Halong Bay, Vietnam
World famous for its stunning tree-covered limestone karsts and isles that jut dramatically out of the ocean, Halong Bay is a vast Vietnamese bay with a 120 kilometre long coastline that extends all the way to China in the north.
Ha Long literally translates to ‘descending dragon into the sea’ and local myth has it that the bay and its magnificent landmarks were formed by the thrashings of an enormous dragon that was trying to reach the ocean.
A large portion of the island is designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, largely due to the beauty of the stunning limestone islands, isles and karsts. Tours in traditional junks, ferries and speedboats are the most popular tourist activity in the bay, affording up-close views of the stunning peaks and access to some of the massive stalactite-filled caves.
It’s not a densely populated area. Around 1,600 people live in four fishing villages throughout the bay. The towns are usually made up of floating houses and the locals make a living fishing and harvesting the 450 different kinds of molluscs that live in the waters.
Cruises to the area moor off of Ha Long City, a province capital 178 kilometres to the east of Hanoi. The city was once an important port for the mining and manufacturing industries; however, given its location in Halong Bay, it is now more of a tourist mecca. Passengers are often transferred from their ship to Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in traditional junks instead of the usual passenger ferries.
Bai Chay Tourist Wharf is a bustling purpose built passenger wharf. In addition to welcoming cruise tourists from all around the world, the wharf is the primary launch point for the hundreds of junks, ferries, sailboats and speedboats that explore Halong Bay on a daily basis.
- Passenger terminal
- Public toilets
- Tour booking desk.
As many tourists prefer to spend the night in the bay itself, accommodation in Ha Long City is always available and quite cheap.
How to Get Around
Travel throughout Ha Long City is fairly simple, with a number of taxi and private car hire options throughout the city. There is a public bus system through Ha Long City; however, this is not generally recommended for tourists.
Tourists can hire a boat or water taxi from Bai Chay Tourist Wharf to get to any of the island destinations in Halong Bay.
Travel times from the port:
- It is a 2 hour and 43 minute journey to Hanoi by car
- It is a 1 hour and 17 minute journey to Cat Bi International Airport by car.
- 40 minutes to Cat Ba.
- Currency - The local currency in Hanoi is the Vietnamese Dong (₫). Notes are available in 100₫, 200₫, 500₫, 1,000₫, 2,000₫, 5,000₫, 10,000₫, 20,000₫, 50,000₫, 100,000₫, 200,000₫ and 500,000₫ denominations. Please note that Dong coins are no longer in use in Vietnam.
- Time Zone - Halong Bay uses the Indochina Time Zone, which is is seven hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
- Weather - Halong Bay has a tropical climate with hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters. August is the hottest month, with temperatures ranging from 24 degrees Celsius to a sweltering 34 degrees Celsius. January is the coolest month, with temperatures ranging from 15 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Celsius.
- Cat Ba - Easily accessible by boat from Bai Chay Tourist Wharf, Cat Ba is a lush tropical paradise covered in dense jungle. The jungle is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur – only sixty of these small, golden haired monkeys exist in the wild. The island is best explored by kayak as you can paddle right inside the natural limestone tunnels and under the impressive rocky arches.
- Hospital Cave - This 17-room underground lair was once a safe house for Vietcong leaders. It was converted into a secret, bombproof hospital during the Vietnam War, and remained in active duty until 1975. Local guides are available to guide visitors through the underground complex, from the operating theatre through to the huge natural cavern that was used as a movie theatre.
- Cannon Fort - Perched atop of Cat Ba, Cannon Fort is a defensive fort installed by the Japanese during World War II. There are a number of impressive anti-ship gun emplacements that afford stunning views of the surrounding bay, particularly at sunset. A network of underground tunnels connects each emplacement. If you’re not up for a steep climb, there is a slow tourist train that chugs steadily up the picturesque mountainside.