If you’re bored of Halong Bay’s junk boats, then head into the city for a bit of retail therapy or sail over to Cat Ba Island to hike and maybe spot an endangered langur (if you’re lucky). Check out my humble tips on all else there is to do in the Halong Bay area!
Most people know Halong Bay to be a great tourist attraction a few hours east of Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. But rather than floating around on expensive junk boats, it may surprise some people that there is actually a small city of Halong nearby which can be explored. The local citizens are plying their trade on a daily basis here and in typical Vietnamese style, things are often fast-paced! The Novotel Halong Bay Hotel is the best place to stay on mainland, although it is not within walking distance of the Bay itself, regardless of its name.
Halong City Fish Market is a great place to see the locals at work (and at play!). Fresh seafood and fruit and vegetables are on offer here for great prices. Although I didn’t buy anything myself, I still noticed many people trying to haggle themselves some bargains. I imagine most – if not all – of the fish was caught in the Halong Bay area, so it would be amazing to actually eat some indigenous seafood to the area!
Cat Ba National Park is reached by a boat across the bay and tour companies can easily arrange this for you at a whim. On Cat Ba island you will find the endangered Cat Ba Langur, which is native to this island and this island alone (in the wild). It is a great national park full of lush greenery and small animals, and a great way to spend half a day exploring with the backdrop of Halong Bay itself just around the corner!
Local textiles and ceramics are also on offer in Halong City, and a lot of these handmade items are of great quality. Most of it is made for the tourists, so bear in mind that starting prices will be deliberately high, but it’s always good to practice your haggling skills! I loved seeing the traditional Vietnamese hats on sale. If I had had space in my backpack I would have taken some for my friends and family, alas I had to turn down the chance.
However, the main reason anybody comes to this part of north-east ‘Nam is to see the incredible karst scenery of Halong Bay. Junk boat cruises are not cheap, but if you can find one within your budget, then it is a great way to see the sunset at a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site!