A seaport on Northern Vietnam’s coast, Ha Long, also written, Halong, is rapidly becoming one of the country’s most recognized destinations for tourists. As a matter of fact, Ha Long City and the adjoining bay have frequently been listed as Vietnam’s number one tourist attraction by multiple international publications.
Ha Long claim to fame is the bay and nearby islands, which emerge from the turquoise water. The beauty of Ha Long Bay has earned it a spot on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, which ensures that this marvelous landscape stays protected for future generations.
The city of Ha Long sits along the bay and it is the main jumping-off point for travelers to cruise and explore the area’s numerous limestone karsts. Although you can take a cruise to Ha Long Bay from other nearby coastal locations too.
1st Class City in Quang Ninh
Bird’s eye view of Ha Long City, Vietnam. Photo by: Charith Gunarathna.
Listed by the Vietnamese government as a 1st class provincial city, Ha Long is a part of the Quang Ninh Province in Northern Vietnam. The city has been divided into two parts with Eastern Ha Long used mostly as an industrial center and place for official administrative buildings. Western Ha Long has been developed for tourists and it is connected by a bridge to the city’s east side.
Tourism’s rapid growth in the area has also assisted in developing a better highway system with Ha Long being connected by road to nearby cities like Mong Cai. One reason for Ha Long City’s growing and sustained popularity is because of is close proximity to Hanoi. Vietnam’s capital city is about 95 miles (154 kilometers) to the southwest of Ha Long City.
Buses, trains, and airplanes all transport travelers to Ha Long. Though, most travelers will choose to go by car or bus, which takes between 2.5 and 4.5 hours. Trains are the slowest method with overnight journeys lasting for about 7 hours.
Ha Long Bay. Photo: Charith Gunarathna
Looking to the past, Ha Long City’s history can be traced back to nearly the beginning of mankind. Some even call Ha Long and the surrounding area, “one of the cradles of mankind”, which hints at its diverse history. Discovered in 1937 by a Swedish archeologist, the Ngoc Vung culture was dated back to the New Stone Age.
In the following decades, more sites were uncovered by archeologists, which revealed more of the bay’s history.
Before the historical and cultural significance was discovered, Ha Long used its beauty to charm the French. In the late 1800s, Ha Long was colonized by the French with many local named changed from Vietnamese into French. Recognition of Ha Long as a true wonder of Vietnam didn’t happen until after French colonization and World War II.
In 1962, Vietnam added Ha Long to its list of Renowned National Landscape Monuments. International recognition happened in 1994 when UNESCO listed the bay as a World Heritage Site and in 2000, the listing was updated to include recognition of the area’s value as a geological and geomorphological site.
Limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo by: Anthony Tong Lee.
Sealing the bay’s fame, Ha Long was named as one of seven of the world’s new natural wonders. Today, the bay is flourishing with many travelers making the journey from all over the world to witness Ha Long’s beauty firsthand.
- Ha Long means “descending dragon”, which relates to the creation myth that the bay and islands were created by dragons
- There are 33 commune-level subdivisions in Ha Long with the city divided into 21 wards and 12 communes
- It’s estimated that just over 300,000 people live in Ha Long City
Exploring Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo by: cloud.shepherd
Acting as the gateway to Ha Long Bay, the list of attractions in the city is nearly endless. With opportunities to explore the local culture, cuisine, and lifestyles, travelers should consider spending some time in Ha Long City before jetting off to explore the islands in the bay.
Packed with restaurants, shops, and hotels, Ha Long City is also a great place to spend the night. Many travelers will use the city as a base camp so that they can spend each day exploring a new part of the bay.
Visit Sunworld in Ha Long
Spanning across the Cua Luc inlet, Sunworld is a cable car that gives visitors breathtaking views of Ha Long City and bay. Though, the cable car isn’t all. Designed to be like a theme park of sorts, Sunworld’s other attractions include the Sun Ferris Wheel, games, and food stalls. The park tends to be busy throughout the day, but peak times for the cable car are around dusk when the sunset starts.
Typhoon Water Park. Photo: Typhoon Water Park
Aside from Sunworld, Ha Long City has two adventure parks on the Bãi Cháy side of town. The Dragon Park is filled with rollercoasters with various rides open throughout the year. Open based on season, the nearby Typhoon Water Park is a fun place to take the family to cool off during the high summer heat.
Both parks have become popular attractions in the city and a full list of open rides can be found online. Visitors should also keep in mind that admission prices fluctuate depending on the season.
Beach No 1
Behind Sunworld is Ha Long City’s Beach No 1. Popular because of its proximity to Sunworld, many visitors will hit the beach after spending a day in the park. Located right on the bay, Beach No 1 is open to the public and it offers excellent views of the passing cruise ships and nearby lighthouse. During the day, the beach is the go-to spot for sunbathers, but at sunset, it is a good spot to take a stroll and unwind from a busy day.
View the Bridge
One massive structure that takes up a fair amount of space in Ha Long City’s skyline is the Bãi Cháy Bridge. Used daily by commuters, the bridge replaced a ferry system to make traveling between Ha Long and Cua Luc Bay easier. Built as a cable-stayed bridge, visitors are permitted to walk across a path.
View of the Bãi Cháy Bridge in Ha Long City, Vietnam. Photo by: 罵咖棒.
Cruise the Bay
One of the most popular activities in Ha Long City is cruising. Cruise boats are used to transport travelers on day trips around the bay for views of the city and nearby islands. Cruises can be arranged to leave from the harbor in Ha Long City and some have overnight options. While most cruises will last for anywhere from an hour to half a day, it’s very worth it to spend a night or two on the water.
Cat Ba is a popular island destination because of the national park that has been established in its forests. Many cruises also take visitors to Bon Hon Island where they can tour the Hang Sung Sot Cave. For a private beach getaway, tourists should book a cruise to Monkey Island, which is famous for its white sand, scenic trails, and kayaking hotspots.
Take a cruise of the bay and depart from a number of nearby locations. Photo by: David McKelvey.
Visit the Local Market
For an insight into the local lifestyle, visitors are encouraged to stroll through the Bãi Cháy Market. Vendors in this market sell local produce and textiles. Favorites in the market include impressive fruit stalls and seafood merchants. The textile section of the market has also become a popular place to shop for souvenirs. Open daily, the market operates from the early morning to the late-night hours.
In addition to the activities already listed, there are dozens of more places to see and visit in Ha Long City and around the bay. Visitors truly won’t get bored and unless you’re staying for months, it is unlikely that you’ll get to see everything in one trip.
Other attractions and activities popular in Ha Long City include historical sites like the Ho Chi Minh Monument, snorkeling, scuba diving, and biking. Tours can be arranged for almost any activity to ensure that visitors stay safe and have a great experience during their time in Ha Long City.
Learn more about the top things to do in Ha Long Bay.
Room at BBQ Hostel in Ha Long, Vietnam.
As a city thriving off of tourists, Ha Long ensures that there is a place to stay for every traveler. With dozens of options, tourists can find comfortable accommodation that fits their budget. Scattered throughout Ha Long City and along the bay are hotels, hostels, and even private rentals that cater to the city’s overnight guests.
This section contains hotel affiliate links, which we may earn a commission on a completed stay, at no additional cost to you.
BBQ Hostel – The BBQ Hostel in Ha Long City is one of the highest-rated hostels in town. Located just a few blocks away from the Quang Ninh Museum, the hostel is in a popular spot in town and within walking distance to various restaurants and attractions. On-site at the hotel is a restaurant, which serves barbecue and local dishes.
Hotel guests will also have access to free parking, complimentary bicycle rentals, and a shared kitchen. With affordable rates and friendly staff, word of the BBQ Hostel is spreading, so visitors should make their reservations online before their trip.
Halios Hotel Halong.
Halios Hotel – A 3-star hotel just 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) away from Bãy Cháy Beach, the Halios Hotel guarantees that each room has views of the surrounding city.
Included with each room are an AC unit, TV, fridge, desk, and private bathroom. Amenities at the hotel are highly rated and include free private parking for guests, an onsite restaurant with a bar, and a shared lounge. In addition, a buffet breakfast is included with the price and served each morning in the restaurant.
The Confetti Hotel.
The Confetti Hotel – One of the favorite places amongst traveling families is the Confetti Hotel, which has rooms designed to make it easier to stay the night with youngsters. Rooms with a terrace are also available and every unit comes with air conditioning, a TV, a private bathroom, and a wardrobe.
Located next to a massive limestone karst, the Confetti Hotel’s location is quieter and therefore great for families looking to escape the busy city. However, the hotel is still located close to fun attractions like the Vincom Plaza and Quang Ninh Museum.
Draha Halong Hotel.
Draha Halong Hotel – Another great accommodation in a quieter location of the city is the Draha Halong Hotel. Nestled in the hills, the hotel has exceptional views of the nearby mountains. On-site there is also a private garden and many rooms come with their own terrace. Facilities offered by the hotel include a restaurant with room service. Breakfast options include a continental or à la carte style.
Private Rentals – Hotels and hostels may not be to everyone’s taste, which is when the city’s private rentals are the best alternative. From hotels to homes, private rentals in Ha Long City are great for travelers who are in large groups or who are staying for more than a few weeks. Most vacation rental prices are affordable and lease agreements can be arranged for short or long stays.
Ha Long snacks on boat. Photo: Malingering
Featuring a mix of international and local cuisine, restaurants in Ha Long are highly rated as being some of the top in Vietnam. With world-class chefs and fresh ingredients, Ha Long City is a place where food lovers can indulge in the best of the best. Additionally, most restaurants serve bigger portions at affordable prices.
Papa’s BBQ – Located close to the beach, Papa’s BBQ serves handmade food that has been cooked by Chef Van. Beloved by locals, the restaurant excels in BBQ, schnitzel, and steak with chips. Portions are served large and prices are affordable, which makes Papa’s BBQ a great option for traveling groups or families.
Jumbo Viêt Nam Floating Restaurant – Floating restaurants are famous in Ha Long City, but one of the best is the Jumbo Viêt Nam Floating Restaurant. Featuring 3 floors, Jumbo can serve up to 300 guests at once. Beneath the boat is a farm where all of the fish served on the menu are raised. Aside from the good food, patrons love being able to sit on the water and view the bay while they enjoy their meal.
Co Ngu Restaurant – For a luxurious dining experience and exceptional meal, the Co Ngu Restaurant serves an array of Western and Asian culinary dishes. Designed to look imperial, Co Ngu has a grand room and balcony for its guests to enjoy the breeze and sights of Ha Long Bay.
Cua Vàng Bãi Cháy. Photo: Cua Vàng Bãi Cháy
Cua Vàng Bãi Cháy – Known to locals as Cua Vàng Bãi Cháy or the Golden Crab, this restaurant has a delicious seafood menu. Fresh daily catches are displayed in tanks around the restaurant, so patrons can take their pick and watch as it is being cooked. Shellfish are a favorite dish with fresh oysters and wasabi being the top choice.
Street Food – Perhaps the most affordable dining option in Ha Long City comes from the numerous street food stalls that can be found in neighborhoods and markets throughout the area. Serving local favorites, the street food in Ha Long is delicious and it won’t break the bank. Staple dishes that are served at various stalls around the city include squid sausage and horseshoe crabs.
Some travelers may also be interested in visiting Ha Long City during a festival so that they can see the streets come to life as people dance and celebrate. Aside from the national holidays like the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Ha Long Carnaval. Photo: Carnaval HaLong QN
Ha Long City’s most famous celebration is its rendition of Carnaval which is held at the end of April or in early May to promote tourism in the area. During the Carnaval, local and international artists gather to perform dances and elaborate shows. The streets are filled with parades and everything is lit up in bold colors.
Massive crowds should be expected at Carnaval as many tourists visit the area specifically to join in on the celebrations.
Getting around Ha Long City takes a little more effort than casually strolling through the streets. While it’s easy to walk certain sections of the city, some attractions are more spread out and would require travelers to arrange for alternative transportation. The safest and best ways to get around the city include using taxis, tour buses, motorbikes, and bicycles.
Taxis in Ha Long City are very common, and rates tend to be very affordable. Drivers should have a meter, which costs about $0.25 US cents to start. Rates then tend to be less than $1 US dollar per kilometer. Popular taxi companies in Ha Long include the Ha Long Taxi, Mai Linh Taxi, and Mong Cai Taxi company.
If travelers are uncomfortable calling a taxi, they can ask their accommodation to assist them in arranging for a ride.
Visit the Sunworld Ferris Wheel and Gondola in Ha Long, Vietnam. Photo by: Werner Bayer.
For an overview of the city and to learn more about its culture and history, tour buses are a great way to see the sights and get around. There are a few different tour companies throughout Ha Long City, which have routes that take riders between Bãi Chày and Cua Luc Bay. Tourists can also use tour buses as a normal bus and get off or on at various stops throughout the city.
Travelers who feel comfortable driving themselves may be interested in renting a motorbike. Most daily motorbike rentals will cost about $10 US dollars (around 200,000 dong, sometimes less, but not much more), though the rates are different depending on whether you choose a semi-automatic or automatic model.
While some sections of Ha Long City tend to be quite busy, in the quieter neighborhoods, motorbikes are a great way to get around.
Alternatively, bicycle rentals are also common and sometimes offered by hotels to their guests. Easier to manage than a motorbike, most people will use bicycles to get around popular tourist spots like the pier or downtown area. Like motorbikes, daily rental rates are affordable, and some hotels even offer complimentary bicycles to their guests.
Bhaya Cruise. Photo: David McKelvey
With two primary seasons – wet and dry, the most popular time to visit Ha Long is during the last months of the year, which is when the weather isn’t too hot or rainy. The peak tourist times to visit Ha Long are from October to December and sometimes extend into January as foreign visitors celebrate the New Year.
The low tourist season is during the rainiest months, which are June, July, August, and September.
However, keep in mind that, unlike Southern Vietnam, Ha Long City does have a true winter and fall. During January and February, the temperature dramatically drops, so cooler weather gear will be needed. During the fall and winter months, the weather can get chilly, but it stays mostly temperate just without getting too hot.
As the main residential area of Vietnam’s most famous bay, Ha Long City has become one of the most recognized destinations in the entire country. With plenty of attractions aside from the bay, the city is well-developed for tourists who want to explore the local shops, restaurants, sites, parks, and hotels.
Furthermore, Ha Long gives visitors access to the renowned bay and its stunning limestone karsts, caves, and forests.
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Keyword: Ha Long, Vietnam