One of the most popular tours to take when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam is to go to Halong Bay. It is certainly one of the most recognizable places in all of Vietnam with the mountains jutting up from the bay, which according to myth is the result of a dragons descending to earth. Halong Bay actually means “descending dragon” and even though the mountains are the result of natural forces over centuries of time, the result is still incredibly beautiful. Halong Bay was recently named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Although it is possible to visit Halong Bay in a single day, we’d recommend taking an overnight cruise to make the most of your time in this wonderous location. There are many different caves, beaches, and mountains that you can visit depending on your tour company. With so many cruise ships on Halong Bay, no matter which caves you explore or places that you stop, you can expect there to be large crowds joining you. We traveled to Vietnam in November, which is the offseason, and even then we were among hundreds of other visitors.
Based upon our research prior to visiting Halong Bay, the tour that we took is pretty typical of an overnight cruise on the turquoise waters. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Halong Bay and it was one of our favorite memories of our time in Vietnam. Thanks to the new highway, it was only about an hour and a half to two hours from Hanoi to the docks where hundreds of cruise ships sit ready to take tourists out onto Halong Bay. Our tour consisted of the following highlights:
- Titop Island – After enjoying lunch on our cruise ship as we made our way out into the heart of Halong Bay, we took a small boat to visit Titop Island. There is a beach where you can swim in the water to get a break from the heat, but the main reason for visiting Titop Island is for the incredible views of Halong Bay from the observation deck at the top of the mountain. It is certainly worth climbing the approximately 400 stairs in order to get to the covered deck at the summit. You may have to take turns to get to the rails, but you get views of the bay in all directions.
- Overnight on the Cruise Ship – Upon returning to the cruise ship, we went to the top deck where we watched the sun set and enjoyed cocktails and snacks during the ships happy hour. Prior to dinner, guests on the ship could enjoy a cooking demonstration, but having done an actual cooking class in Hanoi, we chose to stay on the upper deck and enjoy the incredible views. Since it was the offseason, our ship wasn’t full, but there were about 14 other guests with us on our tour. For those that wanted to, you could fish for squid at night before going to bed to get up early the next morning to do Tai Chi. We chose to skip both of those in order to get a good night sleep as we still had to be in the dining room by 7:00 am to eat breakfast while we watched the sun rise over the mountains. We had a busy day ahead of us.
- Surprise Cave (Sung Sot Cave) – After finishing breakfast, we went to visit Surprise Cave as early as possible. Our guides told us that the later that you arrived at the island, the larger the crowds became. Surprise Cave is a large cavern in the mountain that has been carved out by water over hundreds of years. We saw many different caves during our time in Vietnam, but this was probably the most unique of all of the caves that we saw. With huge stalactites and stalagmites and other rock formations inside of the limestone mountain, it was truly spectacular.
- Luan Cave – Whether you took a kayak or let a guide take you on a row boat, going through Luan Cave and going around the inlet with its beautiful water is amazing. There are monkeys that come down to the shore at different times of the day that are as fascinated with the tourists as we were with them. After touring the cave and getting up close to the cliffs, we returned to our cruise ship where we enjoyed lunch and then went back to the upper deck to enjoy the views as we headed back to the dock.
It is a full, two-day tour that starts by being picked up at your hotel in Hanoi at 8:00 in the morning and drops you back at around 18:00 the following day. Without a doubt, a tour of Halong Bay should be on your itinerary when traveling to Hanoi. The sights and memories of our tour is definitely something that we will always treasure.