Halong Bay–Vietnam’s Most Popular Attraction

Halong Bay is Vietnam’s most visited attraction, attracting thousands of tourists every year. They flock to marvel at the more than 1,500 islands and islets, almost all of them uninhabited and uninhabitable, which rise spectacularly from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The islands that dot the bay, their vertical limestone cliffs topped with lush jungle vegetation, stretch to the horizon. This amazing landscape continues north for 120 kilometres all the way to China. Hidden among the islands are caves, floating fishing villages and even a few islands populated solely by monkeys.

halong islets

©David Justice

Traditional Chinese-style junks ranging from humble to opulent cruise the bay, stopping at highlights along the way. Most cruises include time for kayaking and swimming in the emerald waters, too.

traditional junk in halong bay

©David Justice

A few of the many caves in the area are open to the public and most boats will stop at least one of them. Fishing villages dot the bay. Here, residents can live their entire lives without ever stepping foot onto solid ground. Houses, stores and schools are all afloat, connected by wooden planked walkways.

halong fishing village

©David Justice

Halong Bay is easily accessed from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. Buses and minivans take the recently constructed highway to Halong City, a drive of about three-and-a-half hours. From there, boats embark on cruises that last anywhere from just a few hours to three or more days. Returning to Hanoi, some tours break up the trip with a stop to see a water puppet show, a Vietnamese form of theatre that’s been popular for centuries.

Halong Bay can be visited as a daytrip from Hanoi, but you won’t have much time to spend on the bay. I recommend spending at least one night on the boat. Watching the sunset beyond the silhouetted islands is magical.

halong sunset

©David Justice

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