Halong Bay is perhaps Vietnam's most beautiful site, an area laced with myth and legend. Halong means ‘descending dragon' and this romantic and rugged area is truly a geological marvel; the enormous stretch of green jade-hued sea is broken by the eruption of limestone towers that rise above the still water. The surreal landscape attracts huge numbers of tourists a year who climb aboard junks that stream out to the cliffs and peaks each day and night. Its scale means that visitors will always find a new view, cave or a hidden grotto to explore at any of the thousands of sprawling islets that characterise this beautiful bay.
Cat Ba Island
To the south of Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the bay, half of which was recently designated as a national park. The population is small and the island quiet, green and beautiful. It's a perfect place to take a stroll around to explore the quiet bays and coves around its perimeter. The flora and fauna along the trails are as intriguing as the views out to the bay, but unfortunately human activity has affected the population of the Cat Ba langur, a critically endangered golden-headed primate whose numbers have fallen from thousands to just 50. Though you're unlikely to spot one in the wild, there is an active rehabilitation initiative that is worth a visit before you leave.
Bai Tu Long Bay
A quieter and relatively under-developed northern neighbour to Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is similarly stunning, with much the same dramatic topography. It's more difficult to get to than Halong Bay and, as such, its tourist industry is all but non-existent, but those who make it will be treated to isolated panoramic views and a real sense of escape, perfect for swimming among the stunning caves and karsts, bays and beaches that line this coastline.
Halong Bay cruises
There are numerous ways to explore Halong Bay but to see it at its best we recommend a stay on a traditional Vietnamese junk, admiring the scenery, dining on seafood and visiting the families who live their lives on floating villages. The more luxurious boats offer elegant restaurants, expansive sun decks and spacious cabins with picture windows or even private balconies. Our pick of the bunch are Halong Ginger, Halong Jasmine and Halong Violet.