Ha Long Bay is an impressive geographical formation in northern Vietnam, featuring over 1,900 islets that are filled with pristine beaches, limestone caves, inland lakes, and floating villages. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the best way to experience this surrealistic landscape is by joining a boat cruise.
Almost every hotel and travel agency in Vietnam offers excursions to Ha Long Bay at different price points, but visitors are encouraged to allow for at least an overnight stay as there are plenty of things to see and do here. From luxurious cruisers to budget diesel-powered junks, these accommodation cruises are often inclusive of English-speaking guides, hotel transfers, entrance fees to prominent islands and caves, three meals daily, and on-board entertainment. From exploring massive grottoes to visiting traditional fishing villages, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about a live aboard Halong Bay cruise.
Ha Long Bay Two Day One Night Cruise
As there are simply too many Ha Long Bay attractions to visit in a day, joining a two day one night cruise is highly recommended for first-time visitors.
Not only are you able to discover various islets, beaches, villages, and grottoes on a more relaxed pace, these cruises also offer additional stops for swimming, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, trekking, and just simply soaking up the stunning scenery.
The exact itinerary of a Ha Long Bay tour varies, but there are several prominent places which are most likely to be visited at any time of year.
One of the most popular destinations in Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, where several floating villages, hotels, restaurants, and bars are set against a backdrop of lush mountains, karst caves, white sandy beaches, coral reefs, lagoons and mangroves.
It’s also home to endangered wildlife such as Cat Ba langurs, southern serows, rhesus macaque, leopard cats, black giant squirrels, and civet cats.
Another Halong Bay island listed on most itineraries is Dau Be Island, a prominent swimming and diving spot with a rich coral system and deep grottoes that houses six inland lakes. Located 28 kilometres from Bai Chay Port, the grottoes and caves can only be visited by rowing boat at low tide, when access is possible. You can also spot golden monkeys, and flying squirrels while you’re here.
Ti Top Island is approximately eight kilometres southeast of Bai Chay Port, named after former Soviet Union astronaut Ghermann Titop to commemorate his first visit to Halong Bay back in 1962.
The beach is the main draw of this island, where tourists can enjoy water sports, swim in the clear waters, or just lounge on the pristine white sand.
There are also plenty of high-end resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops set along Ti Top Beach. If you’re up for the challenge (and view), there’s a 400-step stairway to the peak of Ti Top Island, where you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of Ha Long Bay.
Many of these islands have been inhabited for more than 5000 years, with local residents living mainly on agriculture and fishing. Today, there are only a few fishing villages left in Ha Long Bay, including Cong Dam, Cua Van, Viet Hai, and Vung Vieng.
These floating villages are particular highlights for foreign visitors as they can join a guided kayak tour to explore the peaceful surroundings, visit a pearl farm, try fishing with local fishermen, or simply observe their daily lives.
No trip to Halong Bay is complete without exploring its limestone caves and grottoes. Most contain uniquely-shaped stalactites and stalagmites that are about two millions years old.
Dau Go Cave is one of the most visited caves in the bay, housing stalactites and stalagmites that are more than 20 metres high.
Led by an English-speaking guide, visitors have to climb a stairway of 90 steps to get to the cave, which is divided into three main sections that are illuminated with a mix of natural and artificial lighting to bring out formations in shapes of people, animals, and objects.
At the end of Dau Go Cave is a small pond with clear water which locals believe was used by fairies to descend to Earth.
Locals believe that Trinh Nu or Virgin Cave houses a woman who has been turned into stone after her death, having unable to return home after being forced to marry an old Mandarin.
Another local legend states that she escaped from a Mandarin who forced her to marry him because her father could not pay a debt. When fishermen found her body, they buried her here and built a small shrine inside the grotto.
Set within Bo Hon Island, Sung Sot Cave is divided into two chambers with a square-shaped outer chamber and a 30-metre limestone ceiling about 30 metres high.
The inner chamber formations resemble sentries conversing with one another and there’s another formation in the middle of the chamber that looks like a general surveying his troops.
Jutting out from the clear blue sea are the Kissing Rocks islets, which are undoubtedly the symbols of Halong Bay. Comprising two rocks that resemble a rooster and a hen facing each other, locals believe them to symbolise eternal love as the islets have been around for thousands of years.
Meal Times on a Ha Long Bay Live Aboard Cruise
When it comes to dining in Ha Long Bay, accommodation cruises prepare an array of Vietnamese dishes on-board. Consisting of three complimentary meals a day, you can enjoy spring rolls, stir-fried vegetables, fried rice, seafood, poultry and meat dishes, followed by a fruit platter. Alcohol and snacks are also available at additional charges. Breakfast is served between 07:00-08:00 and its typically eggs and toast with coffee served from a huge tank.
Evenings on a Ha Long Bay Live-aboard Tour
As the cruisers are docked for the night, most travellers on a Halong Bay two day one night cruise often retire early and unwind within the comfort of their cabin. However, there’s always a group who prefer staying up to drink and socialize at the bar on-board until late. The cabins on board are usually shared between two or four, with either bunk beds or double beds. While a bit pokey, they serve the purpose as somewhere to recharge and get back out on deck to soak up the stunning scenery.