Ha Long Bay Near Hanoi: Giant Serpents and Astonishingly Beautiful Caves

Polina
Polina
Updated: 9 June 2019
Time to read: 18 minutes
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Ha Long Bay is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and the pride of Vietnam. The place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2011, the bay became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Overview

The bay is in the northern Vietnam.  It is considered unique because of more than 3000 incredibly beautiful rocky islands. Within these islands, one can find numerous grottoes and caves. There is a legend that a great dragon used to inhabit this place. The dragon would smash the ground with its tail making it scatter into pieces for hundreds of kilometers. Thus, Ha Long Mountains emerged. Finding no place on land the dragon dived under water and the sea overflowed. That is how Ha Long islands came into existence.

Halong Mountains

Weather, Tourist Seasons

A humid climate typical for the tropics prevails in the bay just like throughout most of the country. The peak season for tourists falls on April, May, September and October. Nevertheless, you can still visit the bay at any time as excursions are also arranged in the inter-season.

Be aware! Due to proximity to ocean, the weather in the area can be cold with chilling wind in winter. At night, atmospheric temperature occasionally drops to 10 degrees Celsius but during the day, the average temperature is 20 degrees above zero.

Seasons and Months

This region has only two seasons: summer and winter. The period from June to September is characterized by frequent rains with the most extensive rainfalls in August. The winter is relatively warm and rainless. This is particularly true for the period from December to February.

Rest in the bay

From the first days of March, the temperature steadily rises and the air gets warmer but it is too early to swim, as the water is still cold. This time is the best for tours and excursions. If you feel like lazing in the sun and swimming in the warm oceanic water, it is best to come in mid-April. The beach season lasts until the end of November. However, you should bear in mind that from June to September the weather often gets rainy.

How to get there?

There are many ways to reach Ha Long Bay. Usually tourists arrive at Hanoi airport and get to the bay from there. The wealthiest visitors can afford to rent a helicopter or a yacht. Getting there by a public speedboat takes a lot of time but is memorable and entertaining. The speedboat’s final destination is Cat Ba Island. On the way there, it makes a stop at Ha Long Bay.

From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay by bus

The simplest way to get to Ha Long is to buy a bus ticket in a local travel agency. Tourist buses are comfortable and transfer fee is included in the fare. Therefore, the bus will arrive right at your hotel and will bring you back after the excursion.

If you wish to immerse yourself in the local culture, you can take one of the intercity buses that depart from the Hanoi bus terminal every half an hour. However, the intercity buses make a lot of stops, which prolongs a 2-hour ride to at least 5 hours.

Getting there by train

Although there is a rail track, there are no direct trains from Hanoi to Ha Long. Thus, the railway track to Ha Long runs through the neighboring city of Haiphong. Four accommodation trains depart from Haiphong main station to Ha Long every day.

Help: tickets are available at ticket offices at all times. Therefore, there is no point in buying them in advance or paying extra to intermediaries. The train ride will take about 2 hours.

Upon arriving in Haiphong, you need to take any water transport to the city of Ha Long and then catch a bus that will take you right to the bay.

What to see in the bay?

The main tourist attraction of Ha Long Bay is its natural caverns that can be found on islands not far from the coastline. Most of them are open for tourists. It is worthwhile paying special attention to Surprise, Hang Sung Sot and Hang Trong. Also, be sure to visit Tuan Chau Island, Titov Island and Cat Ba Island.

Mountains of Ha Long Bay

Rocky islands scattered around the bay give it a peculiar charm. Gently rolling hills covered with lush vegetation rise proudly over azure water surface.  For thousands of years the ocean formed deep grottoes under these hills. Today, anyone who feels like it is free to see them from the inside.

Bai Tu Mountains

The most vivid impression you will get from Bai Tho Mountain, which is 106 meters high and can be seen from anywhere in the bay. Translated from the local language it means “radiating light”, which falls in completely with its beauty.

The sightseeing platform and the largest cave

Ha Long is best suited for exploration, not lying in the sun. There is a lot to see here. The path to the largest cave called Surprise runs through the sightseeing platform. Upon reaching it, you should stop as it offers a breathtaking view from a height. This sight is worth lodging in the memory forever.

Observation deck

The next stop of the general sightseeing tour is the Surprise cave.

Surprise cave

The uniqueness of this point of interest lies in its size. The cave is enormous and is quite conveniently equipped for tourists. Accessible corridors are illuminated with light bulbs of different colors, steps and bridges are positioned conveniently along the way. The place is safe to visit for people of all ages. Additionally, unlike many other Asian tourist attractions, the cave is cleaned on a regular basis, so it is not only beautiful, but also neat. Long visitations are allowed, so you can book an excursion and take your time exploring every corner of the cave.

Surprise Cave

Titov Island

One of the islands in the bay is named after the Soviet astronaut Gherman Titov. This honor was bestowed upon him as an award for close friendship with Ho Chi Minh City.

Noteworthy! A monument to him is situated on the island, but instead of “Titov” the inscription on the monument says “Ti Top”. And that is how the locals really call their island.

Tourist groups get one hour for sightseeing. This is quite enough to have a swim and to get up to the sightseeing platform. It is worth noting that the path up is steep and narrow and there is no point in going all the way to the top as there are too many tourists. Even half way up you can witness a magnificent view of the sea, boats, beach and emerald green flora of the island.

Titova Island

Excursions

Travelling through Ha Long is safer and easier if you are a part of a tourist group. Travelling by yourself will be slightly cheaper but might take up a lot of your time and will be a pain in the neck. An excursion tour to Ha Long Bay can be booked in Hanoi, the capital of the region.

A one-day tour will cost no more than 15-30$ per person, a two-day tour that includes kayak trips will cost you at least 100$.

Be aware! Tour itinerary from Hanoi to Ha Long runs through the sea, so the weather directly affects whether excursions will take place or not. The tour may be cancelled due to fog or a storm. If that happens, some of the money will be refunded but not all of it.

General sightseeing tours: trips from Hanoi, Ha Long and Cat Ba

General tours have very rich trip programs. They include lunch for those going on one-day trips and full board basis for multi-day travelers. You will be offered various activities such as boating trips between the famous cliffs of Ha Long, exploration of caves on foot or by kayaks and swimming in the purest water. A tour guide will tell you about Vietnamese customs, culture and legends.

Quan Lan, Koh Tao and other islands

Visiting Quan Lan and Koh Tao islands will be most exciting. You can get there by a ferry that leaves from the Kai Rong pier once every day. It slowly passes by myriads of tiny islands, so you will have enough time to enjoy their beauty.

Tuan Chau (Halong town) – Cat Ba Island

Taking a cruise ship to Cat Ba Island is a great alternative to a guided tour.

Tuan Chau Ferry

The cruise starts at Tuan Chau Island and it is possible to visit Ha Long Bay before getting to the final destination, which is Cat Ba Island. The whole journey takes about an hour.

Help. Right after getting off the ship to Cat Ba Island you can catch a bus to the main city.  Bus schedule conveniently coincides with the ship’s time of arrival.

Cat Ba – Viet Hai by boat

Taking a boat will not cost you much. A small ship designed to carry locals can get you from Cat Ba to the Viet Hai village. The whole trip doesn’t take more than two hours and you will have one hour to explore before the boat sails back. You can reach the village if you walk down the road along the bay and the mountains.

Viet Hai

The Beasts of the Bay

We all heard at least once about a monster who lives in Loch Ness Lake in Nordic Scotland. Yet very few people know that the waters of Ha Long also hold many secrets. Giant snakes not far from the Vietnamese coast were first mentioned in a logbook of as small vessel “Aqualanche”. The first entry about the beasts is dated February 15, 1897. The records told about a huge monster. Its body was about 20m long and 2m in diameter. Later, on February 24, a crew discovered two giant serpents. Over a period of several years sailors encountered these mysterious creatures many times. Eventually, they became so bold that tried to catch one, firing missiles at it. However, the attempt failed, the beast dove deep into the sea and kept out of their sight after that.

 

In July 1897, the mysterious beast was spotted again. This time it was witnessed by a sailor from the battleship “Vauban”, anchored in Ha Long Bay at that time. The man was standing on the deck gazing at transparent water surface when he saw a giant serpent under the water and stiffened with astonishment.

Noteworthy! Ha Long is translated as “diving dragon”. Maybe one day the dragon will emerge once more as no one knows what mysteries are concealed in unexplored underwater grottoes and caves.

Ha Long Bay on Silver Screen

The natural beauty of Ha Long Bay draws the attention of moviemakers. In Régis Wargnier’s “Indochine”, the protagonists Camille and Jean-Baptiste flee from their pursuers on a boat rapidly passing by grassy cliffs that rise above crystal clear water surface. In 1997, Ha Long Bay appeared in one of the James Bond movies “Tomorrow Never Dies”.

«Завтра не умирает никогда»

In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that a self-guiding tour to Ha Long Bay makes sense only if you spend several days there. There you can do way more than just swimming.  You can stroll around, visit the local Nature Reserve or just relax and enjoy the laid-back way of life in the tropics.

Exploring the bay without a guide is impractical and inconvenient, it is best to join the tour group in Hanoi.

Polina
Author
Polina
Since 2013, we live with a spouse in different countries, including China, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. I dance, teach pole dance and write about our travel.
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