VIETNAM 2024: Cruising the Spectacular Halong Bay

Sightseeing and River Cruise at Halong Bay

About: This is a mainstream tourist destination, in the north of Vietnam, which is normally on most people’s bucket list of must see attractions. Because of its popularity, and the inevitable crowding, it was a place I’d tended to avoid. With late May being the off season, I decided to bite the bullet and booked a 4 day/3 night tour to Halong bay and the nearby Cat Ba Island. Note: Halong Bay is also an extremely popular sightseeing destination for the locals.  The place tends to get packed out on weekends and the school holidays.

Halong Bay

The remarkable beauty of Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam.

Travelling In Vietnam – How To Get To Halong Bay

Getting there: For those wanting to do an independent tour of Halong Bay, there are buses which run there from Hanoi. However, to avoid the hassles involved with arranging transportation, booking hotels, and organizing a boat tour out to the islands, the easiest way to get there is to book a tour through an agent in Hanoi.  They then provide transportation from Hanoi to the port where the tour boats depart from.

Halong Bay Tour Boat

A standard tour boat of Halong Bay.

Scubadiving In Vietnam – Liveaboard Tours at Halong Bay

Liveaboard tours: Most people doing a tour of Halong bay will go on a 2 – 3 day liveaboard vessel which does a circuit around all the popular sightseeing attractions: caves, viewpoints, beaches, and kayaking excursions. The liveaboard tours normally include all meals, accommodation, and tour guides. For those who don’t want to be stuck on a boat for the entirety of the tour, there’s also the option of staying at a Hotel in Halong City and doing boat tours to the various attractions on a daily basis. A good company for doing an organised tour is: VIT TRAVEL in Hanoi.

Halong Bay cruise boat

Cruising the spectacular islands of Halong Bay.

Tuan Chau Port: This is the DEPARTURE POINT for all boat tours out to the islands. It’s located approximately 150 km east of Hanoi. If you’re staying at a Hotel in Halong City, it’s a 15 minute run (in a taxi) back along the coastline (towards Hanoi)

Touring Halong Bay: I booked a private, guided 4 day/3 night tour with VIT Travel. I didn’t want to be on a boat all the time, so I took the option of staying in a hotel – THE GRAND FLEUVE BOUTIQUE – in Halong City and doing day tours. For my first two days, I did cruises out into the Halong Island Archipelago. For my final full day, I did a day trip to CAT BA ISLAND.

Spectacular Halong Bay

The spectacular karst terrain of Halong Bay.

Geography: According to my guide for the first two days, there are 1869 islands and islets in Halong Bay. The terrain is sedimentary Karst, meaning there are many islands with vertical cliff faces and caves. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day, the scenery is spectacular.

Visiting The Halong Bay -A Tour Journal

We took a short two day tour of the Halong Bay area and each day featured some amazing places to visit. Here’s how the tour went:

Day One – Riverboat Trip Through Halong Bay

For my first day the tour company picked me up from my hotel – HANOI EMERALD WATERS – and we drove directly to Halong City. According to the tour company the highway between Hanoi and Halong City is one of the best roads in Vietnam. We covered the 150 km in just over two hours. After checking into the hotel, I had enough time to prepare my camera gear before the local tour guide arrived at 1 PM. Because I only had a half day, the boat tour was to the nearest sightseeing area to Tuan Chau Port. The tour company also provided a local guide for me for the two days of touring around Halong bay.

On the way to Dau Go Island

The route to Dau Go Island.

Day One – Vietnam Island Exploration – Dau Go Island

Dau Go Island: My primary destination for the afternoon was a couple of cave sites on DAU GO ISLAND. However, prior to arriving there, the boat did a circuit out through some spectacular karst peaks and a by-pass of the national symbol for Ha Long Bay – THE FIGHTING CHICKEN ROCKS. After approximately an hour of cruising, and enjoying a great Vietnamese lunch, we arrived at Dau Go Harbor.

The fighting Chicken Rocks

The Fighting Chicken Rocks of Halong Bay.

Day One – Amazing Vietnam Cave Exploration – Thien Cung Cave

There are two cave sites here, side by side. The first and most impressive is THIEN CUNG CAVE. After a short walk up a flight of stairs, I arrived at the cave entrance. The cave has been set up for safe sightseeing and has a solid cement pathway and internal lighting through the length of the excursion. A nice feature of the cave is a hole in the ceiling which allows shafts of sunlight to stream through in the afternoon. The walk through this cave takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Thien Cung Cave

Shafts of sunlight stream into Thien Cung Cave.

Day One – Hidden Caves Of Vietnam – Dau Go Cave

After exiting Thien Cung Cave, a pathway takes sightseers around the cliff to the entrance of DAU GO CAVE. This cave tends to get less visitors, possibly because of the number of stairs to climb inside. This cave is bigger than Thien Cung and an excursion includes ducking under some low hanging rocks. The main feature is the large entrance room where some local artists have placed artwork around a boarded walking platform. A tour through this cave will take about 45 minutes.

Dau Go Cave

The main chamber of Dau Go cave features a display of local artwork.

Day Two – More Riverboat Tours of the Halong Bay

This was planned as a full days excursion which would include a visit to SUNG SOT CAVE, and TI TOP ISLAND. The travel time from Tuan Chau port was 1.5 hours and, as with the previous day, the route went through some magnificent karst scenery.

The route to Sung Sot Cave

The spectacular scenery enroute to Sung Sot Cave.

Day Two – Unique Cave Sites In Vietnam – Sung Sot Cave

This impressive cave is located in a beautiful horseshoe bay and is recognized as being the largest cave in the Halong Bay area. Access to the cave entrance is by way of a properly constructed stairway, with a couple of viewing platforms on the ascent. These platforms provide fantastic views out over the surrounding bay and also provide a respite for anyone wanting to take a breather on the ascent to the cave.

As with the other cave sites in the area, this one has a properly constructed trail, with steps and handrails, for a safe sightseeing experience. The main feature of the cave is a massive main chamber which, from the back end, provides views back to the light streaming in from the entrance. This is an excellent sightseeing experience, and well worth the effort of getting there.

Sung Sot Cave

The main chamber of Sung Sot Cave.

Day Two – Exploring Islands In Vietnam – Ti Top Island

The second stop on my day two in Halong Bay was an interesting location called TI TOP ISLAND. After another excellent Vietnamese lunch onboard the boat, my guide and I disembarked at the jetty and made our way to the start point for the hike up to the viewing platform on the peak. For anyone who’s interested, it’s 425 steps up to the lookout. It’s a bit of a slog in the afternoon sun but well worth the effort.

The views from the top are fantastic. On our return to the boat we stopped at the large statue, along the beach front, from which the island gets its name. According to my guide, the island was named after a Russian general, who visited the island with Ho Chi Minh, back in the 1960’s. The statue definitely has the appearance of a Russian Military personnel.

Ti Top Island

The statue of the Russian General on Ti Top Island.

Click this link to check out CAT BA ISLAND

Safe travels,


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