Why Halong Bay Should Be on Your Itinerary
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or have just arrived in Vietnam, taking a break from your adventures to indulge in an island getaway is always a welcome respite. Halong Bay stands apart from other destinations due to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its emerald green waters, unexplored caves, and a breathtaking view of nearly 2,000 islands, it’s easy to see why this place is considered a natural wonder. Stepping foot on the islands of Halong Bay evokes a sense of romanticism and harmony with Mother Nature.
Unlike many destinations, Halong Bay offers an unparalleled opportunity for uninterrupted exploration. While the local wildlife may captivate and distract you, the allure of outdoor activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, and cave exploration beckons. Don’t miss the chance to visit the floating village, where the locals make a living from the bountiful marine life. For a unique experience, try swimming after sunset when the illuminating plankton creates a magical spectacle. Hiking around Halong Bay is also a popular activity, providing scenic vistas, so remember to pack some snacks to keep you fueled during your trek.
In addition to its natural wonders, Halong Bay boasts some unexpected attractions. For instance, the Royal International Casino, located on the main road in Bai Chay, offers a unique diversion for those seeking a different kind of entertainment. Bai Chay Bridge is a perfect spot for Instagram-worthy selfies, especially at night when it illuminates the surroundings with thousands of LED lights. Another hidden gem in Halong Bay is the Hon Gai Roman Church, an ancient structure found on Nha Tho Street. Engage with the locals and inquire about Bai Tho, a mountain that offers a panoramic view of the city and an opportunity for an invigorating trek.
The Best Time to Visit Halong Bay
To experience Halong Bay at its finest, plan your visit during the spring (March-April) or fall (September-October). During these seasons, the weather is cool and mild, allowing for a comfortable exploration of the area. While Halong Bay can be visited year-round, be aware that unexpected typhoons can occur toward the end of the year. Fortunately, there are usually warnings issued a few days in advance. Fall temperatures can become slightly chilly, so packing a light coat is advisable but not mandatory.
Choosing Accommodation in Halong Bay
Navigating through Halong Bay is relatively easy, with numerous three or four-star hotels outnumbering the more budget-friendly hostel options commonly found on tropical islands. Hotel Alley, located on Vuon Dao Street, is the go-to area for finding accommodation. Here, you’ll find a wide range of hotels offering medium-range prices.
Most activities in Halong Bay can be completed within a day or two, making extended stays seem unnecessary. However, if you desire a few extra days of relaxation or the indulgence of a private beach, Halong Bay offers options to cater to all preferences.
Bai Chay serves as the backpacker hub of Halong Bay, offering a small selection of affordable accommodations near the beach, along with local street food and a bustling market stocked with fresh seafood.
For budget-conscious travelers, here are a few recommended hostels:
1. Halong Party Hostel
This British-run hostel is conveniently situated close to a beach, restaurants, and coffee shops. The staff exude a positive and fun ambiance, making it an excellent place to make new friends.
- Price range: 13,000 VND for a dorm, 40,000 VND for a private double room.
- Address: 23 Vuon Dao, Bai Chay
2. Halong Backpacker Hostel
With its spacious common area equipped with a large TV and a bar, this hostel offers an ideal setting for socializing and meeting fellow travelers.
- Price range: 11,000 VND for a dorm, 30,000 VND for a private double room.
- Address: 41 Vuon Dao, Bai Chay
3. Halong Happy Hostel
Located only 200 meters away from Halong Park, this hostel provides a shared kitchen facility, making it convenient for guests who prefer to cook their own meals using fresh ingredients from the local market. If cooking isn’t your thing, there’s also a restaurant on-site.
- Price range: 11,000 VND for a dorm, 30,000 VND for a private double room.
- Address: 25 Anh Dao, Bai Chay
While Bai Chay offers hotels with additional amenities, it’s easier to access mid-range hotels from Halong City.
Consider the following hotels for a more comfortable stay:
1. Starlight Hotel
Situated in a quiet area but not far from cafes, restaurants, and a renowned bakery, this relatively new hotel promises a tranquil retreat.
- Price range: 300,000 VND.
- Address: Paradise Town, Tuan Chau Island
2. City Bay Palace Hotel
Located in a bustling local area away from the tourist hub, this hotel provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the surrounding culture and gain a unique perspective on Halong Bay.
- Price range: 676,000 VND.
- Address: 156 Le Thanh Tong Street, Bach Dang Ward, Quang Ninh
3. Halong Paradise Suites Hotel
Designed for short stays, this hotel features a spa, private beach, and minibar. However, note that its location is somewhat secluded from other attractions.
- Price range: 1,900,000 VND.
- Address: Ngoc Chau, Paradise Town
4. Vinpearl Halong Bay Resort
Situated in Bai Chay, this resort offers both indoor and outdoor pools. Accessible only by speedboat, it provides an exclusive experience for discerning guests.
- Price range: 2,900,000 VND.
- Address: Reu Island, Bai Chay
Where and What to Eat in Halong Bay
Cai Dam Food Area in Bai Chay is renowned for its food stalls serving snails and seafood by the beach. Ngan, a popular seafood delicacy that resembles a large oyster, features prominently in many specialty dishes. Prices at outdoor eateries tend to be more affordable, while restaurant options vary in quality.
Another must-try specialty is Su fish, which is native to Halong Bay. Street food options include shrimp, mussels, mini crab, and squid cakes.
For a taste of both Asian and Western cuisine, head to Co Ngu Restaurant located next to Bai Chay beach. This establishment is known for its high-quality signature dish, Su fish, which can only be found in Halong Bay.
If you’re seeking an authentic culinary experience, try Tu Hai, an expensive gourmet shellfish found in the Van Don Island district, often referred to as the “snail spout.” This fascinating crustacean can be prepared in various ways, such as in soup, salads, steamed, or baked. Steamed Tu Hai offers a delicate flavor profile, sometimes infused with spices for an added kick.
Occasionally, travelers may crave a taste of home, such as pizza. Emeraude Café, located near Bai Chay beach next to the post office, serves a variety of Western dishes, making it an excellent choice for those with seafood allergies or a general aversion to seafood.
For coffee enthusiasts, Café 555 (opposite Bai Chay Tourist Wharf) serves some of the strongest coffee in Halong Bay. Sipping coffee or enjoying a beer on the beach is a delightful way to soak in the surroundings.
Getting Around Halong Bay
Halong Bay is a large city with dusty streets that aren’t particularly conducive to leisurely strolls. Traveling on foot can be challenging due to heavy traffic, long distances between attractions, and the region’s hot weather. The easiest and most convenient way to explore the city is by motorbike taxi, also known as xe om. These motorbike taxis are readily available and affordable, with fares typically not exceeding a few USD for any destination within the city. Just walk to the nearest corner, and you’ll likely find a motorbike taxi waiting.
If you’re visiting Halong Bay to explore the surrounding area, it’s recommended to book a tour. Buses or private transportation options make touring hassle-free, often including hotel pickup arrangements, eliminating the need for independent transportation.
Getting to and from Halong Bay
There are several transportation options to reach Halong Bay, depending on your starting point.
If you’re already in Vietnam, flying to Hue and then taking a train to Halong Bay is a convenient choice. Flights from Hanoi to Hue cost around USD 120 and take just over one hour. The train journey from Hue to Halong Bay is approximately one and a half hours. Train tickets are priced around USD 6.
For international flights, Da Nang Airport, located about 170 kilometers away, offers the best access to Halong Bay. From Da Nang, you can connect to destinations across Southeast Asia with frequent flights.
Traveling by bus is a popular and affordable option, with comfortable, air-conditioned buses available for prices ranging from USD 7 to USD 15, depending on the bus company and type of service.
Minibuses also serve the same routes, with ticket prices averaging around USD 15. However, note that minibuses are not available after 10 am, as the last ferry to the island departs at 3 pm.
Trains are another option, although they take longer than buses and are subject to frequent delays. The train journey from Halong Bay to Hanoi takes approximately 13 hours, while the journey to Ho Chi Minh City can take up to 24 hours. Ticket prices for a first-class sleeper berth range from USD 20 to USD 40, depending on the destination.
It’s worth mentioning that Halong Bay is in close proximity to the Lao border, and there are multiple tour operators and minibuses offering transportation to Savannakhet, Laos, for USD 5-10. However, be cautious when choosing tour operators to avoid scams or unexpected changes in transportation arrangements.
Safety Considerations in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is generally considered a safe destination with a low crime rate. However, it’s always wise to exercise caution and follow standard safety practices. When embarking on a cruise, ensure that life jackets are readily available in case of emergencies. When engaging in activities like rock climbing or cave exploration, prioritize safety by wearing appropriate protective gear. Basic medical facilities are available on the island, but they may be limited. Bringing mosquito repellent is advisable, as mosquitoes can be present in certain areas.
With its enchanting landscapes and vibrant culture, Halong Bay offers an unforgettable experience for travelers. So pack your bags, prepare your camera, and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty of this captivating destination.