Ha Long Bay: Just as Incredible as You’ve Heard

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When you close your eyes and picture Vietnam, what comes to mind? Rice paddies? Conical hats? Crazy motorbike traffic?

These were all things I had in mind before traveling to Vietnam. And I did indeed encounter them all, nearly every day. But there was one other image that would pop into my head: that of the tall limestone islands of Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Located in the Gulf of Tonkin and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “a spectacular seascape sculpted by nature,” Ha Long Bay has long been a popular destination for travelers to Vietnam.

And I didn't want to miss it, either.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I had some misgivings about traveling to Ha Long Bay, however. After all, it's located in northern Vietnam, which is often prone to smoggy air drifting down from China and/or poor weather that often leads to little-to-no visibility. It's also quite popular with backpackers taking party cruises, and I was worried about the Bay being crowded and noisy.

But you know what? The Ha Long Bay that I experienced in late January exceeded all my expectations.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I visited Ha Long Bay as part of an Intrepid Travel tour of Vietnam. We arrived to the Bay before lunchtime after a few hours of driving from Hanoi and upon arrival boarded a private “junk boat” which would become our overnight home out on the water.

Ha Long Bay cruise

I LOVED our boat. It wasn't new or fancy like some of the other tourist boats you can spot out on Ha Long Bay, but it had character. It also was miles away from the party boats I had pictured — each cabin was fitted with a real bed, a Western toilet, and even a shower nozzle. Above the cabins was a dining/sitting area, and above that was an open-air deck with some sun chairs.

If you are going to Ha Long Bay, booking an overnight cruise is really the best thing you can do.

Ha Long Bay cruise

Ha Long Bay cruise

Our overnight cruise included so many highlights, from gorging ourselves on fresh seafood to kayaking among the karsts to singing karaoke onboard after the sun had set.

Here are photos from my Ha Long Bay cruise:

Seeing Ha Long Bay in the morning:

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Kayaking around the limestone islands:

Ha Long Bay kayaking

Kayaking at Ha Long Bay

Cruising past floating villages (and vendors):

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay vendor

Visiting Sung Sot Cave (AKA Surprise Cave):

Ha Long Bay cave

Ha Long Bay Cave

And watching the sun light up the islands and then set into the Bay:

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay Sunset

And as for my fear of it being crowded? Well, with more than 1,600 “islands” covering more than 1,500 square kilometers, there really is plenty of space at Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

It may not remain this way forever, though. While the Ha Long Bay I saw was indeed beautiful and weirdly quiet at times, there's no denying that things could easily take a turn for the worst here if we tourists aren't careful.

——

Is Ha Long Bay someplace YOU would like to visit?

 

 

*Note: I visited Ha Long Bay as part of a complimentary tour of Vietnam and Cambodia with Intrepid Travel. As always, though, opinions are completely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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59 Comments on “Ha Long Bay: Just as Incredible as You’ve Heard

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  1. So pretty! I need to put this on my list of things I need to do! I’ve heard of Intrepid Travel tours but I’ve never done one. I wonder if there is an alternative to seafood.

      I’ve now been on 5 Intrepid trips all around the world, and have really enjoyed them. And yes, they made non-seafood meals for someone in our group!

    Ha long bay is beautiful without a doubt. Travel changes so many false impressions about a country.

    Looks like you had wonderful weather! I too visited in January (four years ago) and our first day was beautiful and sunny, though overcast the next morning. I absolutely loved it – like you I didn’t want a party cruise and thankfully I learnt which companies to avoid after a bit of research.

      We got SO lucky with the weather! A few days earlier no boats went out because of poor visibility, and the morning after our main cruising day it was overcast and quite gray. So glad I got to see it in nice weather!

    These pictures are beautiful! You can totally make a Ha Long Bay calendar for extra cash 😉

      Haha, thanks! Perhaps I’ll have to take special calendar orders. 😉

    Ha Long Bay has been on my list for ages! I really hope to visit before it becomes overly touristy.

      I hope you can, too! It already is quite touristy, but not nearly as bad as I had feared!

    Stunning! Is this where they filmed that james bond movie “tomorrow never dies”? Great pictures anyhow!

      It’s not where they filmed that! The “Tomorrow Never Dies” scenes you are probably picturing were filmed in Thailand – but I’m hoping to visit those islands on this trip, too!

    I am loving reading your Vietnam posts, Amanda, as I’m going there in eight weeks. Thanks for the tips!

    Great description on what sounds like one of the most incredible places on the planet. I also loved the photo of the floating vendors-I love destinations that “offer” this. And that sunrise/sunset picture belongs on a guidebook cover!

      Awww, thanks Julie! And yeah, the floating vendors were fun! It was so random to look over the side of the boat and see them sidling up.

    Ahhhh – you were definitely lucky to get such a beautiful and clear day! The Ha Long Bay I knew does not look like the pictures above :p Beautiful pictures, especially the one with the limestone islands stretching across the horizon and beyond. LOVE!

      I am well aware how lucky we were with the great weather!

    It seems hard to take a bad picture there but as always, your photos are stunning! I’d love to visit one day and I’ll definitely book an overnight cruise. This looks so cool. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels 🙂

      In my opinion, and overnight cruise is the only way to really experience this place!

    I was on Halong Bay at the same time as you, also not on a party boat. It was one of the main reasons I went to Vietnam and it didn’t disappoint me. In the South, the Mekong Delta is entirely different but also amazing.

      Awesome to hear, Bill! I’m glad you enjoyed it as well.

      And I agree – the Mekong Delta was also great!

    I’m so glad to see that Ha Long Bay remains wonderful! Sadly, there was basically zero sunshine when I went, but it was still gorgeous. I think kayaking around was definitely my favorite part- exploring some of the areas where the boats aren’t allowed was unreal.

      Kayaking was such a highlight! I’d actually never done it before, so it was extra cool for me.

      And I imagine it would still be pretty awesome to see it all misty and kind of mysterious… But I won’t’ lie – I was really glad for the sun!

    Travalled to Vietnam with my tai chi group. One of the many highlights was doing tai chi on the deck of a Ha Long Bay overnight boat. Magic.

    YES!

    So much, I will be going mid- January next year, I think, all being well. 😀

      Awesome! Hopefully you’ll have great January weather like I did! (Though, be sure to bring some layers for the evening – it gets quite chilly at night!)

    Beautiful photos! I agree, the overnight cruise sounds like the perfect way to experience Ha Long Bay.

    Such a beautiful place. We were lucky to visit in a fairly quiet time which made it all the better. The colour of the water is quite amazing, isn’t it? Did you go for a swim or was it too cold?

      Definitely too cold for a swim. Though, I got quite wet anyway when we went kayaking!

    Ha Long Bay looks wonderful.It’s looks soundless sunny place.Nice collection and thanks for sharing this nice place with us.This place looks very charming!

      It’s not always sunny, unfortunately, but it certainly was lovely when I was there!

    Wow.. lucky you to have had great weather! It drizzled on us but was still beautiful. I was a bit turned off by the newly white boats, they use to be mahogany brown and were much prettier against the water and islands. 🙂

      Ah yeah, old wooden boats WOULD have looked nicer in photos! But you can’t deny anyone progress.

    Our boat seemed to be newly painted white also, and it used to be a mahogony colour. Others also seemed to be recently painted – whats up with that? Not that it made any difference.

      No clue! I guess maybe trying to make things look “newer” and more up-market? Really I have no idea! It didn’t really bother me, though – I was too focused on all the awesome limestone cliffs to notice the boats much!

    Agreed. Even though there’s heaps of people it’s plenty big enough for that not to spoil the effect. It’s a very memorable spot for sure.

      Yes, I’m so glad I went in the end! I was so worried about it feeling crowded, but it really didn’t at all!

    What a beautiful place! some great photos

      Thank you, Rebecca! Definitely a photogenic location. I took SO many photos there!

    Looks like a stunning place and a really special experience. Glad the weather was good and that it was still peaceful for you. Would love to make it there sometime 🙂

      Like I said in the post, I wasn’t sure at first if it was going to live up to my expectations. But it totally did!

    Gorgeous photos Amanda. It is truly one of the most magnificent places I’ve been. Sailing along on the glorious boat, feeling like some ancient warrior discovering new lands. I went with my sister but would love to go on a boat just for two with my husband… One day!

      It really was an amazing experience! Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too.

    Mind blowing picture collection. its really amazing place to see

      Thank you! And yes, I agree – it’s amazing!

    […] first kayaking experience had taken place just a month or so before, at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. I was by no means a kayaking pro, but a kayaking tour through some mangroves and into a […]

    […] has some incredible landscapes, from the limestone karsts of Ha Long Bay to the braided waterways in the Mekong Delta. I was constantly surprised by how different different […]

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