Halong bay is probably the most famous tourist attraction Vietnam has to offer.
Because of that, there’s a tremendous hype about what’s to be expected when visiting there - an unforgettable natural experience of a UNESCO landmark.
Of course, 8.3 million tourists are expecting something unforgettable from visiting one of the natural wonders of the world also.
And that’s the problem.
Halong bay is beautiful. Its 1600 limestone islands topped by dense jungles are an impressive sight, unlike anything in shape or scale in any part of the world; but what you’ll find amongst the gigantic rocks are boats. Lots of boats.
So many boats, in fact, that on my recent trip there, we bumped in to several like dogem cars as we were approaching one of the more peculiar and interesting formations within the bay. Dozens of boats, jostling one another, vying for the best photo op position.
It wasn’t an uncommon event, I was told. In fact, it happened every other hour as the next wave of tourist-filled boats came rushing from the harbour.
Yeah, it’s one of those locations - the ones absolutely jam-packed with people who have the same idea as you; a desire to see something spectacular.
As long as you’re mentally prepared for the tourist trap and uneasy boat rides - and with a bit of luck - you’ll be fine. Enduring the swarm reaps a sweet reward. Halong bay really is as beautiful as its heritage status implies.
How to get to Halong Bay
Don’t do a day trip.
With so much area to cover and so many boats around, I’d suggest doing an overnight tour. This way, there will be less boats around come sunset and sunrise, plus you’ll be able to get some sweet light to make the most of your captures, too.
Doing a day trip is a very long and exhausting day. The bus ride from Hanoi to Halong bay is over 4 hours long (one way) not to mention stopping time. This means 8 hours travel time for 4 hours on the water. It’s just too rushed of an experience to fully enjoy.
There are many tours available, and they’re mostly the same. Booking one with a smaller group is generally how I’d approach it, as there’s just less fuss in general and you might meet some cool people.
I’d recommend booking something on TripAdvisor to make the most of your travels.
Capturing Halong Bay
I’ve been told that clear skies aren’t too common in this part of the country; that air pollution floats down from Hanoi and that clear skies are a blessing.
So if you do get blue skies, consider yourself lucky.
However if you do decide to do an overnight trip, you do get sunset and sunrise - both times when light is the best, and colour has the most chance of permeating through the clouds.
Also, any focal length will do - you’re guaranteed to get something around every corner in Halong bay. It’s really that beautiful.