Ha Long Bay

Situated in the North East of the country in the Quang Ninh Province, Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. The 1,553 square kilometre area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 and features some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of South East Asia.

Some of the most prominent features are the limestone karsts and islands, jutting straight out of the clear water, of which there are thousands. These were formed over 500 million years of geological formation through different weather conditions and environments. Each of the limestone islands is topped with thick jungle vegetation which makes an interesting and striking view, and some of these islands are hollow and have magnificent limestone caves such as the striking Thien Cung grotto to explore. There are four small fishing villages in the bay where roughly a total of 1600 people live in floating houses and sustain a lifestyle through fishing.

While you can stay in Halong City which is the main gateway to the bay, it is also possible to stay on an overnight cruise to experience the natural phenomenon. This is slightly more expensive, but well worth it, as you will immerse yourself in nature and remove yourself from the busy city. Many of these overnight cruises will stay away from the most visited bays and take you to the quieter, more remote and more peaceful locations, which also ensures that you have a unique experience.

Located in the bay is Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park. This is an excellent place to witness the native vegetation and to complete some moderate and challenging hikes, including a challenging six hour 18km route to the top of one of the mountain summits. It is home to 32 types of mammal included the world's most endangered primate, the golden-headed langur. Guides are not essential, but are recommended so that you can listen to a local expert tell you all about the different vegetation, the history and the nature of the park, and they can be found at the park headquarters which are at Trung Trang, a short bus trip away from Cat Ba Town which is where you will land. There is also an easily accessible multi-chambered cave called Hang Trung Trang within the park to explore. If you do decide to visit this, ensure you have a flashlight with you and check with the park rangers that it is open. The Cat Ba Island Market, located in the town's harbour, is a great place to visit for local seafood and local culture.

One of the best views of the bay is from the Cannon Fort on Cat Ba Island. Only a short but steep 10 minute walk from the town will take you to the entrance, and from here the hike continues another 20 minutes or so to the fort at the top, following well signed pathways past underground tunnels and gun emplacements which were installed by the Japanese in the second world war.

For those who don't wish to spend the night, there are numerous cruises that leave from Halong City and from Hanoi. This is the quickest and easiest way to experience Ha Long Bay and will show you a cross section of the main bay. Prices range from as low as $40USD to around $100USD for single day trips depending on the size of the group, the quality of the food, how luxurious the cruise is, and indeed the company you use to book it.

Halong City itself is somewhat less remarkable, but is a good place for budget hotels, gambling and karaoke. It is one of the cheapest places to stay in all of Vietnam, and offers excellent access to the bay. For travelers on a very tight budget, it might be worth considering staying here and accessing the bay by day.

This beautiful attraction is highly recommended by every travel guide and travel agent, and although very popular, it is still possible to escape the crowds and to immerse yourself into something truly natural and amazing. Make sure to include Ha Long Bay in your itinerary for an unforgettable experience and to see one of the best places in Vietnam.