Dubbed “The Bay of Descending Dragons”, Halong Bay is located in the northeast of Vietnam, it comprises of nearly 2000 limestone islands and islets of various shapes and sizes. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012.
From uninhabited white beaches, delicious seafood, world-class cruises, untouched wildlife and mysterious caves, this destination has something special to offer for every type of traveller. Several popular activities are available on the islands such as spelunking, island hopping, sea kayaking, sightseeing and even enjoying fresh seafood barbecues.
Cat Ba island is one of the most popular attractions in Halong Bay, as it is the biggest island in this part of Vietnam. Cat Ba is located around an ancient fisherman’s port and has a very relaxing atmosphere which makes it a pleasant place for travellers to spend a tranquil afternoon. A fun activity to do while on the island is to rent a bicycle and ride into the idyllic countryside just outside the main town. This also happens to be a central location where many boats leave for island trips which makes it an ideal spot to base yourself throughout your trip.
Another top tourist destination in Halong Bay is Me Cung Cave, or more commonly known by tourists as the ‘Bewitching Grotto’ or the ‘Maze Cave’. Unlike many other caves and grottos which tell legends of their origins, Me Chung cave is famous for being one of the sites of prehistoric man, who lived here between 7000 and 10000 years ago. The entrance of the cave is narrow, however, once inside its tunnel is covered in gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites which shimmer in an array of vibrant colours. This picturesque cave is also full of fossils and is a great spot to explore for visitors who enjoy spelunking.
Monkey Island also known as Cat Dua in Vietnamese, is a perfect spot if you’re looking to take a boat trip while in Halong Bay. While tourists are inclined to believe that Monkey Island is all about monkeys, it couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a pristine private beach located on the island where travellers can relax by the white sands or go swimming and snorkelling in the azure seas. Those who like adventure can also opt to go sea kayaking or hiking through the various scenic trails across the island. Monkey Island is also known to have one of the most perfect sunset views in Halong Bay.
Travellers who want to experience the true culture of Halong Bay, should take a tour of the floating villages where locals reside in little houses built on boats. Amongst the four main floating villages in Halong Bay are Cua Van, Vung Vieng, Cong Dam and Ba Hang. Traditionally, the numerous floating villages are home to fishermen and their families. While in recent years the population of these villages has shrunk, there are still many families that live on the waters. Visiting the villages is a truly humble and authentic experience as you will be able to take an intriguing glimpse into a way of life on the decline as the younger generations choose urban life over aquatic.
Thrill-seekers who are on the lookout for something more exciting than the average boat tours should consider going kayaking or scuba diving. With clear blue waters and calm tides, Halong Bay is ideal for paddling around from one limestone outcrop to the other and sometimes even through caves. This is kayaking with a twist however as the sea is scattered with eerie rising karst formations that jut out of the water. The most popular spots for kayaking are part of the 3 Peaches islets, Dark and Light Cave. Scuba diving and snorkelling are newly introduced activities in Halong Bay as the underwater scenes are just as beautiful as what you get above.
Halong Bay is located by the sea; therefore, visitors should not be surprised to discover that there is a plethora of seafood on offer here. Many of the best restaurants here are located along the central beaches where guests can dine with their feet in the sand while sampling the freshest catch of the day. Amongst popular delicacies available include baked king prawns as well as squid, crab, fish and lobster. If you prefer, there are also barbecue fire pits where you can have a go at cooking your own dinner.
Source: TripAdvisor @ LTB511
Though there are limited options for shopping in Halong Bay, what is available can actually be very interesting. If you want to find local items like clothing and textiles, try the night market at Bai Chay Town. It is set up with many small open-air stalls with good collections of Vietnamese products including silk dresses, lacquerware, chopsticks, trinkets, ceramic tea sets, Vietnamese conical hats and dolls. There are also heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables here as well as plenty of seafood. Another fun way of shopping is from small floating shops where local people row boats filled with goods such as beer, vodka, cigarettes, potato chips, cookies and other snacks. Their small boats are usually laden with goods in a very organized manner. Even if you choose not to buy anything, these vessels are fascinating to see and photograph.
With all the excitement Halong Bay has to offer, don’t forget to pack a few key items to well-prepared yourself for an enjoyable trip. The right pair of shoes is of utmost importance especially for those keen on visiting the many beautiful caves and grottos. Caves in Halong Bay are often steep and sometimes slippery so be sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes to ensure your safety and comfort. It’s also good to bring a few pairs of warm clothing such as a jacket or sweater as Halong Bay at night can be rather chilly. Last but not least, be sure to bring your swimwear along to enjoy swimming and other water activities in the crystal-clear blue waters of Halong Bay.
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