Last Updated: September 14, 2023
Halong Bay is one of the most visited attractions in the Gulf of Tonkin in northern Vietnam. Understandably, UNESCO rated Halong Bay as a World Heritage Site in 2000. It was recognised as an area of outstanding scenic beauty and huge biological interest. The 434 square kilometre site is home to over 1600 islands. Many of the islands boast spectacular wave-eroded caves, arches and thousands of towering rainforest-topped limestone karsts. Halong Bay is locally known as Vinh Ha Long, which translates into ‘where the dragon descends to the sea’. In this entry of Budget Travel Plans, we’ll help guide you on your trip and help you decide the best time to visit Halong Bay.
When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?
Asia experiences different seasons, and Halong Bay is no different. It’s important to plan your journey to avoid the green or rainy season, which tends to be between May and all the way through to September. Typically, the monsoon season can see precipitation of over two metres, and the karsts can be endlessly and dramatically shrouded in languid, cloudy fog. The best time to visit this extraordinary ethereal area is between January to April and October to December. The New Open World Corporation, an associate of the New Seven Wonders Foundation, voted Halong Bay one of the new seven wonders of nature, so it’s worth planning ahead to make sure you visit at the right time of the year. Halong is humid year-round with an average humidity of 84 per cent.
Winter in Halong Bay – January and February
If you seek a surreal or mystical Halong Bay, then January and February are the best months to go. The Quang Ninh Province is famed for its traditional wooden sailing ships called junks. These large boats were once used by merchants carrying goods along waterways or the sea or by pirates who wanted to steal valuable cargo. Today there is a growing number of modern recreational junk-rigged sailboats used for cruising Halong Bay. When sailed in the wintery weather, the junks disappear and inexplicably reappear like the legendary headless horseman.
The weather in Halong Bay can be a little chilly in January and February. That said, it’s ideal for adventurous travellers that like the bay’s more active experiences like cave tours and hiking. There is still plenty of sunshine during the day, but early mornings and later afternoons bring some drizzle and fog. The daily rainfall is still only around 22mm.
Choose to visit during the winter and you can joyfully celebrate Tet or the Lunar New Year on 1 February, the most important holiday in Vietnam. There are ample festivities all over the country. Because of the drop in temperature, it may be too cold for swimming and diving activities. Remember to take extra layers of clothing and a jacket to keep you warm, and wear sturdy shoes to prevent you from slipping.
Spring in Halong Bay – March, April, and May
Halong Bay starts to warm up again in the spring, although there is still a substantial chance of rain, especially in early March. The spring temperatures allow for busy days of exploring. Dotted throughout Halong Bay are the Cửa Vạn, Ba Hang, Cống Dàm, and Vông Viêng floating villages that are home to over 1,400 people. Traverse the colourful stilted homes and floating wooden houses in a rustic boat. The villages represent pretty fishing communities that allow you to experience how local Vietnamese people live and work. Spring is also a good time of year to enjoy sightseeing, visit accessible uninhabited islands, an oyster farm, sea kayaking or even try your hand at catching squid with the local fishermen.
At the end of April, there is a national holiday in Vietnam, so there are likely to be many local tourists, and the prices may be higher.
In late April or early May, one of the most exciting commemorations in Vietnam is held at Halong Bay. The eponymous carnival draws thousands of tourists from Asia and the rest of the world. Visitors will find seemingly endless parades, international performance troupes, local food and culture ending in a culmination of a spectacular fireworks display. This festival is when the Halong Bay weather is at its finest.
Summer in Halong Bay – June, July, August, and September
The summer months can be up to a balmy 32 degrees Celsius and be humid and sticky. It’s best to wear breathable natural or organic clothing to keep you cool. Make sure that you drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated. Clear waters and skies mean that the summer months are the perfect time to explore the evergreen rainforest Cat Ba National Park. UNESCO recognised the park as a Biosphere Reserve in 2004.
The park is home to Vietnam’s most endangered primate, the beautiful golden-headed langur. Visitors will commonly see wild boar, macaques, civets, deer, and several squirrel species, including the gold-chested giant black squirrel. There are over 70 species of birds and thousands of species of plants.
You can arrange for a guide to accompany you to the village of Viet Hai. There are various trails and some strenuous hikes through the park that eventually give you breathtaking views over the surrounding jungle. For those seeking extraordinary heights at a lazy pace, seaplane tours give otherworldly views of the bay that are not visible from the bustling fleets of boats. Verdantly veiled lakes, deep craters and chiselled valleys glow gold in the late afternoon sun.
Autumn in Halong Bay – October, November, and December
Halong Bay comes into its own in the autumn months, and the weather is perfect for the cruise trips synonymous with the province. You’ll take respite from the humidity as temperatures sit happily between 13 and 21 degrees Celsius. Temperatures can drop at night; it’s worth bringing a pair of socks and a jumper or two to keep you warm. The wind is a mere breeze, there is little rain, and the sky is cobalt blue with a smattering of white puffy clouds. Perfect junk-sailing weather.
Make time to visit the Vung Vieng fishing village for a glimpse into local life and the rich traditional cultures of the resident indigenous people. It’s one of the last islands not to be affected entirely by tourism and still has an authentic feel. The residents of Halong Bay all take an interest in protecting their fragile environment and actively take part in numerous clean-up campaigns.
Halong Bay has many wind and wave-carved arches and caves worth exploring. Some of the most popular Sung Sot Cave and Dong Thien Cung. Inside the cathedral-like walls are gigantic boulders, leggy columns, hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites and blossoming corallite flowers. Some of the caves have been eerily lit by coloured lights making the formations appear from other universes. The deeper you explore the cave systems, the more surprises will take your breath away.
Halong Bay: Tourism and History
Halong Bay operators are pretty used to travellers exploring their lands and high seas throughout the year. They understand the flexibility required when booking cruise, boat, hiking or adventure tours. Most will continue to operate during light rains and fog. However, in the event of a tropical storm or a typhoon, the entire bay may close for safety reasons. Most companies will offer full refunds, so ensure that you check the terms and conditions before committing to the booking. Insuring your trip against trip cancellations or interruptions could also be beneficial.
Historical research surveys show the presence of prehistoric humans in Halong Bay tens of thousands of years ago. The limestone karsts seen around this region are moulded from trillions upon trillions of tiny marine creatures – namely corals, crustaceans and other fossilised critters. The karsts are thought to date back to the ancient Soi Nhu culture around 18,000 to 7000 BC, the Cai Beo culture between 7000 and 5000 BC and the Hạ Long culture a mere 5,000 and 3,500 years ago.
The best time to visit and experience Halong Bay is down to your personal preferences. You might prefer the cooler, drier weather of the spring and autumn months. In autumn, you can expect a cooling breeze, calmer waters and sunnier days. It is rare during these two seasons that the rain will interrupt your enjoyability.
Wanting mysterious fogs or clear blue skies will dictate if you book in the winter, spring, summer, or autumn months. For clear skies, it’s better going in the summer whereas fog tends to come around during winter. There are rarely days without at least a little bit of sunshine. It’s worth avoiding the monsoon season if at all possible. But if you do take a chance, you can expect warm rain and breathtaking scenery. The average lowest temperature is 13 degrees Celsius, and the highest is 32 degrees Celsius. Humidity fluctuates between 79 per cent and 84 per cent.
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