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The Ultimate Travel Guide to Ha Long Bay

Plan your upcoming travel to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam to witness a magical floating world. Comprised of more than 1600 limestone pillars making up hollow caves, and several small floating islands across the emerald waters, it is not surprising to hear that Ha Long Bay is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. This UNESCO World  Heritage Site attracts millions of tourists from around the world each year. Be sure not miss this gem of Southeast Asia.

MODES OF TRAVEL

Whether you prefer to be high in the sky or down by the calm water, Ha Long Bay has transportation accommodation for all travelers. Located 103 miles from the city of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is affordably accessible by taxi, bus, motorbike, ferry or even hydrofoil. These methods take up to 4hrs from Hanoi. If you are planning on traveling to Ha Long Bay directly from the airport, there are companies that offer direct transport.

Once in Ha Long Bay, the main three modes of travel are helicopter, seaplane, and cruise. Hop in a helicopter and soak in the aerial view. This exhilarating experience will make you feel like you are flying through a movie as you rise up and down through various altitudes. Many companies offer the options of a 5-seater or a 12-seater helicopter depending on the size of your group, all accompanied by a window view. Feel free to customize your tour and let your pilot know what you would like to specifically see in the bay while you are up in the air. If you are looking for a little more adventure and a closer look at the bay’s water, consider exploring Ha Long Bay with a seaplane. The typical seaplane is a 12-seater, with each seat placed next to a large window to gaze out of. In this experience expect to splash the bay’s sea water as you glide across the water’s surface. If air travel is completely not your cup of tea, there are plenty of cruise options offered throughout Ha Long Bay. Sail through the stunning mountains, caves, and grottoes on your floating home. Ha Long Bay offers cruise options for all budgets of travel, from the most luxurious cruise ships with the ultimate interior decor, onboard art museum and royal hospitality down to the more modest ones with onboard hammocks. Prices range from $220 USD for a luxurious overnight trip, to $60-$130 USD for a budget/midrange cruise. For a truly local experience, Bai Chay tourist boats offer 4 hour tours for the equivalent of $5 USD. These affordable tours are often very crowded but provide karaoke entertainment.

WHEN TO VISIT

If the weather forecast is a top concern, then September-November and March-May are the best times to visit Ha Long Bay. At this time, blue skies are the norm and the climate tends to be dry and warm. If your budget is a top concern, May-September is the best time of the year to visit as it is considered Ha Long Bay’s ‘low season’. At this time, many attractions in the area offer massive sales and sometimes cruises offer up to 40% original price. However, these prices come with major risks as July and August often experience many hurricanes and heavy rains, leading to cancellation or delay of your activities. Luckily these storms usually only last 3-4 days, so if the price is worth the gamble this may be the option for you. It is recommended to always check the fine print of the cancellation and refund policies are before booking a cruise.

WHAT TO PACK

It is important to pack small and light if choosing to go on a Ha Long Bay overnight tour since the boats often do not have loads of extra space. Plan to leave your big and heavy luggage back at the hotel if possible. Heels of any sort are of no priority while on a Ha Long Bay cruise. Plan to wear footing that is simple and comfortable, such as flip flops for walking around onboard. If you forgot your pair at home, there are many vendors that sell flip flops around Hanoi or Ha Long Bay for as little as 1-2 USD per pair. If planning on going inside the Ha Long Bay caves, sneakers may be a better option for this specific activity. If you enjoy being prepared, bring a couple of bottles of water with you onboard, as drinking water is limited and some of the cheaper cruises do not provide drinking water at all. For those traveling on a budget, bring your own snacks onboard as well as snack prices on the cruise tend to be overpriced. Don’t forget to pack your toiletries for your overnight cruise as many boats do not provide toothpaste or shampoo. Once you are on the cruise and out on the water of the bay, there are no hospitals nearby. Pack your medications, especially your motion sickness pills as you never know when the calm bay might get a little rocky.

HA LONG BAY TIPS

Remember to follow all safety instructions and procedures from your guide such as wearing life jackets while swimming and kayaking. The bay often develops strong and surprising  currents. Safety-conscious cruise staff will not allow kayakers to paddle off 0r swim far from the boat by themselves. However, not all cruises enforce these rules, so it is useful to have these precautions in the back of your mind. Additionally, it is important not to wander off as many islands are still uninhabited and could come with unknown dangers. Take your time to relax and unwind. Truly try and soak up all of the pure beauty that the Ha Long Bay ecosystem has to offer. 

Whether you’d rather visit for just a day cruise or you plan to cruise around the bay for several nights, Ha Long Bay is a must-add to your itinerary while enjoying Vietnam.

Post written by: Kirsten Cusack