This is Asia’s most spectacular and evocative seascape. The Halong Bay Cruises are a must do on any Vietnam holiday. Ignore any one telling you to avoid them due to the crowds – they either haven’t been or didn’t go on the right boat. We have been returning to the bay year after year and yes, it did have some issues with litter but those days are long gone and the authorities have done a sterling job clearing up the waters and keeping large crowds of boats away from each other. There is also a threat that in the next few years cruising on the bay overnight will be stopped, therefore now is definitely the time to go!
Steeped in myth, ‘Ha Long’ translates as ‘descending dragon’ and legend holds that the islets were created by a dragon’s lashing tail. In fact Halong Bay was formed as a result of millions of years of erosion on the limestone rocks and when the last ice age finished the seas rose as the glaciers melted, flooding the entire area and transforming the peaks into the islands we see today. There are nearly 3,000 of these limestone karsts and islands of various sizes and shapes, covering an area in excess of 600 square miles. Because of their precipitous nature, most are uninhabited and untouched by man, hiding peculiar grottos and caves often with huge chambers and strange rock formations. The surrounding turquoise waters play host to a great diversity of ecosystems including offshore coral reefs, freshwater swamp forests, mangrove forests, small freshwater lakes and sandy beaches. Whole families live in easily visited floating villages.
Many travellers simply make Halong Bay a day trip from Hanoi, which results in a ferociously early start and involves around 7 hours on the road. A better way to appreciate this magical scene is by overnight boat, making for a more leisurely cruise amongst these karst cliffs. The best boats are very comfortable and professionally operated – the worst provide mediocre and often unsafe conditions for budget travellers.
In good weather (best months are from October to March), an overnight cruise on Halong Bay is an unforgettable experience. Sunset on the bay is a delight and the early morning mist is timelessly atmospheric.