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Since being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay has captured the hearts and imaginations of visitors with its floating taxis, vibrant night markets, and proximity to some of Vietnam’s biggest destinations. An Asia cruise with Celebrity provides a glimpse of Vietnam’s undisturbed beauty and the sheer variety of things to see while you’re there.
If it’s your first time in Vietnam, it’s destined not to be your last. Whether you keep close to the limestone structures dotting Halong Bay or venture 100 miles inland to the cosmopolitan Hanoi, there’s something in Vietnam for any type of adventurous traveler. From your Hanoi cruise, arrange a paddling or boat tour of the limestone islets and elaborate network of caves in Halong Bay, spend an afternoon exploring historic temples, or go trekking through Cat Ba National Park.
Hiking the challenging trails of Cat Ba National Park isn’t for the faint of heart, but the verdant, lush canopy of Cat Ba is well worth the trek. Guided hikes lasting between three to six hours are available for all types of day trips and schedules. Look out for the rare mammals and endangered species that call Cat Ba home.
Explore the largest cave in Halong Bay on a guided tour. Learn the folklore of the limestone stalagmites and stalactites, and find out why the French, who discovered the grotto, nicknamed it the “Cave of Surprises”.
Roam the narrow, winding, and often crowded streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter district, which is the beating heart of Hanoi’s cultural scene. By day, these French colonial buildings are office buildings, but by night, the district bursts to life with eateries, art galleries, and shophouses. Leave a few hours to stroll unhurriedly so you can explore Dong Xuan, the city’s biggest market, or the National Museum of Vietnamese History.
What better way to experience the dramatic landscape and emerald waters of Halong Bay than by paddling through it? Full day kayaking experiences are inexpensive considering how picturesque the experience is, though they are better for experienced paddlers. First-timers should consider a tour or hour-long kayak instead.
Once you get into Hanoi from where your cruise ship is docked, why not head to the Hanoi Opera House for an evening of culture and entertainment? Located in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the Opera House is a French colonial gem for architecture buffs. Get dolled up and enjoy the show.
Also called the Hanoi Citadel, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in this part of Vietnam. The Citadel was once critical in the history of Hanoi and holds special cultural and governmental significance. Don’t miss the D67 house tucked within the citadel, which was the HQ of the People’s Army during the American Vietnam War.
Address: Bến tàu khách Cát Bà, đường đi bãi tắm Cát Cò 3, vịnh Đồng Hồ, Cát Hải, Hải Phòng, Vietnam
On Cat Ba Island, Quang Anh is an excellent option after a day’s worth of hiking. There’s a land version of the establishment, but the floating restaurant is more of a novelty. Steamed, fried, or roasted, local seafood rules the menu here.
Address: C342-343, Old Street Zone, No. 9 Halong Road, Quảng Ninh 200000, Vietnam
Avocado Restaurant has both Western-inspired dishes like lamb loin and grilled chicken breast as well as traditional Vietnamese dishes. Try the steamed sea bass or the traditional Halong squid cake with sticky rice while you’re here.
Address: TT. Cát Bà, Cát Hải, Hai Phong, Vietnam
Coffee and pastries are the main menu items at Family Bakery, influenced by European-style breakfast treats like flaky croissants. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to go in Cat Ba. Cakey chocolate doughnuts and filling egg sandwiches are must-tries, too.
Hanoi, which is now the capital of Vietnam, has passed through the hands of many colonizers, including the Chinese, the Europeans, British, and French. As part of the Geneva Accord, Hanoi was declared the capital in 1945. The U.S. Vietnam War devastated parts of Vietnam through attacks and bombings, and killed thousands of Vietnamese citizens.
Today, Hanoi is facing rapid growth in population and infrastructure. Halong Bay has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, known as a solo traveler’s haven for its hiking, scuba diving, and incredible rock climbing. They’re mostly uninhabited and remote, but Halong Bay’s islets have become synonymous with the backpacker’s off-the-beaten-path Vietnam. More importantly, they have left a mark on the culture and traditions of Vietnam, as Halong Bay is viewed as a sacred site.
As part of a Halong Bay cruise package, your cruise ship will dock in Halong Bay or at the nearby Cai Lan port. Most cruise passengers stay in Halong Bay and explore the surrounding areas rather than venturing too far into the mainland. You’ll be about a 15-minute walk from cafes, free wifi, souvenir shacks, and restaurants.
Taxis will be waiting for passengers at the cruise port. Uber and the taxi app Grab are in operation in Hanoi as well. Buses to Halong from Hanoi leave every half hour. Motorbike taxis are called xe om in Vietnam, and they’re a great option for solo travelers wanting to experience the city on a motorbike.
On a Hanoi cruise, you’ll find that shopping opportunities in Halong Bay area aren’t highly developed yet, but small ships float along the bay selling snacks and sweets. The Bai Chay night market is the place to go for Vietnamese artisanal items and handmade goods, plus plenty of authentic Vietnamese street eats. Don’t forget that bargaining is part of the culture here, so stick to your guns to secure a good deal.
In Vietnam, the official currency is the dong, or VND. Tipping isn’t an expected practice in Vietnam, but leaving extra change for a taxi driver is welcome. Tour drivers rely on tip income, so be sure to tip any guide who helps you during your time on a Hanoi cruise. A general practice is to tip waiters and waitresses 5-10% at a restaurant. Bargaining is a central part of the culture in Vietnam, so you’re welcome to practice your haggling at the markets and shops here.