Halong Bay lies eat of Hanoi in northern Vietnam. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is made up of over one thousand limestone islands of differing sizes and is spread across 120 kilometres. Often cited as one of the natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay is as mysterious as it is inspiring.
Halong Bay can be reached by taking a domestic flight from Halong City or Haiphong. It is possible to take a bus from Hanoi, which will take around four hours and provide an authentic experience of travelling in Vietnam, with no air-conditioning and very cramped conditions.
It is also possible to travel to the islands as part of an organised tour. Halong Bay is one of the most popular yacht charter destinations in the Far East and there are various tour options available, with some offering the services of a knowledgeable guide or providing food, drink and kayaking excursions.
The islands can be accessed from several ports. The north-east of the archipelago can be easily reached from the small port of Cai Roong, although Halong City offers multiple ports from which to begin your trip, with some being used specifically for tourist boats.
As the islands are so spread out and span such a large area, groups of travellers or families often charter a yacht in order to make the most of their time and see exactly what they want to see without being at the mercy of other tourists.
Chartered yachts come with a crew and skipper to show you the best places to snorkel and dive, while on-board chefs prepare fresh food for you to enjoy in this unique haven. For complete autonomy it is possible to opt for a bareboat charter yacht, which typically means you are renting the yacht with no crew.
The emerald green waters are home to a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna, including coral reefs and swamp forests, whilst several of the lush green islands house interlinking caves and hidden ponds. Local folklore states that the islands were created by dragons who spat the formations into the sea to offer protection from intruders.
Many areas of Halong Bay are protected from development due to its UNESCO status and as a result the islands have remained in their original state, offering tourists a rare opportunity to step back in time.
Due to the size of the bay it is best to allow a few days to fully experience all that is on offer. Cat Ba Island is the most developed with the typical tourist bars, restaurants and hotels, but it is the locals that make Cat Ba worth visiting. Undaunted by the influx of visitors, residents continue to live a simple life as their ancestors did before them and survive by employing traditional fishing methods.
Those who enjoy swimming and diving should head to Dau Be Island, which is surrounded by coral and caves to explore during low tide. Nearby Dau Go Island is home to some of the best preserved stalactites and stalagmites with some reaching more than 20 metres.
Additionally, there is an array of floating villages and fish farms to explore with many locals offering home-stays for those who wish to experience life as a Halong Bay resident.