Magnificant 3 Day Halong Bay tour in northern Vietnam
A 3 day Halong Bay tour might probably be the best thing to do in Vietnam. Even though I have to say that everything in Vietnam is absolutely fascinating, the 3 day Halong Bay tour takes things to another level. Halong Bay is one of the most known sights in Southeast Asia and it gets more popular every single year, because Vietnam’s tourism sector expands drastically. So make sure to get there as quick as possible before it’s completely overloaded.
I went on the 3 day Halong Bay tour at the end of my trip through Vietnam. I travelled the whole country with my motorbike “Foxy Roxy”, that I bought in Saigon. After I explored the northeast of the country and the caves in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, I went straight to see one of Southeast Asia’s most spectecular sights. I can say right from the start, that Halong Bay is easily under my top 5 of the best sights you have to see in life. It’s crazy what mother earth can do. I promise, you will be blown away!
That said, I want to mention that this post is not a 3 day itinerary/ schedule. I rather want to inspire you to visit this place and show you all the highlights it has to offer and why so many travellers love Halong Bay.
But before that I give you some general information like I always do, because I find it to be extremly important, if you visit a new place you have never been before. Otherwise you will end up like I have a lot of times… with no clue of what the sight in front of you is all about. And I don’t want that for you to happen 😉
3 Day Halong Bay tour in northern Vietnam – General information
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the northeast of Vietnam and it belongs to the Quang Ninh Province. It’s basically a bay full of big limestone karsts and islands with different shapes and forms in the South China Ocean. In total you can find about 2.000 limestone karts and islands within a region of about 1550 km². Under the rough Southeast Asian climate the whole area had started to develop over 500 million years ago. The first humans have been found about 5-7 thousand years B.C.
Lately Halong Bay has been voted to be one of the 7 new natural world wonders of the world. It inhabits about 14 endemic floral and 60 faunal species. Halong Bay created its own sea shore biosystem including an evergreen tropical as well as oceanic biosystem. This bay is also filled with different kind of caves. You can find:
- Marine notch caves
- Old karstic foot caves
- Remnants of old phreatic caves
Some of the limestone rocks you’ll see on the 3 day Halong Bay tour have a size of up to 200m. That really reminded me of the El Nido area in the Philippines. Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most visited sights and thousands of travellers from all over the world come to visit every single year.
How to get there
To get to the point where the 3 day Halong Bay tour starts is pretty easy. The place is called Bai Chai – Le Tanh Tong street. Most people take a bus from Hanoi to get there. Some travellers actually also already book a boat tour from Hanoi (see below why not to do so). You could also take a taxi or a car, but I would not recommend that, because it’s to expensive. Taking the boat or a flight are no an options either. The nearest airport is in Hanoi and taking a boat from anywhere in the south straight to Halong Bay takes way to long as well.
I would recommend to take the motorcycle/ rent a scooter, because the drive to Halong Bay is really cool. Furthermore it’s the best way not to get stuck in the traffic. Vietnamese roads are packed!
It’s about a 170km to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi. It will probably take you around 3-6 hours, depending on which vehicle you choose 😉
How to get around
If you only want to stay on the mainland and watch the silhouettes of the limetone rocks, then you can also get around by scooter, trycycle or taxi. But if you want to go on a proper 3 day Halong Bay tour, then there is only one way to get around. And that’s taking a boat.
Most 3 day Halong Bay tours will take you to one of many islands like Cat Ba Island (read below). You might also have to take the bus in between to get from A to B, so it’s not just only boating around.
The vessels are very good in my opinion. Most of them are older/ look older, which gives the whole ride a special charme. They all include a restaurant and quite nice bedrooms. You don’t need to worry about comfort 😉
Weather conditions on the 3 day Halong Bay tour are very good in general. Otherwise the tour companies would not be allowed to start their tours anyway.
The temperature sets between 15°C – 33°C and it’s sunny most of the time. Generally Halong Bay has a tropical coastal climate. From April to September is wet season, which means that you won’t find that many tourists, because it rains a little more sometimes. From October to March Halong Bay has its dry season. During that time it’s not as humid and less rainy, but therefore it’s a little colder.
The area of Halong Bay has two types of monsoons. One from the Northeast and one from the Southwest. The one from the Southwest is havier (45 m/s), but luckily you don’t really feel these monsoons on your 3 day Halong Bay tour, because of the natural circumstances. All the thousands of rocks and mountains have built a natural wind shield. Thanks to the geological and topographic characteristics of Halong Bay 🙂
The cuisine on the 3 day Halong Bay tour will surprise you. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included during the boat tour and on the island you choose to stay at later on. For lunch and dinner you’ll get fish, chips, soup, salad and much more. Everything gets prepared by professional chefs, who take care of all the passangers. On the boat you’ll dine with many other travellers in a big dining room. You’ll also get alcoholic drinks for free, if you like.
In the morning you can have some typical Asian breakfast or you just have western breakfast, which would be some toast with egg and bacon. Generally the Vietnamese cuisine is excellent and you can see that on the 3 day Halong Bay tour. Before I went on the tour, I thought the cuisine will probably be of poor quality. But I got disabused. It’s pretty decent to be honest.
Food gets even better on the islands. At the hostel/ hotel we even got a three-course dinner, which was absolutely fantastic and also included in the price.
You’ll have to choose from different accommodation 3 times while you are in Halong Bay. One time before and two times on the 3 day Halong Bay tour.
When you stay on the mainland you can mostly choose between hotels and hostels. It’s up to you, if you want high or lower price accommodation. I can say for myself, that lower price hotels in Halong Bay have quite a good standard, which is quite unusual for Southeast Asia. You’ll have your one room with a Queen size bed, your own bathroom and a even TV 😉
To name a couple ones:
The second time you choose accommodation is on the boat. You have to check upfront what kind of room you want. It obviously depends on what kind of package you book. There is not just one 3 day Halong Bay tour. There are many of them. So choose, whatever works best for you.
One the boat you’ll either have your own room with a bathroom or you’ll stay with others in a dorm room.
On the islands will be the last time you can choose your accommodation. This also depends on what you have booked upfront. I recommend you to get a hostel/ hotel by a small bay. Me and two Austrian guys as well as 3 German girls got lucky. The island we went to was Cat Ba Island and we stayed in a small hostel by the ocean. Very beautiful!
Many other people booked a different tour, so they had to stay at a hostel about 1km away from the ocean. You have the chance to change your accommodation once you are at the island, but there will be additional charges. So choose wisely in the beginning 😉
Short tip: If you end up at Cat Ba Island, which is where most tours end at, try to stay at Bai Tam Cat. An absolutely georgous small bay… It’s super relaxed and has postcard quality for sure!
You gonna love this part 🙂 A 3 day Halong Bay tour is not very expensive in my opinion. Compared to what get out of it, it’s quite cheap. You roughly pay about 120$ – 180$, depending on which boat you choose. In other countries like Australia, you pay about 400$ for a similar Whitsunday Islands or Ayers Rock tour. Even a private boat would be less than that (380$). So that’s quite a good deal I think.
You might say: “But Christian, the tour must have a lower quality then, right?”. My answer would be: “Not at all! It’s not better or worse”. I’d say it’s equal and definitely a good value for money!
Furthermore the average costs you have to calculate with before the 3 day Halong Bay tour are also pretty low. To give you a couple examples:
- Bus ticket from Hanoi to Bai Chay: 6$ per person
- Accommodation : 6$ – 15$ per night/ per person
- Food: 4$ – 15$ per day/ per person
Honestly guys, the rest (drinks, transportation, etc.) is variable. That’s completely up to you.
What to do to lower costs
But generally, if you want to lower your tour costs, buy the tickets for the 3 day Halong Bay tour on-site in Halong Bay/ Bai Chai. You get way better prices than anywhere else. Don’t buy them in Hanoi or at other places, because you’ll probably end up with a bad deal.
Short tip: Always negotiate as much as you can. The first price you get from tour companies is always very high. So go very low (1/5 of the price). They might get angry about that or don’t talk to you for a while, but they will come back at you, because they don’t want you to buy somewhere else. It’s always the same game in Southeast Asia. So stay relaxed and don’t take their first offer 😉
3 Day Halong Bay tour in northern Vietnam – Highlights
When I went on the 3 day Halong Bay tour I was fascinated by all the different highlights it had to offer. There is something for everyone. Some people like more active things to do, others like to relax more and enjoy the moment. Whatever you are in to, you’ll definitely be sorted out perfectly 😉
Scenic boat tour
I want to start with the boat tour itself. For me, this was the mega highlight of the 3 day Halong Bay tour. Honestly guys, you will be blown away by what you see. By that time I did not have a drone (see my travel gear here), so I can not entertain you with footage from above, but even if you just look at it from the boat, you won’t believe your eyes.
The whole scenery reminded me a bit of Koh Phi Phi, but just way bigger and more impressive. One big limestone mountain after another, reaching out of the ocean. Here and there you pass some other boats, which look very cool with their old Vietnamese style.
Especially when the sun sets, the whole boat trip reaches another level. It’s just epic how the last sunbeams of the day reflect on the dark blue ocean and make the limestone mountain ranges look even more scenic. During all that you just hang out on the boat with a Saigon beer and enjoy a good talk with people from all over the world. What else could you want? 🙂
On almost every 3 day Halong Bay tour you will visit some caves. Most tours go to Trinh Nu Cave, Sung Sot Cave or Thien Cung Cave. I have been to the 2nd one – Sung Sot Cave. It is situated in a bay 15 km south of Bai Chay Beach.
To get to the Sung Sot Cave you have to go up a very steep path, which is lined with some shady trees. The cave has two chambers and the ceiling is about 30m high at some parts. In between a couple walls seem so smooth that they look like they have been hand made. It’s crazy!
All inner parts are totally lighted up in different colours and countless of stalagmites with all kind of forms and shapes hang from the ceiling. The whole grotto has many smaller highlights, which all have a more or less fairytale history to them. Very cool!
During the 3 day Halong Bay tour you’ll probably also have the chance to kajak. While being surrounded by all the scenic limestone mountains, you can choose a partner to go and explore the area with a bit. You have to go in pairs. Obviously you can not kajak to far away, but it’s still an amazing experience to kajak around the bay of Halong. You’ll be out on the water for about 30-45 minutes. The boat crew also gives you a life jacket. Kajaking is included in every 3 day Halong Bay tour package. I haven’t met anyone, who told me something different.
And it’s good that you have the chance to take out a kajak. Looking at the surroundings from the boat is cool, but getting really close to the mountains and tiny grottoes is even better. You could also go for a swim, if you like. The water temperature sets around 17°C (January) – 29°C (June).
When me and my partner kajaked around, I felt a sense of pure freedom and happiness that I have rarely felt before. There is something about Halong Bay that you won’t find anywhere else. Trust me!
This might not be everyone’s thing, but the parties on any 3 day Halong Bay tour are great. Usually they take place on the first night. You get free beers and three bottles of liquor for about 8 people (one table) after dinner. On the boat you have a good chance to get in contact with travellers from all over the world. I met people from Brazil, Holland, UK, Germany and even Chile.
It was fantastic to chat with them. I had a great time. You’ll be surprised how many interesting conversations about all kind of topics come up 🙂
Sometimes, and for me that was the case, the boats stay right next to each other, so the party gets even bigger. You switch boats and meet even more people. Everyone dances to local as well as modern music and just has a good time. It’s great fun!
Cat Ba Island National Park
The next part of the 3 day Halong Bay tour is Cat Ba Island. When we had reached Cat Ba Island, we have been brought to a wonderful hostel right at Bai Tam Cat. But first, we went to a trekking starting point of the Cat Ba Island National Park.
You can decide whether you want to participate in the trekking or not. It’s about 2h long and, depending on the tour you have booked, you might have to pay an additional entrance fee of 40.000 VND (2$). Note that the short hike is quite exhausting, because of the high humidity and it has some pretty steep parts in between.
After making your way through the jungle you’ll end up at a special viewpoint. The viewpoint is on top of one of the mountains. It will take about 1h and 20 minutes to get there. You’ll be sweat-soaked, but honestly, the view is absolutely spectecular!
Short tip: Bring good shoes and water. Don’t walk up in Flip Flops like I did 😉
After finishing the hike, you will immediately be brought to your hostel. Cat Ba Island has many good spots to stay at, but as said, the best one has probably been Bai Tam Cat. There are two little bays right next to each other. Bai Tam Cat is the last one at the end of a tiny road. You’ll have a great view from the local fine white sand beach onto some typical Halong Bay limestone karts.
The two local hostels offer kajaking and other activities like Volleyball, Billard or Yoga. If that’s not for you, then you can also just lay down all day long on one of the launchers and relax while watching the beautiful landscape. It’s absolutely fantastic. At night you can go into town to grab something nice to eat or just to have a couple drinks at a domestic restaurant/ bar.
Short tip: Go for seafood. It’s super delicious on Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba island walk
Right next to the 2nd bay, you can find a footpath, which leads you along some parts of the limestone mountain ranges at the south eastern coastline. Taking a walk there is so beautiful and one of the best things to do in the south of Cat Ba Island. You don’t have to do it, but I highly recommend you to. You’ll have an awesome view onto the seascape full of limestone karts with all kind of forms and variations. The walk is not very long, but it’s so nice!
Especially during sunset the walk is even better, because the whole scenery starts to shine in gold. I had quite a melancolic feeling watching the sunset right behind the limestone mountains in the ocean. But in a very good way. It’s hard to describe, but this walk does something good to your soul/ heart. So make it a priority on the 3 day Halong Bay tour.
During the chilled walk just make sure to watch out for snakes! 😉
3 Day Halong Bay tour in northern Vietnam – What I have learned
I learned a lot from the 3 day Halong Bay tour. Travelling teaches me a lot of life lessons anyway every time I hit the road, but Halong Bay was special for me. I want to pick out the most valuable thing that I have learned and explain it by telling you a little story from the 3 day Halong Bay tour. But I want to come straight to the point of the story…
During the walk along the coastal path I almost got bitten by a light green 2 m long snake, which was hiding in the gras next to the sidewalk. Luckily, when I walked by, one of the Austrian dudes, who I have met on the 3 day Halong Bay tour, behind me said: “You see that?”. The other one instantly replied screaming:” SNAKE !!!”.
In the corner of my eye I saw this green thing straighten itself up. I immediately reacted by jumping 2x as high as I could. The snake tried to bite me. Luckily while jumping high I also jumped away, so that it could not reach me. After it missed me, I immediately ran away as fast as I could and the snake wriggled towards the Austrian guys, who ran in the opposite direction. After a couple meters, the snake turned left and disappeared in the bushes…
The Austrian guys told me afterwards, that they have never seen someone in their lifes jumping that high from a standing position 😀
Essence of the story
As funny and exciting as this story of my 3 day Halong Bay tour might sound, I found out later on the same day that it was a very toxic snake type. If it would have bitten me, I would have died pretty fast without an antidote.
I let that sink in for a while and realized afterwards, that life can end very, very quick. As cheesy as this might sound, it is the god damn truth!
We all only have one life and this experience is one of many reasons why I have the motto:
Get the best out of every day
I actually have that tattooed on my arm and I think it is very important to realize the fact that we are all just humans, who will eventually only be dust some day.
That being said, I can only encourage anyone to get out in the world, conquer every task in the best possible way and do the best you can to live a great life that you can be proud of, whatever that might mean to you. But maybe it’s a good idea to start with a 3 day Halong Bay tour, because it will be something you will never forget 😉
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