Halong Bay (Ha Long Bay) in Vietnam is Where Mother Nature Decided to Become an Artist.
This is all the information you'll need if you are planning a trip to see and experience Halong and its beauty.
There are many methods of seeing this beautiful place in the best possible way and at the best possible price.
It can be easy to fall for the large 5 star Halong Cruise Ship. The fact is that it is not worth the extra money considering the options that are available to you.
Now would be a good time to tell you about those other options.
How Best to See Halong Bay Vietnam Without Spending a Fortune
Ha Long Bay (Ha Long) is Vietnam's Great Wall of China. The only difference is that Mother Nature was the artist in Vietnam.
Some do say that visitors from space helped construct the Great Wall.
Who Knows? The point is that no one goes to Beijing, China without stopping by to see the Great Wall of China.
The same should be said about a trip to Halong Bay with Hanoi so near.
The Bay of Halong is an Archipelago of over 1,550 Square Kilometers. The bay is filled with more than 1,969 limestone monolithic-like rocks that jut into the sky like Jagged Monster's teeth topped with thick green vegetation.
Between the rocks are alleys of commerce or open waterways filled with passing fishing boats, tourist boats and Kayaks.
Some of the rocks are so steep that there is no beach where the waves break against them. They just look like giant fingers of stone sticking out of the water.
Ha Long was declared a World Natural Heritage Site By UNESCO in 1994 because of its 'Outstanding Aesthetic, Geological and Geomorphologic Value'.
Ha Long Bay feels like magic all around you or that magic had once happened there. There is no other place similar to it in the world and we'll show you how easy it is to make the trip to Halong Bay, especially if you'll be anywhere near Hanoi in the future.
The Halong Bay Tours are the best (And only) way to see Halong Bay. We decided that we wanted to see Ha Long Bay from the deck of a Vietnamese Junk and we wanted to organize the trip through a trustworthy source. Great prices never hurt either.
The best, most cost-effective of the Halong Bay tours fill up fast. You will either have to book your tour while in Hanoi and then wait the 3-5 days for a spot to open up or book it online in advance.
We recommend that you book it in advance. You can change the date at any time and cancel up to 24 hours before your booked departure date. You might even get back the $4USD deposit.
We finally booked the Private Single Day Halong Bay Tour from Viator, one of the largest tour companies in the world.
All tours should include,
I took the single day tour of Halong Bay Vietnam because you can't see Halong Bay on your own. It is just a matter of finding the best options and the best boat you can for the cost.
I kept hearing that the Viator trips were famous all over the world and that they were the best and the cost was low. When you see the prices and the options on the Halong Bay Cruises, you'll be surprised just how inexpensive the trips are, especially in the low season.
I just wanted to see Halong and its Bay with a guide that knew the place well enough to show me the best places.
And they delivered.
You can do a 3 night trip on the water and sleep on the water in a replica of the old Vietnamese Junks. Or just a full day tour at prices that are really the best we've managed to find anywhere on the internet.
Get more information on that Halong Bay Tour here.
Here's a satellite image that is much better than any Halong Bay Map. You can zoom in and out or go anywhere you want on the Globe.
What to See in the Waters of Halong Bay Vietnam
Check out the HaiPhong weather forecasts before you go. They will give you a good idea of what to expect from the weather on the day of your tour.
It took us more than an hour to navigate past the thickest collection of the limestone Islands that pockmark the waters, protecting the open Bay of Halong.
The Vietnamese Captain and crew were calling back and forth to each other as the boat slid through the waters as we approached Titop Island.
When we arrived at the Island the only thing going through my head was why anyone would name it 'Tiptop Island'.
At first they couldn't get me into the water despite the coaxing and the fact that the other passengers were already splashing about.
Like a sheep I eventually followed the others in and really enjoyed the swim. But why Tiptop Island?
Next we headed to Hang Sung Sot. It's an enormous cave with incredible stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling and jutting up from the cave floor.
I loved the eerie sounds that flooded the cave despite the other tourists testing their echoing voices over and over.
There is also some interesting 19th Century French graffiti painted on the walls.
A nearby Bay was the next destination and there were many other boats anchored in the same spot. We did the same and spent a few hours swimming about and digesting the views of Halong Bay in the dying light.
The Vietnamese tour guide told us lots of stories over dinner and even though some of the stories were ridiculous, the setting was perfect and I loved the effort. The stars were clusters of light and the voices from the other vessels carried far.
We slept overnight in cabins on the boat, and the next day we headed off further into the bay. I didn't get a good night's sleep though.
It was so beautiful up on deck that I sat there through most the night. A feeling of complete freedom washed over me and I was humbled by the setting, even though the limestone islands were mere shadows in the night's sky.
I eventually turned in but was woken by the early morning commotion of the crew getting breakfast ready and preparing for our next destination.
Breakfast was great and I found myself eating more than I usually do. It must have been the fresh air and all the swimming but it sure felt healthy.
We were soon off again but we met up with a smaller boat and were told to switch over to the smaller boat. The bigger tourist boats cannot get near a lot of the islands because of the rocky shores and the shallow rock looming beneath the hull.
The smaller boat took us near Monkey Island where we took out some Kayaks for some more intimate exploration of Islands and Bays inaccessible by other, deeper keeled vessels.
The most memorable spot was a bay that was completely sealed off except for a tiny entrance under an overhanging Archway.
I was told that the Bay is completely inaccessible when the tide is riding high. I heard stories of people getting stuck in there overnight and never being heard from again. Apparently, it is a nursery for dragons according to local drunken lore.
Monkey beach is where we went next but I didn't see any monkeys. Apparently, they were all hiding in the Jungle. They don't do that anywhere else and in fact are pests in Thailand.
But the Vietnamese do consider them food and that has a great impact on the psychological state of the monkeys on monkey Island.
You wouldn't want to be reincarnated as an animal in Vietnam. That's a pretty strong hint you did something wrong in this life.
Monkey beach was a great place for a swim though.
A smaller Island near Monkey beach was where we had our lunch. The food was fruit salads and Vietnamese fresh rolls and some pretty chewy pork and rice. I ate it before I had fully identified all of it.
After lunch, we took our boat over to Viet Hai Harbour on Cat Ba Island for some Cat Ba Island Tours on Mountain Bikes. Cat Ba Island is the largest Island in Halong Bay and even has a small population of inhabitants (Farmers and Fisherman mainly).
I didn't remember a mountain bike trip as part of the tour but I was up for it. We pedaled through some amazing rice paddies and a few tiny villages. It became a memory I will never forget.
Sometimes taking a good Budget Tour is the difference between being stranded and lost or with a guide that knows where to take people and shares their local knowledge. It is like having someone on your side who wants you to see the best a place has to offer.
That's Halong Bay. Look into the Viator Halong Bay Tour for many tour options of Halong Bay.
Lucky for me the next day was just the journey back to Hanoi. I was beat. It's about 2 hours on boat to the mainland and then another 3-4 hours by bus to Hanoi.
Most everyone stops in Hai Phong for lunch and then makes the trip up to Hanoi with full bellies and caffeine rich blood.
Finding Your Way to Halong Bay, Vietnam
If you're coming down from the South of China, you can get a train to Hanoi from Nanning Station, Kunming Station or Guangzhou Station. From any of those stations you can transfer to a train destined for Hanoi.
The only direct train to Hanoi originates in Beijing.
If you've bought a First Class ticket on any of the trains then you'll be quite comfortable. But I still fill my bag with food and drink for the ride. The food choices on the trains are limited, expensive and saturated in MSG.
If you are on the train out of Nanning Station then you'll enter Vietnam via the Dong Dang border crossing which is just North of Lang Son Province. Just sit back and relax (With one eye on your belongings).
The train takes you right into Hanoi where there are many a cheap Hanoi hotel to be found.
Trains coming from Kunming cross the border at the Lao Cai border crossing in North-Western Vietnam.
From Guangzhou, you will cross the border at Mong Cai, a few hours drive from Halong Bay. It is the closest stop to Halong bay but you'll need to get to Hanoi or Haiphong City.
There is also a border crossing at Huu Nghi in Lang Son province. It's a road crossing. You can get a bus out of Nanning to Hanoi and this is where you'll enter Vietnam.
I decided to stay with the train because I like to hang out the car windows at night and watch the passing countryside.
This one is easy. Just make sure that you have a travel visa to Vietnam and also one for China.
The best place to get your Chinese Visa at China Travel Services.
The office I used was at:China Travel Services.
1/F., Alpha House,
27-33 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui,
Kowloon, Hong Kong.
They will also sell you a bus ticket to the Chinese city of Nanning. It's the closest city to Hong Kong that offers trains to Hanoi, Vietnam.
I took the bus because it was cheaper and departed from Nathan Road in Kowloon, near where I was staying at the Mirador Mansion.
Getting to the train station was a pain because the Light Rail Service(LRT) doesn't get you close enough. It's nearly a 20 minute walk away.
And you have to buy your train tickets from:China Railway. (Hong Kong)
Shop G14, Hung Hom KCR Station,
Tel. 2732 1883
Fax. 2264 1302
They are open Daily from 8am-7pm.
Either way, your destination will be Nanning city in China. From there you can get a train directly into Hanoi, Vietnam.
Of course, you could fly up to Hanoi but if you're coming in from China then the Train/Bus ride is a great experience. That's if you have the time, of course.
You can jump on the train to Hanoi. It's about a 24 hour trip so try to get a sleeper if you can. The ticket will set you back about $35USD as of December 2010.
I flew up with Vietnam Airlines. From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi return set me back about $190USD. Check for current prices or just book the flight with Cheapoair.
They almost always offer the cheapest flight tickets in the business. We also trust them because they have never given us a reason to doubt them. Unless I find it cheaper elsewhere (And I always look). Then I'm gone.
From Hanoi to Halong
Once you're in Hanoi then you can Book a Hanoi Hotel, relax and decide how you're going to see Halong Bay.
You could make the trip alone, without any assistance quite easily. The boat is where the problems begin.
I ran into a few people who went down to Halong on the same bus as me. They found themselves bartering to get on the same boat as the tour package people had, which was already full.
The best way to see Halong Bay is via a good budget Halong Bay Tour. You just can't get around the fact that you will need a boat and not just any boat.
Some of the tours are 3 days on the water. Making sure your boat is clean and decent will make a world of difference, even if you are only on a single but full-day trip.
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