There are nearly 2,000 islands in Ha Long Bay and one of the most famous is called Bo Hon. Positioned near the center of this world-famous bay, Bo Hon Island is the perfect destination for travelers that are keen to explore Mother Nature’s subterranean world.
Sitting beneath the green foliage and limestone karsts of this small island is an extensive network of caves. Growing a variety of stalactites and stalagmites, each cave on Bo Hon Island is unique. Of the extensive underground systems, the most famous caves are called Sung Sot, Luon, Trinh Nu, and Trong.
Tourism to Bo Hon Island exploded when UNESCO gave Ha Long Bay status as a World Natural Heritage Site, quickly making it the most visited island in Ha Long Bay. As a result of Bo Hon’s popularity, there are plenty of cruise ship tours available to take guests to view the caves.
Island at the Heart of Ha Long Bay
Boat dock at Bo Hon Island, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo: David McKelvey
Bo Hon Island is a part of Ha Long Bay, which is located just off of the coast of Northeast Vietnam in the Quang Ninh (Quảng Ninh) Province. Ha Long Bay (or Halong) is the most famous tourist attraction in Vietnam. Renowned for its islands and islets, the bay is also known for the deep turquoise color of the water.
Bo Hon Island, which covers an area of nearly 3.8 sq km (1.5 sq mi), is one of the larger islands in Ha long Bay. Laid out in a series of interconnected islets, the stunning caves are situated at various points around Bo Hon. Above ground, the island is topped with white limestone karsts and verdant forests.
Bo Hon has plenty of picturesque views, especially with jagged karsts dramatically rising from the water. On the shores of the island, small beaches and hidden trails are also open for exploration. Traveling to Bo Hon Island requires that tourists first head to Ha Long City.
Ha Long City, Vietnam. Photo: 罵咖棒
Many tourists visiting Ha Long Bay will come from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, or Haiphong. Hanoi is about 2 hours inland to the west of Ha Long City and Haiphong is 1 hour south along the coast. Docked in Ha Long City’s Bai Chay Wharf, there are many boats and cruise ships that offer half-day, full-day, and overnight tours of Ha Long Bay.
From the Bai Chay Wharf, Bo Hon Island is about 14 km (8.7 mi) offshore. Although the distance isn’t too great, most boat and cruise tour companies will travel at a leisurely pace through the water to ensure that guests don’t miss any of the magnificent views. The journey from Ha Long City to Bo Hon Island typically takes about 1.5 hours.
Rumors of Bo Hon Island have circulated for hundreds of years by the locals. However, it wasn’t until 1901 when the island and its cave, Sung Sot were discovered by French colonialists that Bo Hon was revealed to the international community. For nearly 100 years, Bo Hon Island wasn’t very touristy.
Well-known to locals, foreign tourism to the island and Ha Long Bay was not very popular during the 20th century. The area was considered to be quite remote and it lacked tourist infrastructure. Tourism to Ha Long Bay had a tiny peak in the early 1960s when the area was declared to be a “Renowned National Landscape Monument” by the Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism.
Visit Bo Hon Island in Ha Long Bay. Photo: David McKelvey
By the mid-1990s, recognition of Ha Long Bay by UNESCO pushed the islands and islets onto the worldwide stage. Further recognition came in 2000 when the World Heritage Committee acknowledged Ha Long Bay for its “outstanding geological and geomorphological value”.
After 2000, tourism in Ha Long Bay exploded. The popularity of Bo Hon Island soon followed as more and more visitors sought to see the caves that have often been called the “most beautiful in Ha Long Bay”. Since then, Bo Hon Island and Ha Long Bay receive a steady stream of national and international tourists every year.
- The French originally called Bo Hon “Les Surprises”.
- Bo Hon is sometimes called “Soap-Berry Tree Island”.
- Orchids and Benjamin fig trees grow on Bo Hon Island.
Most of the main attractions on Bo Hon Island are underground or hidden. Even though the island is fairly compact, there are multiple caves and grottoes for guests to explore. The most visited caverns are Sung Sot, Luon, Trinh Nu, and Trong.
The entrance to Sung Sot Cave on Bo Hon Island, Photo: David McKelvey
While most tours have specific itineraries that are focused on seeing the caves, all of Bo Hon Island is open to tourists. Aside from the caves, tourists should spend time exploring the island’s karsts and beaches.
Sung Sot Cave
Bo Hon Island’s largest cave is called Sung Sot. Perched on the side of a limestone karst, visiting Sung Sot requires tourists to climb a series of steep staircases to reach the entrance to the cave. Inside, Sung Sot Cave has 3 chambers that gradually become bigger and more open. Inside the first chamber, there’s a small lake that is formed by rain flowing into the caverns.
The second chamber is larger than the first and the rock formations are famous for their horse and sword-like shapes. The third chamber is the largest of all and opens up to another lake and royal garden. Decorated with religious iconography and various tributes, the royal garden is acclaimed for its large shrine and acts as a place of prayer and tranquility.
Open cavern inside Sung Sot Cave on Bo Hon Island. Photo: John Ragai
Trinh Nu and Trong Caves
On Bo Hon Island, the two caves that became famous for their ancient legends are called Trinh Nu and Trong. The two caves are situated across from one another and the legend surrounding them is a melancholy love story. As the story is told, the caves are connected to the tale of two lovers from a local fishing village.
Living in poverty, a boy went to the sea to make money in the hopes of marrying a girl. However, the girl was forced into marriage and her husband exiled her to a lonely island. The boy, hearing of his lover’s fate, tried to find her, but sadly, the girl did not survive her time on the island and instead turned into stone. Upon finding his lover, the boy too turned to stone.
Both the boy and the girl are said to still exist as stone statues in the caves. Trinh Nu Cave has a stalactite that closely resembles the appearance of a girl with long hair as she looks out towards the sea. Across from her in the Trong Cave, is a stalactite in the shape of the boy who stands near the sea. Beyond the legend, the two caves are exceptionally beautiful.
Carved by the sea, visitors can take a kayak through the caverns to view the statue formations of the boy and girl. With the legend being so popular, Trinh Nu and Trong Cave are frequently included on tour itineraries.
Kayak through Luon Cave on Bo Hon Island. Photo: Mig Gilbert
At the base of the karsts is Luon Cave. Much narrower than Sung Sot, this cave funnels tourists into a tunnel-shaped cavern. Within the cavern, rainwater has flooded the floor and created a lake between two of the cave’s limestone cliffs. The crystal clear water often reflects its surroundings and beneath the blue surface, small fish species thrive in this unique inground system.
Less touristy than Sung Sot, Luon Cave is often quiet enough that visitors can hear the sounds of nature echoing through the main cavern. The passageway through Luon Cave is too narrow for commercial boats, so cisitors who want to enter the cavern and reach the other side will have to rent a kayak and paddle their way across the water.
Dong Tien Lake
Another legend about Bo Hon Island is that Dong Tien Lake was once the land of fairies. Featuring a limestone cave and saltwater lake, Dong Tien is one of the most protected areas on the island. Visited predominantly by scientists and researchers, a few tourists may be able to gain access to this controlled area, though a permit is required in order to preserve the area.
For the few who are granted access, Dong Tien has wonderful views of the bay, lake, and its large cave that is segmented into three parts. Visitors who have a permit are allowed to walk around the lake and into the cave with the assistance of a tour guide. To protect the habitat and wildlife, no one is permitted to boat or swim at Dong Tien Lake.
Sunset over Ha Long Bay. Photo: Esin Üstün
Another activity on Bo Hon Island is hiking. Similar to the beaches, hiring a guide is recommended. Although much of the island is unsafe for hiking, there are a few small paths that take visitors along the beaches and to some of the lower karsts.
Hiking is the best way to see the flora and fauna of Bo Hon Island. Monkeys and deer are common species that have been seen on the island. Additionally, visitors might see a few orchids in bloom. The best time to hike the island is during the dry season because of the karsts steep inclines. During the rainy season, many of the trails will be too slippery to navigate.
Around Bo Hon, a few of the island’s alcoves have pristine beaches. Preserved from the damage of mass tourism and left mostly untouched, a few of the beaches are open to tourists. Typically not named, visitors can hire a guide to show them some of the island’s best sandy spots.
Travelers that choose to visit the beaches of Bo Hon should be prepared to be on their own. While guides are suggested, there are no tourist facilities built on Bo Hon’s beaches. Travelers are welcome to visit the beach to relax in the sun, but guests should remember to carry out any trash that they bring with them.
The exterior of the Draha Halong Hotel. Photo: Draha Halong Hotel
Unlike some of the islands in Ha Long Bay, Bo Hon Island has been left completely undeveloped. The hope is that without any resorts, hotels, or homestays, the island and its unique ecosystems will be pristinely preserved for future generations. Tourists visiting Ha Long Bay and Bo Hon Island will have to find accommodation through a cruise company or on the mainland.
Overnight cruises are commonly offered by many of the tour companies in Ha Long Bay. For travelers who have multiple days to explore the bay and its islands, staying on board a boat is convenient and comfortable. Another accommodation option for travelers is on the mainland in Ha Long City.
Since Ha Long Bay has become a top tourist destination in Vietnam, the city has rapidly expanded its accommodation, dining, and entertainment services. Boasting 5-star hotels and luxurious resorts, a few of the best places to stay in Ha Long City are the BBQ Hostel, Halios Hotel, Confetti Hotel, and the Draha Halong Hotel.
In addition to there being no hotels, Bo Hon Island doesn’t have any restaurants either. Similar to hotels, tourists will find the best dining options through a cruise tour of Ha Long Bay or in Ha Long City. Most cruise companies will provide a lunch or dinner meal to guests that have booked half or full-day excursions. Overnight guests that are staying on board will be served breakfast.
The inside of Cua Vang Bai Chay. Photo: Nhà hàng cua vàng bãi cháy
In Ha Long City, there are many restaurants where tourists can dig into a tasty meal. The street food stalls in the city are very affordable and they serve some of the best homestyle meals. Commonly served in appetizer portions, visitors can taste the menu at a few different stalls.
For a more traditional dining experience, the local hotels have unique menus that often feature both Vietnamese and Western-style dishes. Papa’s BBQ, Jumbo Viet Nam Floating Restaurant, Co Ngu Restaurant, and the Cua Vang Bai Chay are all excellent places to eat in Ha Long City.
The only way to get to Bo Hon Island is by boat. Ha Long City is the best place to find a tour company that offers cruises through Ha Long Bay. Travelers who don’t have much time to explore the bay can book half or full-day cruises. Overnight and multi-day cruises are also popular as they allow tourists to see more of Ha Long Bay’s islands and islets.
Cruise ships in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Loic Pinseel
There are no roads on Bo Hon Island. Tour companies will take their guests by boat or on foot to the island’s main attractions. In a few places, the caves are too narrow for commercial boats to get close. In those cases, tourists will be assisted to shore where they can then walk or rent a kayak to view the caverns.
The primary seasons on Bo Hon Island are wet and dry. June thru September are the rainiest months of the year, also making them the least popular times to visit due to heavy rain and high temperatures. Visiting Bo Hon Island during the rainy season is not recommended because many of the caves will be flooded and may be too dangerous to enter with the high water levels.
Alternatively, the best time to visit Bo Hon Island is during the dry season months of October, November, and December. Towards the end of the year, the weather in Ha Long Bay is calmer and there is less rain to ruin the tour excursions.
Enjoy the view from Sung Sot Cave on Bo Hon Island. Photo: John Ragai
Another busy month for tourism to Bo Hon Island in January as many people will flock to Ha Long Bay to celebrate the New Year. However, the island’s location in Northeast Vietnam means that the winter months bring cold weather. While snow is not common, temperatures will be drastically cooler in January and February, so tourists may need to pack a few extra layers.
Address: Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
Season: Year-round | Best during the dry season
Hours: 24 hours
Keyword: Bo Hon Island, Vietnam