Halong Bay is one of the world's most beautiful natural wonders, and cruise tours are simply the best way to experience it.
This sheltered bay in northern Vietnam (about 170km from Hanoi) is home to over one thousand limestone karsts and islands. You'll find mangrove forests, coral reefs, freshwater lakes, sandy beaches and beautiful grottos and caves.
Legend has it that Halong Bay was formed when dragons descended from the heavens and spat jewels and jade into the sea, giving the waters their distinct emerald colours.
A traditional junk boat cruise is really the only way to see Halong Bay. There is a good range of operators offering day trips and overnight cruises of the bay, with most making stops for you to explore beaches and caves. Some also include kayaking trips. The majority of these cruise companies will organise transportation to and from Hanoi.
A typical day cruise itinerary will include five hours aboard the junk, cruising the bay and swimming off the back of the boat. Two of the most popular stops on day cruises are Dong Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace Grotto) and Surprise Cave - beautiful caves with interesting rock formations that are lit by coloured lights.
Overnight cruises often visit locations "off the beaten track", including remote bays, fishing villages and local craft markets. Cruises will also include all meals - often fresh seafood buffets for dinner and tropical fruit for breakfast.
Becuase of the good range of tour operators in the area, it is possible to book your cruise at short notice.