ll find that most tour packages offer kayaking as part of their price.
The scenes underwater are just as beautiful as what you get above. Scuba diving and snorkeling are recent additions to the activities you can do in Ha Long Bay, and you can check out DNQ Travel for more information about the packages they offer.
View Ha Long Bay from a seaplane.
Despite being rather costly, jumping on a seaplane and flying over Ha Long Bay is one of the most thrilling and scenic activities you can do. The plane departs from Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, so you won’t get stuck in traffic on your way to Ha Long Bay. You will be rewarded with a beautiful birds-eye view of the bay and of all the peaks in their entirety, rather than of one peak after the other, like at sea level. Hai Au Aviation provides this service.