With an evocative name prompting images amongst locals of dragons rising from its pristine waters, Halong Bay is infamously beautiful, but becoming more and more of a tourist trap. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself whipped around the bay at double quick time, with little chance to do more than glance out and get a quick eyeful of the best of the sights. It’s worth paying more to avoid this experience, as seeing Halong Bay the wrong way takes away the beauty of the place entirely.
If you want a truly memorable Halong Bay trip, best hop aboard an overnight ‘junk’, from where you can visit a host of islands, go cycling amongst the paddy fields, play with the local monkeys and take plenty of chances to jump in and swim in the tepid water. Meals are usually included, and with a night booked in advance, you can put a restriction on how early the dodgy boatsman can bring you back to shore. If you have a bit of cash to throw around, there are some other exceptional experiences, too, such as heading down into the impressive assortment of caves to be found on the islands, or even indulging in a surprisingly affordable helicopter trip over it all.
Many book their trips back in Hanoi, where you should be able to sort a two-day (one night) tour around the jutting islands and extensive bay for around $80, including a selection of food. If you get the right tour, the experience is a truly special one, with local cuisine, spectacular asides (be sure to kayak if you get the chance), and lush, towering islands that give a true sense of tropical paradise.
You have to pay to get in to Halong Bay, too, but all the tourist hassle is there for a reason: this genuinely is one of the most attractive corners of Viet Nam, and generally worth the hassle, though you will inevitably feel like a real package tourist strolling the golden beaches and hanging out on the boats. Not one for the purists, perhaps, but essential nonetheless.