Halong Bay, Vietnam: Tourist Hot Spot That’s Still Stuns

At Halong Bay, one of the seven wonders of the world

When my son and I traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam this summer, just one out-of-town jaunt was on my list — Halong Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994, Halong Bay, dotted with more than 2000 craggy islands, has turned into a major tourist attraction that pulls in people by the bus loads. Despite the robust popularity that’s grown over the years, the offerings of this visually stunning landscape near the Gulf of Tonkin make this destination a must-see.

There are advantages to the number of visitors. Tours are plentiful, well-designed, and fit a range of budgets. The bounty makes planning ahead as easy as walking into a travel agent in Hanoi and saying, “I want to go to Halong Bay.”

Out comes the book with the tour options that depart from Hanoi’s Old Quarter every day. Based on the travel agents recommendation, I opted for the two-day, one night trip on the Seasun Cruise.

Seasun Cruise waiting for passengers
Seasun Cruise waiting for passengers

The Seasun Cruise, a boat with 11 separate guest cabins, each with a private bathroom, fit into the highest end of the three-tiered tours offered by most agents. Food and cabin quality and what tours are included determine price.

One of the chambers of Sung Sot Cave
One of the chambers of Sung Sut Cave

Our tour included: a visit to Song Sut Cave, an impressive cave of two enormous chambers decked out with stalagmites and stalactites that are illuminated by well-placed lighting; 45 minutes of kayaking where my son and I headed off on our own; a visit to a pearl farm and a stop at a sandy beach for about thirty minutes of swimming.

In between stops, we visited with our fellow travelers that included three women from China, a Russian couple, a couple from Britain, two other Americans, a woman from Argentina, three women from New Zealand, and a couple from Vietnam.

Our guide who was with us from our hotel pick-up to right after our pearl farm visit the next day, kept us entertained and informed, and made sure that no one, including the only teen in the group–my son– was left out.

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Meals were main events starting with the lunch that was served as soon as we had dropped our belongings off in our cabins. The travel agent had not steered us wrong. The dishes, served family style, were a mix of western and Asian fare with enough variety to satisfy everyone’s tastes and our two twin bed cabin was well appointed and comfortable. The air-conditioning wasn’t turned on until the evening in order to save on fuel, but with such stunning scenery, who’d want to stay inside?

While we dined on lunch the boat headed to Sung Sot Cave, our first stop. Our second stop was kayaking followed by a trip to the beach. Once back on the boat, there was an evening cocktail on the deck, then dinner followed by karaoke.

After lunch the next morning, we headed to the pearl farm which turned out to be a fascinating tutorial on how cultured pearls are created. After the pearl farm, we had a cooking lesson back on the boat where we learned how to make spring rolls. The spring rolls were served at lunch, the last meal before our bus trip back to Hanoi where the bus dropped passengers off near their hotels.

Approaching the pearl farm
Approaching the pearl farm

Our trip cost was roughly $130 per person which included everything but drinks. We went in June so prices do vary. If you go when we did,  I advise checking out the weather first before you purchase a ticket. Trips can be canceled if bad weather rolls in.

You can book through the Seasun Cruise Line’s website. In addition to the trip we took, this ship offers one day, and three day trips.

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein