It was the photos of Halong Bay that sealed the deal. After one look at those emerald green waters and limestone pillars…Javi and I knew Vietnam would be our next destination. Our first stop was the capital city of Hanoi. Next we headed to Halong Bay (Hạ Long Bay)—it’s only a four-hour drive from the city!
I’m pleased to say Halong Bay definitely lived up to the hype and it was as beautiful in person as the photos. 😉 The bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in northeast Vietnam. Its spectacular seascape features 1,600 limestone islets topped with lush greenery. It’s also known for its beautiful, emerald waters and hidden caves too.
Once we arrived at the bay we checked-in at the Indochina Sails office. Then we were taken to our luxury ship by way of motorboat. The ship was the perfect size for our group and featured 15 cabins, a dining area, and a large deck. Our cabin had a king sized bed, full bathroom, air conditioning, and a large window for enjoying the views. The cruise package was all-inclusive except for alcohol.
The trip was amazing, but I definitely learned a few things from the experience. Here are 4 mistakes you should avoid when visiting Halong Bay…
1) Not spending a night on the water
There are many day excursions from Hanoi and Halong City, but I would recommend staying at least one or two nights on the water. The most common tour options available are:
- Day excursions (from nearby cities)
- 2 day 1 night cruises
- 3 day 2 night cruises
- 4 day 3 night cruises
Javi and I did a 3 day 2 night cruise and it was the perfect amount of time for us. Don’t make the mistake of visiting the bay without spending a night on the water. You’ll need a full 24 hours to really appreciate all its colors as the light changes throughout the day!
2) Missing off-the-beaten-path sights
There are three distinct bays in the area; Ha Long, Bai Tu Long and La Han Bay. Most tourists head to Halong Bay, but there are other places you shouldn’t miss while you’re there.
- Halong Bay: most popular and usually includes stops at Ti Top Island and Sung Sot Cave. I’ve read this is the biggest “party destination” of the three but I suppose this depends on the boat/excursion you choose. Ti Top Island and Sung Sot Cave are usually crowded with tourists.
- Halong Bay + Bai Tu Long Bay: normally combines the best spots of Halong Bay with off-the-beaten-path stops in Bai Tu Long. Keep in mind these tours will probably be more expensive.
- La Han Bay + Cat Ba Island: a nice option if you want to spend a night on an island or extend your stay without breaking the bank on a boat. I’ve read La Han Bay is also less touristy compared to Halong Bay.
3) Choosing the wrong season to visit
The bay can get ridiculously crowded with boats and tourists around November and December. You may want to consider visiting in the off-season like we did (August/September). Just keep in mind you could run into bad weather this time of year. Give yourself an extra day or two in the region if possible….some overnight cruises were rescheduled to the following day due to weather.
4) Avoid overpaying for excursions
Avoid booking excursions through your hotel because you will definitely overpay. Also you should thoroughly research excursion companies before making any reservations online. Tourism is still relatively new in Vietnam and travel agencies seem to offer the most secure and affordable options. My best tip is to book your visit to Halong Bay through a travel agency if you have the option.
P.S. If you go swimming make sure to keep an eye out for jellyfish! 😉