Itineraries for Your Trip to Halong Bay

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3 Days in Halong Bay for First Timers

Curated by Lydia SchrandtLydia Schrandt is a writer, editor, and award-winning photographer currently based in Houston. She’s a contributor for USA TODAY 10Best and serves as the first chair of the Editors Council of the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Draft, Time Out Beijing, Travel+, USA TODAY, San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

Some 1,600 islands and islets dot the waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering near endless opportunities for exploration. If you have three days to tour the area, you’ll more than likely be doing so by boat. Here are some ideas to help you choose the ultimate 3-day itinerary in Halong Bay.

Day 1

Get up early to make the journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay, passing through the scenic Red River Delta along the way. You should be onboard by lunch and ready to get your first glimpse of the magnificent limestone karst formations as you set sail into the bay. A highlight of the area and a good option for your first afternoon is a visit to Cat Ba National Park, where you can trek through the jungle and spot rare animals such as the Cat Ba langur, civet cats, and giant oriental squirrels. Alternatively, opt for a bike ride around the coastal fishing villages, then cool off with a swim at one of the island’s many beaches. Back on board your boat, learn how to re-create your favorite Vietnamese dishes with a cooking class, then tuck into your creations as the sun sets over the bay.

Day 2

One of the benefits of a 3-day cruise is the ability to sail deeper into the bay to see some of its more pristine, off-the-beaten-track landscapes. One of these is Lan Ha Bay. Wake up for a sunrise session of tai chi on the top deck of your boat to kick off your day. Points of interest in this portion of Halong Bay include a floating pearl farm, Cai Beo floating village, white-sand beaches, and a few caves inside the karsts. Since fewer tourist boats venture here, you’ll feel like you’ve found an isolated slice of paradise. Enjoy a set-menu dinner onboard as the sun dips below the horizon, and after dark, head out on deck for some squid fishing with the crew.

Day 3

Many of Halong Bay’s most impressive spots are unreachable by larger cruise ships and junk boats, but they’re perfect for a kayak. For a more intimate Halong Bay experience, make sure to choose an itinerary that includes some kayaking to discover hidden beaches and majestic caves (there are plenty to choose from). If your boat has dropped you back on the mainland today, consider spending the afternoon seeing the bay from a different perspective—a seaplane sightseeing flight, arguably the best way to get a sense for the immensity and majesty of the bay. Once you’re back on solid ground, it’s time to head back to Hanoi, where you can decompress over a dinner of Vietnamese or French cuisine.

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