Located four hours outside of Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi is the otherworldly seascape which is Ha Long Bay. Thousands of limestone karsts which seemingly just erupt from the water, make Ha Long Bay a location that tourists flock to all year round.
Besides soaking in the natural scenery what are the things to do in Ha Long Bay? What is the other key info that we need to know before going?!
No worries my friend, I have got you covered! After three trips to Ha Long and the surrounding areas I have compiled a list of things that are super fun and interesting and will totally keep you occupied during your few days there!
10 Things to do in Ha Long Bay:
Take a boat tour
This is one of the top things that any traveller should do when going to Ha Long Bay! It is possible to see the sights of the bay on a day cruise but nothing beats waking up surrounding by all the islets and sipping your morning coffee looking out on the water. It is a total must and though even the cheaper cruises may be a little bit of a splurge they are so worth it for a trip of a lifetime!
Hike up Titop Island
This is such a fun hike in Ha Long Bay and it is not too strenuous. I think it was about thirty minutes to the top but the view point was AMAZING. I think that the Titop Island viewpoint is better than even some of the best in Cat Ba or the surrounding islands! There is also a nice (but crowded) beach below to lounge on.
Explore the Song Sot caves
This is the main attraction which most boat cruises will take you to, BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely worthy of the traffic. After a small hike you will enter this massive cave named Song Sot cave. Marvel at the formations as you mozy your way around. Usually your tour guide will point out some points of interest and let you know the history of the cave.
Kayak on the bay
Renting a kayak and paddling around the coves and caves is a must when you are visiting Ha Long. There are loads of one day boat cruises that will let you do this along with the overnight ones. Just be sure to visit in the cooler months, as most tour operators won’t let you kayak when it is so hot for safety reasons.
Learn about pearls at the Oyster Farms
Scattered around the endless mountains are different little oyster farms. Here they farm oysters for their pearls. Here you can learn about the exhaustive practice of farming oysters and the years that go into the creation of one pearl! They also have an onsite store where you can buy pearls that were harvested right then and there!
Visit the local fishing villages
Depending on your tour service provider you may be able to visit a local fishing village. These floating towns are fully self sufficient with businesses, schools and homes. Pressure from the government is relocating families to the mainland some of whom have never been on land before.
It’s important to be respectful since these are people’s homes, but it is a very interesting and educational visit where you can learn more about Vietnamese culture!
Explore Lan Ha Bay
South of Ha Long Bay is the much less populated Lan Ha Bay. It is closer to Cat Ba island, and has just as many islets and karsts but is far less well known. There are not as many overnight tours that operate in Lan Ha so a one day tour is likely to be your best option. You can ask the people who work at your hotel or hostel to connect you to a local boat driver.
Watch the Sunset from Cannon Fort in Cat Ba
On Cat Ba there is an old fort that was used during the Vietnam/American War. You can still visit it today and it also makes a great spot for sunset! It is one of the highest places on the island and you get an amazing view of the surrounding islands.
Due to all of the limestone cliffs Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba are the perfect spots to do some climbing. Asia Outdoors along with other companies have guides and hold tours through the mountains.
Beach hop on Cat Ba Island
Although white sandy beaches are not the first thing that may pop into your head when you think of Northern Vietnam, in Cat Ba it is the case! Beaches in Cat Ba definitely are on par with some of the gorgeous places in the south!
There are three beaches within walking distance of the town. They are named Cat Co 1, 2, and 3. It will be very easy to find them as they are essentially all on the same road. On all of them you may have to pay to use the sun loungers but it shouldn’t be more than 100,000 VND.
Where to stay in Ha Long Bay or Cat Ba?
On Cat Ba we stayed at Lepont Bungalow and Hostel after it was recommended to us by a friend. We had such a great experience there! It was a perfect location and the rooms look over the water. It’s definitely one of the best moderately priced hotels on the island.
How to get to Ha Long Bay?
Depending on where you are coming from there are different routes but it is quite standard to either take a car or a bus to Ha Long Bay city and then from there go to your hotel.
If you are taking a boat tour they will arrange pick up times with you and most will even pick you up in Hanoi and drop you back off there.
How to get to Cat Ba?
From Hanoi you can take the train to Hai Phong. Go to Ga Hanoi, which is Hanoi’s train station. There you will be able to buy tickets at the window for Hai Phong. This is around a two hour journey and it is very pleasant.
When you arrive in Hai Phong there will be many different drivers trying to sell you tickets to get on the ferry to Cat Ba.
We fell for the scheme and ended up over paying for the taxi to the pier which was only about 5 minutes away not 20 as the driver was saying!
At the pier or at the train station you can buy tickets for the slow boat or the “hydrofoil” speed boat. We opted for the faster one, it was around 200K VND and we got there in about an hour.
When you get to Cat Ba island you can either rent motorbikes from vendors around the pier or take a taxi to your hotel. The island even has open air taxis that run on a loop around the island.
Disclaimer: I stayed with Indochina Sails for their two day one night cruise. The stay was complimentary but I have not received any compensation for this article and as always all opinions are my own.