by Georgina Parkinson
A mystical paradise located in the Gulf of Tolkin, Halong Bay is a must for any personalised Vietnam holiday.
The word Halong translates as ‘the dragon that rises out from the sea’ and legend tells of a giant dragon descending from the mountains and hurtling towards the land. As the dragon splashed around, it created the unique valleys and troughs. When the creature sank into the water, the entire valley was covered, leaving just tiny pointed pinnacles visible to the eye. The tale may have some poetic license, but it matches the mystery and enchantment of this beautiful spot.
Visiting Halong Bay
If you’re visiting Halong Bay, you may be disappointed when you first touch down in Halong City. This bustling resort is filled with high-rise hotels and it has become incredibly commercial in recent years. Stay a night, but head out into the bay as soon as you can. Book a place on a sleeper cruise to make the most of our time in the beautiful inlets. During your time in Halong Bay, marvel at the scattered islands and weathered sea caves. Take in the peace and tranquillity and aim for a clear day if possible. Take in the views at dawn, as an eerie mist clears as the sun comes out, or visit at sunset to enjoy truly breathtaking views with fewer people around.
Once you’ve discovered the magical waters of Halong Bay, make for Cat Ba Island, the largest of the bay’s islands. Here, you can chill out on the beach, visit Monkey Island and take in some culture with a trip to Cannon Fort. As you’ve probably guessed from the name, Monkey Island is an excellent spot to meet the local wildlife. There are rumours that up to 2,000 monkeys live in this tiny island and seeing them feed en masse is quite a sight.
Cat Ba has become increasingly popular with tourists in the last five years and those looking for a quiet escape may wish to visit nearby Lan Ha Bay instead. This relatively untouched gem can be reached by sail boat or kayak from Cat Ba. If you’re feeling adventurous, kayaking is a fantastic way to see the sights. Wildlife lovers should keep their eyes peeled for seals and dolphins in the deeper waters. If you’ve remembered your snorkel, you’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of vivid coral and hundreds of different species of fish and molluscs.
Peak tourist season runs from May to August. Between January and March, the weather tends to be unpredictable and there’s a lot of drizzly days, which don’t do the stunning scenery justice. Between the end of May and September, storms are possible and you may be subjected to last-minute itinerary changes. If you have the opportunity, visit in November, when you’ll be greeted with clear blue skies and much smaller crowds.
If you’re visiting Vietnam, don’t forget to include a few days in Halong Bay in your travel plans.