Ha Long Bay is one of the most stunning natural wonders I have ever seen – I’m officially making it the eighth wonder of the world! It is already ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a formation of around 2000 tiny islands (limestone formations draped in luscious rainforests) in the ocean around Vietnam. If you’re heading that way and looking for things to do in Ha Long Bay, I’ve got the list for you:
Ha Long Bay is the name that tends to be given to the collection of islands, as well as the bay area on mainland itself. The bay tends to get treated as a bit of a stop-off point, with many tourists spending only a day or night here before jumping on a boat to some of the tiny islands.
If you’re short on time, the bay does makes a cool place to spend a day – I arrived here after around 30 hours on various buses from further south in Vietnam and left the next morning. Most of my time here was spent sleeping, but there are lots of places to eat, grab a beer or enjoy a night or karaoke.
Take a Trip
There are loads of options for boat trips in Ha Long Bay – you can hop on a cruise, join the infamous Castaway trip or simply get a public ferry across to Cat Ba Island. I opted for the latter, but friends of mine have experienced both of the other options I’ve suggested.
Castaway Island is essentially an island of total fun – one of the better things to do in Ha Long Bay if you’ve got an adventurous side. There are opportunities for kayaking, caving and more, with plenty of time on the boat itself. The trip is very alcohol-focused, however, so make sure you’re ready for a lot of drinking games, random shots and hangovers!
You can also take a (much quieter) cruise through the islets and relax, with delicious food and other passengers to socialise with. These trips vary in length, with some offering a couple of days on the boat.
Cat Ba Island
I loved this little island so much that I ended up living and working here for a while. I say ‘little’, it’s actually one of the biggest islets that make up Ha Long Bay, and one of the very few that are inhabited. This is one of the main tourist attractions in Vietnam, and it’s not hard to see why. Visiting this island is one of the best things to do in Ha Long Bay.
The trip here will take you through emerald waters and forest-topped towers of limestone. You’ll go past the floating village and see how some of the locals here really live. It’s definitely worth stopping off at the island for a couple of days if you can.
The National Park is one of the main attractions here, and it is stunning. You can easily rent a moped from the main touristy area of the island and make your way here, enjoying the scenery on the way. It costs under $2 to enter the National Park, and takes around an hour to wander around. Expect beautiful plants, animals and amazing views. Walk all the way to the top and give yourself time to take everything in. I’d suggest taking mosquito repellent and wearing sensible shoes!
Cat Ba is home to some lovely beaches, with big stretches of clean sand to stretch out on. If you’ve been travelling through Vietnam for some time, you’ll appreciate the clean air and ability to sunbathe – something that Saigon does not offer at all! If you fancy relaxing and taking a break from the ‘classic’ hustle and bustle of Vietnam, add these beaches to your list of things to do in Ha Long Bay.
I’d suggest kayaking from Cat Ba Island so that you have a base. This is a lovely way to take in some of the scenery and is really fun if you’re travelling in a group. Take a camera and plenty of water – it gets pretty hot out there!
Most of the places you can stay in on the island should be able to get you a ‘discount’ (whatever that means here!), and it’s easy to walk to the main beaches from the centre of the island. Stand-Up Paddle boarding is also really fun!
Monkey Island is close to Cat Ba, and you can hire a private boat (picture a teeny wooden fishing boat, nothing fancy!) to take you over and wait for you while you explore. Spoiler alert: there are monkeys here.
I’m terrified of monkeys, but I didn’t want to miss out so took a boat to the island with some friends. Thankfully, the monkeys didn’t appear until the very end of our time on the island when my friend whipped out a huge bag of bananas. I ran for my life but managed to spot the infamous ‘half-faced monkey’ amongst the clan that launched themselves at my friend.
Wear sensible shoes, as the hike from one side of the island to the other involves lots of scrambling and clinging to jagged rocks. I lost a flip flop down a ravine and discovered my fear of heights all at the same time. Luckily, the views from the top of the mini-mountain are unreal and well worth the panic attack and barefoot trekking!
Make your way to the ‘other beach’ – it’s unbelievable. The water is freezing, but we had the place to ourselves. We only saw about five other people on the entire island, just to give you some idea of how incredible the experience was. Honestly, this is number one of my list of things to do in Ha Long Bay and I would go back just to relive this moment.
The floating village in Ha Long Bay is beautiful. It’s exactly how you would imagine it – humble wooden cabins floating on bright blue waters, with tiny boats attached to them for trips to Cat Ba or mainland.
You can either rent a kayak from Cat Ba Island and cruise around at your own pace, or hire a private boat. I settled for seeing them from my public boat on the way to Cat Ba, but wish I’d taken more time to fully appreciate the village. Out of all the things to do in Ha Long Bay, this might be one of the most unique. Definitely make time for it.
Ha Long Bay is absolutely beautiful, and is well worth taking the time to visit. The islets themselves are just incredible, and the emerald waters really make this experience something else. I’ve never been somewhere so naturally breath-taking before! Cat Ba is worth visiting for the nature, as well as the refuge it offers from all the chaos of mainland. Give yourself a few days in Ha Long Bay and soak it all in…