Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited destinations in Vietnam. With lots of lush greenery on the land and over 2,000 islands in the water, there is more than enough for everyone to see on a trip to the area.
Many tourists staying in Hanoi will take advantage of a day trip to Halong, also written Ha Long, but several others will spend a few days in the region or take a multi-day cruise to experience this beautiful part of the country. With such a diverse landscape and abundance of options for activities to do, Halong Bay has a lot to offer travelers of all types.
The ever-popular tourist hot spot, there are a myriad of accommodations around. The best hotels in Halong come in a range of prices and tastes for all budgets, including some amazing beachside resorts. Let’s look over some of the best things to do by Ha Long Bay, in no particular order.
Visit Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island offers visitors a chance to take part in a lot of relaxation and recreational activities outdoors, as well as plenty of accommodations. Being Halong Bay’s biggest island, Cat Ba is a great home base for anyone interested in taking an organized tour or visiting one of the area’s many attractions related to the Vietnam War.
The island is home to three beaches that are ideal for early morning swims before cruise ships arrive, but even still, they don’t get that crowded on an average day. Visitors to Cat Ba that are a little more active will enjoy kayaking, biking, rock climbing, and walking around the island while taking in the natural environment.
You might need more than just one day on Cat Ba Island. Hiking lovers and outdoor enthusiasts won’t want to miss spending time in Cat Ba National Park, which is vast and full of life.
Even if you’re planning to visit for some other activities, be sure to pencil in some time at the national park. There are trail levels for all different skill levels, and the park is home to 32 types of mammals, providing lots of opportunities for animal watching.
Kayaking in Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay is directly adjacent to Halong Bay, but it’s recently become a hidden gem that tourists love to explore. The island itself is covered in rainforests, but the waters around it don’t have as much boat traffic, making it an ideal location for kayaking and other water activities. Like the aforementioned Cat Ba, Bai Tu Long is also a national park.
Also, there are many caves, like Thien Canh Son Cave, and secret nooks that can only be accessed on the water, in addition to endless unspoiled natural beauty. This area wasn’t previously included on many cruise itineraries, but it has quickly become a favorite activity and a part of multi-day trips.
Snorkeling and Diving
The waters in Halong Bay have incredible clarity, making it a top destination in the country for divers and snorkelers. Cong Do and Van Gio islands are a couple of visitors’ favorite areas, with excellent visibility and wildlife ranging from red corals to sea turtles and many other creatures that live on the coast. Many people like to dive and view the underwater caves or even take boats to other islands to see something different.
Book a Cruise
Anyone who’s been to Halong Bay will tell you that doing a cruise is a must-do, and will check off a lot of boxes for your trip with this one activity. Seeing the region from the water is magical and one of the best ways to take in all of the bay’s beauty. Both day and overnight cruises are available, but do consider opting for the latter, granting more time on the magical waters of the “descending dragon”.
The majestic limestone cliffs have a commanding presence over the sea, and weaving between all of the tiny islands on a boat will make for some incredible memories. Cruises are offered on various vessels, from charming junk boats to luxurious yachts, each type offering its own set of amenities and experiences.
The most popular cruise is a two-day, one-night tour that departs from Hanoi early in the morning. Guests will typically be picked up by shuttle van in their hotel. But there are other ports that you can leave from too, including right in Ha Long or Hai Phong. The same vessels usually have a three-day, two-night tour as well on the same ship, if you want to expand your fun (and you probably should).
These are ideal for people who want to do some sightseeing, relax, and have their meals catered without much planning. With a couple of thousand islands in the bay, there won’t be a shortage of activities or places to sail by. Most cruise boats have sun decks and air conditioning and serve as great spots for stargazing at night.
Tours will usually visit different area attractions, such as caves, an oyster pearl farm and floating village, as well as offer water sports like kayaking, scuba and snorkeling.
Sun World Halong Park
Spreading over 214 hectares and two major sections, Sun World Halong Complex is Vietnam’s largest amusement park. This is an entertaining activity for families with children that are looking for something unique to do. There are many types of attractions at this park, such as thrill rides, a water park, a Japanese garden, and a water puppet show.
A queen cable car connects to two sections, creating an additional point of interest. Extreme games at the Dragon Park area are restricted to kids but are a great choice to add adventure to your child’s trip.
Visit a Floating Village
Vung Vieng is a fishing village that still operates primarily for fishing, making its authenticity very attractive for tourists to come and see for themselves. It’s one of four floating villages in Halong that remain. The town has over 300 residents and a large center for tourists to participate in workshops and purchase souvenirs. Travelers interested in a unique experience can arrange to stay in a floating home and do some night fishing with locals.
Halong Bay is famous for its caves, and anyone that loves a bit of exploring will surely get their fix in this city. An excellent area for discovering caves and walking in them is Driftwood Island, but tourists also enjoy visiting the Thien Cung cave and Dau Go grotto, both of which are over two million years old.
The inside of the caves can be quite large, making it easy for adventurers of all ages to enjoy walking through the area’s caves. Many sites are illuminated with colorful lights to amuse visitors and keep them safe from tripping, too. Probably the most popular cave in Halong Bay is Sung Sot.
Visit Monkey Island
Travelers looking for a nice boat trip from Halong Bay should add Monkey Island to their list. This beautiful island, known as “Cat Dua” by locals, is home to pristine white beaches with waters that are ideal for snorkeling and swimming. Visitors that are feeling extra adventurous can rent a sea kayak or do some hiking through the stunning greenery on several breathtaking trails.
Anyone that wishes to spend the night on Monkey Island (affiliate link) can book a stay at the Monkey Island Resort, a spectacular waterfront property.
Visit Cannon Fort
Another attraction found on Halong Bay’s famous Cat Ba Island is the Cannon Fort, used in multiple wars over the last century and requires a short hike that ends with a great view. The French originally placed the two cannons there when they invaded the island in the early 1900s.
During WWII, the Japanese used the fort as a military outpost and expanded it by building tunnels, which are still there today and are fun to explore. The Vietnamese also used the fort against the Americans during the Vietnam War as a defense post.
Shop Bai Chay Market
Bai Chay Market has over 100 open-air vendor booths that sell everything from crafts to souvenirs, household items, fresh produce, and seafood. It’s an excellent place to sample some of Halong Bay’s locally grown fruits and vegetables and is a popular place to be visited by both locals and tourists. Bargaining is accepted and common practice here, so you are sure to get some good deals as you browse the stalls.
Squid fishing is a basic activity that is fun to do during the nights in Halong Bay, usually after 8pm. Signing up for this type of angling can typically be done on a night cruise, and it comes with a rod for every participant. Hopefully, after you’ve finished fishing, you’ll be shown how to grill up your catch.
The best time to do it is from November to February on a moonless evening so that the squid are more attracted to the glimmer of the shining bait hooks. Anyone can learn to squid fish, and local anglers will be happy to share some tips with you on how to master your technique.
See the Quang Ninh Museum
Situated in Halong City within the Hong Hai Ward, the Quang Ninh Museum is an excellent way to encounter centuries of culture and history of Vietnam. It houses intriguing exhibits such as a whale skeleton and models of several types of boats that have served the area over the years. The museum has three impressive floors with different themes, and the building itself is located near the coast and reflects some gorgeous views of Halong Bay.
A visit to Halong Bay is a must-do for every first trip to Vietnam, as it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations for good reasons. This list covered some of the top activities, but there are always more things to see and discover with each visit.