Exploring the karsts of Ha Long Bay. Photo by Aaron Joel Santos.
While it’s possible to stay on dry land and make day trips out into Halong Bay, nothing beats spending the night on its calm waters, waking up to a serene sunrise and joining a Tai Chi class on the deck of a classic ship. Most boats also moor up at Ti Top island where those with the energy can scale hundreds of steps for a knockout panorama of Halong Bay.
There are enough different routes in the bay to keep climbing junkies entertained for weeks if not months, and newbies can also learn here with easier roped climbs available on some of the small islands. DWS, or deep water soloing, is a form of rock climbing that needs no ropes, and is becoming increasingly popular in beautiful Ha Long, especially on Butterfly Island.
Cat Ba Island lies just to the south of Halong Bay, its densely jungled interior offers the opportunity to spot some of the 32 animal and 70 plus bird species that call it home. Those who trek in the island’s interior have a small but more realistic chance of seeing one of three macaque species, civets, deer and squirrel. Hiking opportunities abound, with the chance to climb to the island’s highest peak or trek to a remote village before taking a ferry ride back to Cat Ba town. Another great pleasures of a Cat Ba trip is hiring a motorbike or bicycle and exploring. Head up to the Cannon Fort, not far from town for a slice of military history together with awe inspiring views over Lan Ha Bay.
With just 24 hours, it is possible to take a day trip from Hanoi and cruise out among the bay’s fable limestone karst islands before arriving back in the capital in time for a nightcap.
Those with 48 hours to play with have a decision to make: indulge in an utterly relaxing overnight cruise on Halong Bay, or opt for the more active choice, splitting the time between some trekking on Cat Ba Island and a kayak, or perhaps boat trip out onto the waters of Lan Ha Bay.
The months of April and May offer sunshine and a refreshing breeze, while September to October are favoured for their cooler temperatures and clear skies.
Most visitors to Cat Ba or Halong Bay opt for the most relaxing and by far the simplest option of a package including all transport from Hanoi, but it is possible to travel independently to Halong City or Cat Ba Island.