Halong Bay is a slice of the South China Sea about 75 mi/120 km southeast of Hanoi that is speckled with more than 2,000 isolated limestone peaks (known as karsts) rising straight up out of the water. A group of 1,900 of these islets has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nevertheless, gone are the days when you could enjoy a peaceful cruise across the bay. Halong Bay is now one of Vietnam's biggest attractions, and tour groups flock to the area. It can get extremely crowded with vendors and the boat tours that operate there, including night cruises and party boats, which can be very noisy.
Tours from Hanoi include a leisurely boat trip through the craggy islands. Some boat operators will drop anchor so you can dive into the calm waters or kayak when the weather is cooler. Other tours lead you through grottoes and caves with bizarre rock sculptures. (Be sure to take a flashlight.) Try to get a tour that lets you sleep overnight on the boat. Accommodations are simple but adequate (private cabin, shared toilet), and the views at sunset and sunrise are unforgettable.
At adjacent Cat Ba Island National Park, you can see monkeys, explore caves and swim over coral reefs. Nearby Yen Tu Mountain hides a Buddhist temple in a lovely setting.
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