Halong Bay Travel Guide for First-Time Travelers

Halong Bay

Halong Bay is one of the most famous places in Vietnam and consists of a series of impressive limestone islands that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are around 2000 islands in the bay and many of them are with beautiful lush vegetation, making them ideal for walking. Many of the islands are also the home of caves. The best thing to do in Halong Bay is taking a cruise, where you can see these islands up close and take trips to caves and floating villages. Let Vietnam Shore Excursions show you how to get the most out of your Halong Bay Cruise experience.

Halong Bay

The name ‘Ha Long Bay’ means ‘the bay where the dragon descends into’, a literary explanation describing thousands of limestone islands and islets scattering on 434 sq km of greenish water. Halong Bay’s geographical landscape was the result of complex geological processes taking over 500 million years. Inside the caves, researchers found evidence of sea regression and transgression, earth’s movements and down-warping tectonics. Altogether has made a wonder of the Vietnam landscape on above and under the ground.

Come to Halong, besides cruising the bay, you mustn’t miss visiting the impressive system of grottos and caves, or kayaking the hidden water cave, or visiting the nearby fishing villages. Here is the complete guide on the top things to do in Halong bay and how to get the most out of your trip to Vietnam’s World Heritage Bay.

Halong Bay Vietnam - Vietnam Shore Excursions

5 Reasons to Visit Halong Bay

  1. Take a fantastic cruise through the beautiful landscape.
  2. Do an adventurous activity such as kayaking or rock climbing.
  3. View the local life in the floating villages.
  4. Explore different islands with viewpoints and caves.
  5. Be romantic with a luxury cruise, spa and dining in a cave

Best Time to Visit Halong Bay

  • The best travel time for Halong Bay is spring (March, April) and fall (September, October). The weather is cool and you enjoy the best time of the year.
  • The summer time lasts from May to early September, when the bay is sunny and warm to swim under a clear blue sky. In some days there will be light rain and even an unexpected typhoon that could cancel your cruise.
  • The winter in Halong Bay lasts from November to March, leading to cold weather, especially in January and February; not ideal for swimming. The foggy days and the strong monsoon are also present during this period.

Halong Bay 2 Days 1 Night - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Top Things to do in Halong Bay

The thousands of islands and floating villages already make for an unforgettable experience, but there is more to see and do at Halong Bay. Most of these sites are included with the cruise that you book. Therefore, pay attention to which cruise you book. Below you can read the best things to do at Halong Bay.

Cruise through Halong Bay

The best thing to do in Halong Bay is no surprise; a cruise. There are hundreds of boats, from very small to large, from luxury to cheap and from day boats to multi-day boats. So, no matter what kind of traveler you are, there is always a cruise in Halong that suits you. The water in the bay is very calm, so you don’t have to worry about waves and getting seasick. You will also not get bored quickly, because there are many activities available during the boat trip.

You can kayak, swim (in the right period), explore caves, visit floating villages and take walks on the larger islands. If you prefer to relax at the end of your active Vietnam vacation, you can simply stay on the cruise to admire the beautiful landscape of uninhabited islands and karstones jutting out of the water.

Cruise through Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

  • Tip: With so many boats cruising the bay, it can be a bit overwhelming to find a cruise that suits you best. So, take a look at the selections we have made of the best Halong Bay cruises divided into categories

Scenic Flight over The Bay

The coolest way to see how magnificent this UNESCO sight is, is taking a scenic flight in Halong Bay. It is perfect for when you want to see the bay in a short time or when it fits your budget you can also combine it with a cruise.

The flights last 25 minutes and start from the water in Halong City by seaplane. Taking off from the water and landing alone is a great experience, but the real highlight is of course when you fly above the islands and rocks.

It is possible to take pictures during the flight with a camera or mobile, so that you can capture this special experience.

Scenic Flight over Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions


From a cruise you can admire the landscape perfectly, but with a kayak you can get to places that boats cannot reach. It is also a wonderful activity on the water, with little current and no waves. For that reason, kayaking is one of the best things to do in Halong Bay.

There are caves that you can paddle through, ending up in a completely hidden part of the bay. You can also visit various beaches with a kayak. Almost all cruise boats, from day trips to multi-day trips, have included this activity in their travel program. If you don’t feel like it or it is raining, you can also choose to skip kayaking.

Kayaking in Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Floating Fishing Villages

In Vietnam they love seafood. In order to meet the high demand for these sea delicacies, you will see fishing boats all along the coast. Because the water in Halong Bay is so still, this is also a place where floating fishing villages have sprung up. Here people literally live and work on the water.

Floating Fishing Villages in Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Many of the floating platformers are used for fish and shellfish farming. It is a unique experience to visit a floating village where you can see how the people work here and sometimes live for days.

Relax on Beaches

Despite the fact that Halong Bay consists of hundreds of islands off the coast, it is not a popular beach destination in Vietnam. This is because many islands do not have a beach and the islands that do have a beach are often small and difficult to access. For this reason, they can only be visited on a cruise. This makes a visit to one of the beaches in Halong Bay extra special.

If you would like to visit beaches but do not depend on a cruise, it is best to travel to the island of Cat Ba. On this island you can stay and there are many beaches that you can visit on your own.

Relax on Beach in Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Explore Cat Ba

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay and one of the few islands where you can also stay. The island has a beautiful wild national park where you can take walks, spot animals and enjoy beautiful viewpoints in the middle of the jungle.

Cat Ba Island - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Other fun activities include cycling or scooter around the island, kayaking or just relaxing on the beach. If you want to see a little more of the bay, you can also take a day tour by boat from Cat Ba.

Visit Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay

Almost everyone knows Halong Bay, but did you know that there are two other bays next to Halong. Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are smaller than Halong Bay, but just as beautiful. But the best thing about these two Halong Bay alternatives is that far fewer boats come here and therefore fewer tourists. So, you don’t have to be so afraid that you have to share a beach or cave with many other travelers.

Lan Ha Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Because both bays are a bit further from Hanoi, you will be on the road longer. Furthermore, you will see similar landscapes and engage in similar activities such as visiting floating fishing villages, exploring caves and kayaking on your own.


The islands of Halong Bay are made of the same rock as the landscape in Phong Nha, where you will find some of the most impressive and largest caves in the world. So, there are also plenty of caves in Halong Bay.

Thien Cung Cave Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore EXcursions

You can actually visit a number of these caves and there is often always one included in every cruise itinerary. Some caves are also beautifully lit with various colors. Another unique experience is dining in a cave.

Nice Viewpoints

From a boat trip you often have to look up to get a good view of the islands, but the best view is often from above. If you don’t have the time or budget to take a scenic flight, the best alternative is to visit a viewpoint higher up in the bay.

Halong Bay Vietnam - Vietnam Shore Excursions

The best viewpoints in Halong Bay are spread out. For example, you have Bai Tho Mountain near Halong City, Ti Top Island in the middle of the bay and on the island of Cat Ba you even have several viewpoints that you can visit.

Rock Climbing

If you don’t mind putting in some effort to reach a viewpoint, go rock climbing in Halong Bay. Not only the view from above is worth it, but the entire climb is a great adventure. The rocks in the bay are perfect for climbers and it is possibly one of the best places in the world for climbing. There are also options for deep-water soloing.

Rock Climbing in Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Where to Stay in Halong Bay?

On a cruise

As already mentioned, the best thing to do in Halong Bay is to stay on a cruise. It provides a unique experience and is also a nice change from a stay in a hotel or homestay during the rest of your holiday. You can stay on a cruise in both Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Lan Ha Bay.

Because there is so much to offer you can check our selection of the best cruises in Halong Bay.

Luxury Room on Halong Bay Cruise - Vietnam Shore Excursions

Cat Ba Island

There are several islands that offer accommodation in Halong Bay, but Cat Ba is the first choice for most people. Here you have the most options in hotels, hostels and resorts. Another advantage of staying here is that the island is so big that you have plenty of activities. If you still want to take a boat trip, you can also arrange that from here. There are plenty of freshly caught seafood restaurants, pier access, scooter rentals and close to things to do such as Cat Ba National Park.

Tuan Chau Island

Tuan Chau Island is where you will find the harbor from which most boats depart. In addition to the port, there is also a large landscaped area for tourism with hotels, resorts and beaches. However, this island lacks the local atmosphere. The island can be reached from the road.

Halong City

Ha Long City actually consists of two cities, Bai Chay and Hon Gai, which are connected by a bridge. The first is the tourist district of Ha Long City, while the second is more of a local scene.

Food & Drinking

When you choose a cruise, all food is always included. Each multi-day boat also has its own restaurant. Drinks are usually not included.

When you stay in Halong City or Cat Ba you will mainly find seafood restaurants, but there are also plenty of other options.

How to get to Halong Bay?

There is great news for those who are planning to travel to Halong Bay: Hanoi – Hai Phong – Quang Ninh Highway has officially opened. This highway reduces the traveling time from 3.5 hours to just a little over 2 hours. Two most common departure cities are Hanoi and Hai Phong. And you can easily get to Halong from either of these cities:

How to get to Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

From Hanoi

Hanoi is located 165 kilometers from Halong Bay which means it can take you 3.5 to 4 hours of traveling, except for the new highway via which you only need a little more than 2 hours. Some cruise buses use this expressway and charge extra fee, some still use the old highway with travel time 4 hours. If you take a private car, you may request to use the new highway and pay the toll fee ($15/one way).

The new expressway reduces the time transferring from Hanoi to Halong

Cruise Shuttle Bus/Mini Bus

The easiest way to travel to Halong bay is to book a cruise tour that offers two-way transfer (which is always available in our cruise itineraries). You can ask your cruise operator to arrange transfer on the new highway and pay an extra transfer fee.

The shuttle buses from cruise operators are often comfortable and high-class. With these options, you don’t have to worry about transferring from and to Halong city and Halong bay.


Buses from Hanoi to Quang Ninh are available at major bus terminals like My Dinh and Gia Lam. The price for a one way ticket is around 100,000 – 200,000 VND (US$5 – 10). Normally, most coaches will stop at a terminal near Bai Chay Bridge. From there, you can catch a taxi to Tuan Chau Marina. However, there are risks with this option like being overcharged or bad driving…


Hai Au Aviation launched its new style of Halong tour back in 2014, making it now one of your options to get to Halong Bay. The Vietnam Seaplane Tour can take you from Hanoi to Halong Bay in only 45 minutes, offering a panoramic view of the bay for 15 minutes. If you have a generous budget, this is something you might want to try, costing USD$175 one way.

How to get to Halong Bay - Vietnam Shore Excursions

From Hai Phong

New highway from Dinh Vu Port to Halong has been completed as of 2018, making the travel time from Hai Phong to Tuan Chau Pier only 45 minutes for the distance of 75 kilometers.

Coach and Bus

You can catch a bus to Quang Ninh at Lac Long Terminal, located at No.22, Cu Chinh Lan Street, Hong Bang District, Hai Phong City. There Are few routes available with prices ranging from 50,000VND to 100,000VND.


Ferries from Hai Phong to Halong Bay are available at Ben Binh Terminal. Some cruises offering Halong – Cat Ba – Lan Ha also take guests from Got Ferry Terminal in Cat Hai. The ferries will take you to Cat Ba or Cai Vieng fishing village.

Flights to Halong Bay

There is a sea plane flying from Hanoi to Tuan Chau Island in Halong Bay, close to Halong City.

How to get around Halong Bay?

On Cat Ba Island you can rent a scooter or car with a driver to go around and visit places of interest. Another popular way is to go cycling. Many accommodations on the island have a bicycle to borrow for free or else you can always rent one somewhere.

If you want to see more of the bay, you should always take a boat trip.

Suggested Halong Bay Tours and Holiday Packages

Vietnam Shore Excursions is proud to share our signature Halong Bay Tours offering exclusive access to unique cultural experiences and special interests. They range from half-day to full-day programmes and can be incorporated into any customized itinerary (Hanoi Tour Package 8 Days) for a more meaningful and enriching travel experience. Please contact Vietnam Shore Excursions today for your best Halong Bay Tours.

More Tips for Traveling in Halong Bay

Halong Bay alternatives

As mentioned before, it is highly recommended to check out the Halong Bay alternatives to avoid mass tourism.

Where to Go Next?

Because cruises pick up and drop off from Hanoi, this is also the logical next point for most people. From Hanoi you can also reach all parts of North Vietnam by bus, south by train or even further south by domestic flights.

However, from Halong it is also possible to arrange your own transport to Ninh Binh, so that you do not have to travel to Hanoi first.

Halong Bay with Kids

If you are traveling through Vietnam with children, Halong Bay is highly recommended. They can swim, kayak and do other activities. It is useful to take a good look at which boat has the best offer in child-friendly activities.

Ha Long Bay really is a paradise to enjoy the nature you could wish for. Book a cruise in Halong, then you’re good to go since a cruise tour includes most of the things you can enjoy at the bay. Those who want to go off-beat, there’re visiting floating villages, climbing limestone mountains you can try.

Are you ready for your best trip to Halong Bay, Vietnam?! Contact Vietnam Shore Excursions for even more insights and advice!

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David Nguyen - Vietnam Travel Expert

Mr. David Nguyen is a travel expert and as a seasoned traveler he has the inside track on the most memorable adventures which will help you to have unforgettable memories and wonderful experiences to better your Vietnam Holiday!

Hotline: +84913138096 (WhatsApp/ Zalo/ Imessage) Email: chiduyencssh@gmail.com

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