The nearly 2,000 limestone islands and islets of various shapes and sizes that rise from the emerald waters have created one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the world. That area is known as Halong Bay and it is a designated world heritage site that draws millions of tourists every year. Halong Bay is not just a destination that leaves you speechless, it is also where you can participate in a lot of activities and adventures that will let you have the time of your life. Here are the top 10 things to do in Halong Bay.
1. Fly Over Halong Bay in a Seaplane
Halong Bay is magnificent from the ground, but it is even more dramatic and mesmerizing from above. The easiest way to get a bird’s eye view of beautiful Halong Bay is to take a seaplane, and since it can land in the middle of the bay it makes it more convenient for travelling.
The seaplane transfer service from Hanoi to Halong Bay is available for $175/person (US) and it takes only 45 minutes instead of 3.5 hours by car. The seaplane can also be used in combination with a cruise making it an even better value.
2. Visit a Floating Village
Humans have been inhabiting Halong Bay for centuries and that has created a unique culture on the islands. All the floating fishing villages in Halong represent this local culture the best as people have lived there for generations. In fact, no one knows exactly when groups of fishermen gathered to build these villages with floating houses, schools, and more. These villagers spent their entire lives on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, and every child born there knew how to swim and sail before they knew how to read or write. The villagers catch fish and squid as their main way of living, but when tourism became prominent in the area, they all took on an additional job of rowing a bamboo boat to take people around the bay. These floating villages of Halong Bay have been voted as insanely beautiful coastal towns by famous travel sites like Travel and Leisure and Huffington Post, which means tourism will continue to increase in the future.
Where to Visit: Cua Van is the largest floating village and one of the more popular Halong Bay attractions. However, VungVieng has an oyster farm, so it is also an exciting place to visit.
Kayaking: Kayaking is one of the best ways to get around the village as you can slowly go around the houses, while also visiting the local school and the floating museum.
Bamboo boat: This is the traditional vehicle that local villagers use to travel from one village to another, and you can hire someone to take you around or to another village.
3. Discover Limestone Caves
The limestones caves of Halong Bay were created when flowing water dissolved the limestone rock of the mountains over millions of years. Inside the caves, sparkling stalactites hang from the ceiling while stalagmite rises up from the floor. The colourful lights inside were set up to make the scene look and feel even more mythical.
Where to go:
Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave: This is one of the most significant caves in Halong Bay and it has a total area of more than 10.000 square meters. It is not too far from Passenger Port, which makes it suitable for every visitor. Sung Sot Cave is not that steep or craggy, so it is perfect for people of all physical capabilities. The only issue is that there are times that this cave can become overcrowded with tourists.
Tien Ong Cave: This cave can be found on Cai Tai Island, which is 20 km offshore of Halong City. Tien Ong Cave is less of a tourist destination than Sung Sot Cave, but you can still see numerous stalagmites and stalactites in many different shapes. You are encouraged to let your imagination run wild and be surprised at what you see!
History and culture enthusiasts will also love Tien Ong Cave, because archaeologists have proved that the cave was home to ancient Viet people 10,000-8,000 years (B.C.) ago. This cave is cool and airy in the summer, yet warm in the winter, plus it is a safe place to hide during any storm and typhoon. The ancient people were well aware of this, which is why they chose this cave to be their home. During the Vietnam War, the cave became a natural bomb shelter that kept thousands of people alive.
The Tien Ong Cave just opened to the public in 2010 and there are now a few Halong Bay Tours that are exploiting the cave. You can check out some cruise operators that include Tien Ong Cave in their itinerary such as Legend Halong Cruise or Bhaya Cruise….
Maza Cave: This is a much smaller cave in Halong Bay, but it is a stunning cave that you will not want to miss. It has a magnificent view that overlooks a spectacular lagoon in the back. You can take a short trek to the top of the mountain where you will see an amazing panoramic view that will take your breath away!
What to do: You can visit this area and simply do nothing! Enjoying the overwhelming scenery is more than enough as you are learning more about the cave formations and the culture of the prehistoric people who lived there many years ago.
4. Kayak in Ho Ba Ham Area
Ho Ba Ham, or lake of three tunnels, is a lagoon that is connected by small tunnels. The area is surrounded by high limestone cliffs and green forests, offering otherworldly landscape to the entire region.
What to do: Kayaking is the best and only way to access the area of Ho Ba Ham, due to its small and changeable entrance. You will need to go through the tunnels that completely disappear when the tides rise. However, the tranquility and turquoise water are incredibly relaxing.
5. Candlelight Dinner on a Private Beach
There is nothing better than savouring a candlelight dinner with your loved one on a private beach of Halong Bay! This is something that everyone must do if they are visiting Halong Bay with their sweetheart!
Where to go: There are thousands of small beaches for this type of romantic evening, but SoiSim and Titov beaches are the most popular choices.
What to do: This service is only available when you are on an overnight cruise. Therefore, you will need to book a Halong cruise before booking a candlelight dinner on the beach.
6. Spot the Wildlife in Cat Ba National Park
The Cat Ba National Park is a UNESCO designated World Biosphere Reserve that is located east of Halong Bay. The park covers an area of 173 square kilometres of land and 90 square kilometres of inshore water, plus it creates a whole separate ecosystem that is home to many endemic flora and fauna species. The most famous creature inside the park is the Cat Ba Langur or Golden-headed Langur. They cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and there are less than seventy at Cat Ba National Park. Therefore, it is considered Asia’s rarest primate and is heavily protected.
7. Cycle Around Viet Hai Village
You will want to immerse yourself in the lives of the locals during your trip of a lifetime in Halong Bay and you can do that with a day of cycling around Viet Hai village. Viet Hai is a small traditional village located on Cat Ba Island that is considered an isolated paradise due to its isolation and natural beauty. You can take a bike and wander around the village while meeting local farmers. That simple action is one of the favourite activities of all the tourists.
What else to do: Limestone ranges and the forest of the Cat Ba National Park surrounds the village, so a hike is another fabulous option while visiting.
8. Watch the Sunset and Sunrise (from overnight cruise boat)
There are two magical moments on Halong Bay that anyone going there should never miss. Those two things are when the sun rises above the sea and when it goes down. The best spot for sunrise and sunset viewing is from the sundeck of a cruise. The sundeck is high enough, so nothing will block your sight, plus the ship will be moving so the view continues for longer. You should imagine that you are moving along the horizon chasing the sun and that should be reason enough for you to want to visit Halong Bay. See a list of some fabulous Halong Bay cruise options here.
9. Swim and Hike at Titov Island
Titov Island has the perfect combination of beaches and mountains, which makes it an amazing place to spend an entire afternoon in Halong Bay. The sandy beach is at the foot of the mountain, so you can begin your afternoon in the water, before trekking up the mountain, and then cool down in the water once again. The climb up the mountain is not too rough, and there is a pavilion at the halfway point that offers a wonderful view of the beach below. Once you reach the summit, you will be greeted with spectacular panoramic views, and you will want to spend a little extra time up there revelling in everything that you can see. As an added bonus, Titov is one of the best places to capture one of the sunsets or sunrises in Halong Bay.
10. Visit Pearl Farm
Mother Nature has bestowed plenty of treasures on Halong Bay. One of those treasures that the emerald waters and majestic limestone towers of Halong have created and nurtured are perfect pearls, that are then exported worldwide.
Where to go: Halong Pearl Farm in the Tung Sau area
What to do: When you go to the Halong Pearl Farm, you will have the opportunity to learn about pearl cultivation and the lives of the locals. There are currently 40 people that live and work there and they are all from different regions of Vietnam. They use generators and batteries to get electricity, and the freshwater they do use is quite precious and expensive.
Every person who works there loves Halong Bay and they show their love by being a green volunteer. Green volunteers collect rubbish and transfer it back to the mainland for proper treatment.
While on the farm, you will learn how the people raise the oysters and harvest the pearls from them. You will also have a chance to visit the fish farm that is inside the Pearl Farm. After all of that, you can walk around a showroom where jewellery made from pearls is displayed. In one area, there will be a person making delicate pearl necklaces and rings, and they will share the entire process with you and the other guests.
You should visit the floating pearl farm with the Bhaya cruise they will serve lunch right on the farm. The food is usually locally sourced from the fishing village there, especially the seafood like “Song” fish, oyster, and more. Quit essential food and stunning scenery of Halong Bay will make an unforgettable memory that you will remember for a lifetime.