Tucked away in the northeast of Vietnam, Halong Bay – the ‘heaven on earth’ – is acclaimed as one of the most charming tourist attractions in Asia. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts thousands of majestic limestone islands, deep green water, and mesmerizing world-class caves. In this article, we’ll walk you through the ultimate list of things to do in Halong Bay, hand-picked by local experts and the most experienced travelers.
The most recommended activities are of all sorts, ranging from enjoying a magnificent bird’s-eye view from a seaplane, sweating on a hike to top the mountains of Cat Ba, to snorkeling over a bed of colorful corals and experiencing the rustic life of a floating village. The means of transportation varies depending on your budget, chosen destinations, and activities, but there is something for everyone. Let’s dive in to find out more about each activity and whether it suits you and your traveling companions.
1. View Halong Bay from a seaplane
There is utterly no better way to enjoy the majestic view of Halong Bay than to see it from above. A seaplane will take you 300 meters above the water, where you’re free to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the region as a whole.
Taking a seaplane gives you a handful of advantages. First, it’s the most seamless, carefree means of transport available. You won’t have to worry about which bus to take, when to get off and how long it will take. Second, the aerial view is truly breathtaking. You’ll finally see the vastness of the region, with lush green islands, turquoise waters, and clusters of junk boats in their entirety. Warning, the view is so stunningly magical it will almost become unreal.
If you’re traveling from Hanoi to Halong Bay, it will be a 45-minute flight, while a flight over Halong Bay only will take 25 minutes. Costly as they are, those few minutes might well be the best in your whole trip.
2. Explore caves and grottos
If you ever wonder what the “insides” of the islands look like, let’s land on some islands to find out. Halong Bay boasts the many of the most stunning caves in the country, such as Thien Cung Cave, Dau Go Grotto, and Sung Sot Cave, just to name a few.
Both Thien Cung Cave and Dau Go Grotto are located on Dau Go Island (Driftwood Island), to the southwest of Halong Bay. Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace) is spacious, home to three ponds and a number of natural rock formations. Dau Go Grotto is known for its exceptional height, with its entrance reaching 12 meters and its dome climbing up to an impressive 25-meter-height above the ground. Both caves can be easily reached from Tuan Chau Port.
Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave) is located on Bo Hon Island, neighboring to another famous cave in the area, Trinh Nu Cave (Virgin Cave). Sung Sot has two chambers which ceilings reach 30 meters high, filled with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Halong Bay’s stalactites and stalagmites are named after the things they resemble and the ones in Sung Sot Cave are no exception. This cave features the very best ones actually, a general talking to his troop, while sentries look on.
All caves are decorated with artificial lights, creating magically flickering images dancing on the walls of the caves. While you’ll absolutely fall in love with the experience, you are recommended to visit the caves during the off-season to avoid overcrowding.
3. Go kayaking and snorkeling in Bai Tu Long Bay
While the whole complex of Halong Bay is suitable for kayaking, we strongly recommend kayaking in Bai Tu Long Bay. Located in the northeast of the complex, Bai Tu Long Bay is substantially less touristy, leaving it a perfect choice for those seeking some tranquility.
It’s a little tricky to zigzag through the labyrinth of limestone islands to get to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is why only large cruise operators include it in their route. This off-the-beaten-path attraction offers super clear and calm waters, a number of caves to see up close, and a lack of distraction from ships and boats. You will be able to enjoy a peaceful moment with your friends or partners while sliding gently on the emerald waters of Bai Tu Long Bay.
Ban Chan Beach, located in the south of Bai Tu Long Bay is yet another hidden gem when it comes to snorkeling. The clear and clean waters allow you to swim, dive, and snorkel over colorful corals with perfect visibility.
4. Discover Vung Vieng Floating Village
While you’re around Bai Tu Long Bay, don’t forget to stop by Vung Vieng Fishing Village, one of the four main floating villages in the region. The village is located right in the heart of Bai Tu Long Bay, but can only be accessed by small rowing boats.
It’s the best place to get involved in the local life of fishermen by weaving your own fishing nets and learning to catch and prepare fish. There’s also an overnight option available for those seeking an authentic experience in a floating village.
If you’re short on time, make sure you check out the “community center”. Originally reserved for meetings, the center is now open for tourists to come by and shop for souvenirs and Vietnamese food.
5. Sunbathe in Ti Top Beach
Titov Island (or locally known as Ti Top Island) is named after the famous Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who visited the island in 1962. It is a tiny islet with calm waters and can only be reached by small boats.
Hiking and rock climbing are recommended activities for a day in Titov. A hike to the top of the island will be hard work, but will surely pay off. The best time to hike is at sunrise and sunset when you can catch the best view of the sea horizon.
The calm, private water of Titov makes it an excellent choice for swimming and sunbathing. However, boats only visit this island every few hours. If you want to stay longer, you can rent your own boat and spare yourself some time just chilling on the beach, watching the sunset, and doing nothing. There’s a small cafe on the beach that offers soft drinks, beach chairs, and diving gear.
6. Take a cruise
Cruising is another must-try on the list of things to do in Halong Bay. A perfect way to get up close and personal with the magnificent rock formations, little islands, and crystal clear waters.
Cruises come from all shapes and sizes: you can either go for a half-day tour on traditional junk boats or ride on a fancy yacht-style boat for 2-3 days. Junk boats look like traditional boats with sails and are generally geared towards short trips. Yacht-style boats are different: they are typically massive with built-in 5-star facilities. While most boats offer an open lounge for sunbathing, photo-taking and sunset-watching, the top-end ones include a massage, cooking classes, kayaking, and hiking in their packages.
Cruise trips are perfect for couples, families, groups of friends, or even solo travelers. Wine sipping, island-watching, jacuzzi-bathing are just a few of the great activities offered on a quiet, relaxing cruise journey. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling during the Lunar New Year festival, expect to be treated with the best outdoor feast on board!
While the choice is yours, you’re strongly advised to seek established cruise operators for a better experience on the waters of Halong Bay. The fierce competition in the area results in some nasty scams that you wouldn’t want to suffer.
7. Check out Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba is the largest, most developed island in the entire Halong Bay Complex. Located to the south of Halong Bay, it remains an indispensable attraction to almost any tour operator in the region.
The island features a wide variety of hotels, restaurants, bars, and lounges, perfect for anyone planning to spend more than one day here. The best way to get around Cat Ba is by bicycle or on foot. Renting a bike and cycling around the idyllic countryside is a great way to spend an afternoon on this island. The roads are quite simple and carefully marked; you won’t get lost cycling or walking around. The three beaches are great for swimming, especially for an early swim in the morning.
If you’re more on the adventurous side, you may try hiking or trekking in Cat Ba National Park, which we will explain in more detail right away.
8. Go hiking and trekking in Cat Ba National Park
If you’re a nature lover wishing to witness some of the most endangered tropical species in the world, Cat Ba National Park is just the place for you. The park boasts a wide array of wildlife flora and fauna, some of these include langurs, the most endangered primates in the world. Also, look out for civets, macaques, hawks, and cuckoos, too.
Hiking is quite a heavy exercise, be prepared. The trails are picturesque and clearly marked, including an 18-kilometer hike straight to the peak of the mountain. You will be duly rewarded though: the aerial view of the lush forests below is simply breathtaking.
While it costs you minimally to get in, you are recommended to hire a tour guide to come along. They will show you all the flora and fauna while trekking around, as well as making sure you don’t lose your way or get into any trouble.
9. Visit Sun World Halong Park
If you think Halong Bay is not where “the fun” is, you might have to think twice. A visit to Sun World Halong Park, where one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the world stands, will surely change your mind.
Located in Halong City, Sun World is Vietnam’s largest amusement park with two main sections: the Mystic Mountain Complex and the Coastal Amusement Complex. The two complexes are connected by the award-winning Queen Cable Car, which lifts you up to a height of 2 kilometers for plenty of photo-taking opportunities.
The Mystic Mountain Complex is filled with fun activities to try: a Kidoland for kids, an Arcade zone, a wax museum, and a Zen Garden. The Sun Wheel is the highlight of the park and also an iconic landmark of Halong City. Featuring one of the highest Ferris wheels in the world, the Sun Wheel offers you a view of a lifetime with magnificent limestone mountains in the day and stunning city skyline at night.
The Coastal Amusement Complex provides a number of thrill rides and its own Sun World Beach inside. The beach is artificial and stretches up to a length of nearly 1 kilometer. A nearby village is designed to mimic Hanoi Old Quarter and the ancient Hoi An trading port.
A visit to Sun World Halong Park is suitable for both families and groups of friends.
10. Stop by Quang Ninh Museum
Located in the city of Halong, Quang Ninh Museum will mark a high note at the end of your journey. Its architecture is extraordinarily eye-catching: it’s designed to function as a huge mirror, reflecting the stunning views of Halong Bay.
In the museum, you will find exhibits of all sorts. The first floor covers exhibits of the long history of fishery in Quang Ninh, including sailboat models and a whale skeleton. Exhibits connected to Vietnamese fights against enemies and Buddhism culture are displayed on the second floor. The third floor is dedicated to the current economic achievements of Quang Ninh province, as well as its cultural identities and characteristics.
The museum also offers a wide range of digital materials for both adults and children. There is a screening room, a theater, a bookstore, and special areas for young children. While it’s fun to learn about the local history and culture, you can also enjoy a quiet coffee-moment in the built-in coffee shop.
Featuring thousands of limestone islands, turquoise-green waters, and a wide range of biodiversity, Halong Bay is like something right out of a movie. Well deserved for its UNESCO Heritage title, Halong Bay’s surrealistic scenery won’t dare disappoint you. Try each and every item mentioned on the list of things to do in Halong Bay, and you will certainly get the trip of a lifetime.
About the author: Jane Pham is a passionate travel writer at Vietnam Discovery, where travelers to the country can find A-Z guides and tips, as well as highly tailored and responsible travel tours. Follow them on Facebook to see why Vietnam is becoming ‘Asia’s Leading Destination!’