Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most popular and famous places, has nearly 2,000 karst islands and jungle-covered islets to explore. Regardless of what you put on your list of things to do in Halong Bay, you can be sure that the scenery will be absolutely amazing wherever you go.
Located in the northeast of the country, on the Gulf of Tonkin, the majestic bay has secluded beaches and floating villages, with a myriad of impressive viewpoints, magical caves and a wonderful offer of water sports. Visiting the “Bay of Descending Dragons” – as it is called in English – is an unforgettable experience, and although some parts are quite touristy, others are lonely and unspoiled.
1. Sung Sot Cave
Sung Sot Cave is one of the most popular and famous attractions in Halong Bay, and for good reason. Discovered in 1901 by the French, the cave is located on the island of Bo Hon, and visitors must climb a long staircase before reaching the mouth of the cave.
Here you can wait a while to admire the magnificent view of Halong Bay or immerse yourself in its cavernous interior. The cave, which has three spectacularly lit gigantic chambers, offers a fascinating view and the rock formations seem from another world.
2. Fort Cannon (Cat Ba Island)
Speaking of views, Canyon Fort, south of Cat Ba Island, is the place to go for one of the best views imaginable. From the fort, jungle-covered hills and islands dot the sparkling waters as far as the eye can see, with tiny villages and fishing boats looming amid an incredible landscape.
As well as enjoying one of the best views in the country, visitors can explore the mess of the underground tunnels beneath the fort, and its museum has several interesting exhibits documenting its history.
Originally created by the Japanese during World War II, the Cannon Fort was later used by the French and Vietnamese in later conflicts, and the tin soldier-like mannequins that occupy the colossal cannon slots show how they would have been used in the past.
3. Bai Tu Long Bay
Located at the eastern end of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay receives far fewer tourists than the rest of the region’s many attractions. Therefore, it is perfect for those looking for an unusual experience. This lesser-known alternative to Halong Bay has gorgeous beaches, stunning caves, and secluded villages to explore, offering endless possibilities for hiking, diving, and rock climbing.
Due to its remote location, nature is pristine and unspoiled, with majestic jungle-covered karst islands dotting the sea. Crossing them is an unforgettable experience.
4. Ti Top Island
With one of the best views of Halong Bay, Ti Top Island is a very popular place to visit, and many cruise ships stop here when they visit the bay. Its charming crescent-shaped beach is perfect for relaxing, while the surrounding waters allow for swimming and snorkeling.
This small island, named after Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stephanovic Titov, has many tourist facilities including sun loungers, a restaurant and a bar. However, the main attraction is the impressive panorama which can be seen from the top of the island.
To reach the top of the mountain at its heart, visitors climb over four hundred steps that weave their way through the lush forest that almost completely covers the karst. The 360 degree view from the top is simply divine.
5. The islets of Ba Trai Dao
Rising dramatically above the sparkling turquoise waters, the islets of Ba Trai Dao offer a very pretty picture, and their distinctive shape makes them one of the most recognizable sights in Halong Bay. The three islets are known as “three peaches”, named after a local legend in which a fairy steals peaches from the sky to give them to a poor fisherman she fell in love with; In doing so, he grants him immortality.
However, the King of Heaven discovered it and in his anger turned the peaches into the rugged mountains you see today. Thus, the unfortunate fairy never saw her love again.
Located not far from Cat Ba Island, the islets of Ba Trai Dao have a pretty little beach where you can stroll among the rocks. Swimming in the crystal clear waters with the majestic landscape around you is truly a wonderful experience.
6. Hospital Cave (Cat Ba Island)
Used as a refuge for the Viet Cong rulers and as a hospital for the sick and wounded during the American War – as the Vietnam War in Vietnam is called – the cavernous interior of the hospital cave is truly a spectacular sight.
Between 1963 and 1965, 17 different rooms were built in the cave on three different levels, and surprisingly there was enough space even for a swimming pool and a cinema. In addition to marveling at the impressive architecture and rock formations, visitors can also take a peek at the old operating room, which houses mannequins and sick beds.
When visiting the hospital cave, it is worth taking a guided tour to learn about the cave’s fascinating past.
7. Lan Ha Bay
Located off the southern and eastern shores of Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay undoubtedly rivals Halong Bay in terms of impressive natural beauty, with the advantage of being much quieter and less touristic.
The bay, which includes more than 300 karst islands and islets, has beautiful white sand beaches and a variety of water sports. Hidden among the incredible landscapes are a few floating villages, like Cai Beo.
Going on a sailboat in Lan Ha Bay is simply a must if you want to see its different sides. In addition to the majestic nature on display, visitors can go rock climbing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking around the islands.
8. Floating City of Cua Van
Visiting Cua Van is fascinating, as its inhabitants live in barges that cross the bay. As such, they have developed a unique lifestyle. Children learn to swim before they can walk, and they are often seen confidently paddling a boat or kayak between houses.
Due to its picturesque environment, with impressive limestone islands and forest covered islets, Cua Van is very picturesque and is one of the last fishing villages in Halong Bay. Besides seeing the special look of the place, visitors can learn what life is like in the floating village, as well as how to fish, make and repair fishing nets.
9. Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park, which occupies almost half of the island of the same name, offers a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems, each more beautiful than the last. Stretching from karst mountains and verdant forests to mangroves and marine waters, it boasts great biodiversity, with over 1,500 species of flora and fauna.
In addition, there are also 160 species of birds and 20 types of mammals that can be observed, highlighting its golden-headed langur, one of the most endangered primates on the planet.
Hiking in the park is an enjoyable activity and it is worth hiring a guide if you want to learn about all the majestic nature you pass through.
10. Dong Thien Cung
Just steps away from the magnificent Dau Go Cave, Dong Thien Cung is equally fascinating to see, perhaps even surpassing its neighbor when it comes to amazing stalactites and stalagmites. To get to the cave, visitors must take a winding path bordered by dense jungle until finally reaching its entrance.
Inside, the winding rock formations appear to be from another world, and it’s easy to imagine that it was once the home of the King and Queen of Dragons, as local legend says.
Located on Dao Go Island – or “Island of Wonders” as it is called in French – Dong Thien Cung is without a doubt a special place to visit. From the mouth of the cave, you can enjoy a fantastic view of Halong Bay.
11. Dau Go Cave
The largest of the many caves and caves that dot the area, the massive three chambers of Dau Go Cave are dazzling to behold; Therefore, it is not surprising that it is also known as “the cave of wonders”.
It means “wooden stakes” in Vietnamese, and it is so called because a general hid wooden stakes in the cave during the Mongol invasion of 1288; they were then used to defeat the horde. Beautifully lit, its many stalagmites and stalactites protrude spectacularly from the walls of the cave, and the fantastic formations appear to have just emerged from a children’s storybook.
Located on the island of the same name, Dau Go Cave is often visited alongside the nearby Thien Cung Cave.