Halong Bay (also known as Ha Long Bay) is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world. It is of such significant natural beauty and extensive biodiversity that it has been designated a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of this, Halong Bay cruises and Halong Bay tours are extremely popular with all visitors to northern Vietnam. Day excursions can be booked from Hai Phong, and longer vacation packages are available in Hanoi.
Hai Phong is set along the Red River Delta right on Halong Bay and boasts its own lovely beaches, as well as numerous pagodas and Buddhist temples. While most river cruises for tourists occur on the Mekong River and in the Mekong Delta, Hai Phong is the country’s most important seaport. There are numerous companies offering Halong Bay cruises in the city either for day excursions or even cruises for several days on luxurious floating hotels.
Probably the most romantic Halong Bay cruises are aboard traditional junks that are full of the rich maritime history of southeast Asia. These ships, cruising under their instantly recognizable signature sails, are elegantly outfitted with bars, lounges, and fine gourmet dining rooms. They can have as few as two cabins or as many as twenty. There are also Halong Bay tours on river paddleboats that hearken back to the time when Indochina was a colonial possession of France.
Other things to do near Halong Bay include exploring in pristine Cat Ba Island National Park and the caves of the Cat Ba archipelago, and diving around the coral reefs. There are some very worthwhile things to see in Hai Phong, in addition to spending time on the famous bay. One of the country’s lakes is located here—Tam Boc Lake, remnant of one of the Red River Delta canals. The bustling Old Quarter of the city is a great place for shopping, and sunsets are spectacular from the shore. This is a great time to be along the beaches, as there are several concessions and vendors selling fresh fish dishes and cool drinks as the sun goes down.
But the most popular Halong Bay tours remain cruises among the dramatic seascapes of limestone karst mountains rising precipitously from the sea. Ha Long Bay literally means “Bay of the descending Dragons” and comes from an ancient legend. The legend is part of the history of the entire country, as it is said a family of dragons descended here to protect the people, and it is around this area that the original country of Vietnam was formed. Halong Bay is a large area encompassing as many as 2,000 limestone islands jutting out of the water, most covered with moist tropical forest. There are numerous caves in these mountains. Two islands, Cat Ba Island and Tuan Chau have permanent residents and towns, but even the uninhabited islands have beautiful beaches.
You can travel to Halong Bay quite inexpensively and easily from Hai Phong using public transportation and ferries. However, this can be a little intimidating for visitors if coming from as far away as Hanoi, as the entire one-way journey will take as long as four hours.