Closer Look: Halong Bay - Handpicked Itineraries
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Closer Look: Halong Bay

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The name Halong roughly translates to “where the dragon descends into the sea”, which doesn’t mean a lot until you gaze upon 2000 tiny islands rising from the clear emerald waters in the Gulf of Tonkin in northern Vietnam. Legend says that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a giant dragon who came down from the mountains and plunged into the sea causing the water level to rise so much that only the peaks of the land remained visible.
BY
Luxtripper Travel Editor

Whether you buy into legends or not there is no denying that this is one of the most spectacular vistas in Asia, if not the world. In 1994 UNESCO designated Halong Bay a World Heritage Site and the mystical landscape made up of all these limestone islets often finds itself compared to Krabi in Thailand or Guilin in China. In reality, Halong Bay is way more spectacular due to the islands being dotted with natural grottos caused by wind and wave erosion and the sparse forest existing on their coast ringing with birdsong.

The urban sprawl that is Halong City is the main gateway to the bay, unfortunately the somewhat  raffish collection of karaoke bars and high rise hotels is not the best introduction to the area. The savvy traveller will avoid Halong City altogether and instead opt for one of the tours that includes sleeping on board a boat our in the bay. This is a fantastic way of getting out into the bay and seeing everything up close and personal, and you won’t want to stop snapping away at the ever changing landscape the further you get out to sea.

One city you really should visit is Hanoi with it’s unique Parisian influence with an Asian twist. The capital of Vietnam is Asia’s rising star and tours which take in the both the city and nearby Halong Bay are greatly in demand. Indulge yourself in all the delights which Hanoi has to offer then embark on a cruise on an authentic junk to take in the best of Halong Bay from the best possible viewpoint; out in the bay itself.

While the boat cruises are the main attraction for visitors who come to Halong Bay it is also well worth exploring the many caves which pepper the coastline. Although the bay boasts few actual beaches there are some lovely sandy coves located at Lan Ha Bay which is a short hop on a boat from Cat Ba Town. This is a much more preferable introduction to this stunning site than Halong City and trips from here to some of the lesser known areas are very easy to find and well worth the trip. Cat Ba Island is also an excellent base for visiting the vast landscape of Halong Bay and getting to see as much as you can during your time here.

While on Cat Ba Island a must visit place on many visitors itinerary is the Xuan Hong floating seafood restaurant. Moored off Ben Beo pier this is the place where you can get to know your dinner on a pretty personal basis before hand when you choose the ones you fancy consuming. On selected your lunch or dinner is fried, grilled or steamed at your table within minutes. The prices go by the type of seafood selected and its weight, and you can fill yourself with fish here for a very reasonable price.

As Halong Bay is the #1 tourist attracting in north east Vietnam visitors flock here all year round even though there are a couple of times during the year you may want to avoid it. From January to March the weather is often drizzly and cool and the accompanying mist can greatly lower the visibility yet at the same time add a dreamlike almost ethereal air to the site. Tropical storms are frequent between May and September and the tourist boats are often forced to change their itineraries if the inclement weather conditions make it too risky. Handy tip; before you book a boat tour in advance check the small print to see if the company offer refunds if the have to cancel due to the weather.

It has taken a while for Vietnam to catch on as a major tourist destination, especially with visitors from the west. Those who have discovered this charming country are sort of wanting to keep it for themselves particularly when it comes to Hanoi which nobody wants to see become a mini Bangkok. If you are considering going to Vietnam for the first time it is well worth heading to the north east and taking in Halong Bay as it really is the most wonderful introduction to one of the most enchanting countries Asia has to offer.

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