Vietnam’s North

Northern Vietnam is rich in cultural diversity and boasts an abundance of natural attractions. Among these are UNESCO World Heritage Site,
Halong Bay, and its neighbouring Lan Ha Bay, which are likely the most astounding natural wonders of the country.

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The Charm of Northern Vietnam

A region of unmatched sensations

A Nautical World Wonder

Truly an unbelievable sight, the surreal seascape of Halong Bay and the neighbouring Lan Ha Bay were formed over hundreds of millions of years (although the legend claim the bay was created in just a single day). At the heart of the bays is a large island known as Cat Ba, which is covered in lush, jungle-topped hills and valleys. To the north and east of the island are almost two thousands of limestone karst islets, caves and grottoes, sandy island beaches, and lagunas (some with endemic fauna and flora) – creating a maze of hidden passageways in this dreamlike fairy-tale landscape.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1994 in recognition for its outstanding, aesthetic value, Halong Bay was additionally recognised in 2000 for its outstanding geological and geomorphological value.
North Vietnam’s Food Chamber

What the Mekong Delta is to southern Vietnam is Halong Bay to northern Vietnam. Since centuries, the red river delta and the sea around Halong Bay has provided the region with all kinds of fish and seafood. With over 400 species of fish and countless varieties of shellfish and edible sea plants, cuisine in the north is undeniably tied to the bounties of the sea. Flavours and texture of food is lighter than elsewhere in Vietnam. Always popular with visitors is the locally caught fresh and tender squid (of which many say it is one of the best in Vietnam) which can be prepared with a special recipe originally from Halong called ‘Cha Muc’ or squid pie. Jumbo prawns, crab, or fresh oysters are other favourites savours.

One very tasty and classic northern local dish ‘Cha Ca La Vong’ - turmeric grilled fish with dill - is served aboard Heritage Line’s fine cuisine.
The Bay’s Landmarks

Without doubt the bay’s breath-taking natural scenery is the main attraction to indulge in, however there are some lesser-known gems of Halong and Lan Ha Bay. Water erosion from the rising and falling of the ocean over millions of years has carved out many of the bay’s towering limestone karsts. To date, 59 caverns and grottoes have been discovered, including the Sung Sot caves with its impressive chambers, micro-ecosystems, and countess stalactites and stalagmites.

Another unique attraction are the self-sufficient floating fishing communities scattered around the bay. Daily life had changed very little over the centuries for these residents, whose livelihoods depended on fishing and aquaculture. Pearl farming has also piqued the interest of local tradesmen and various kinds of pearls of many colours are cultivated and harvest at farms across the bay.
Culture & People

After a 1,000-years of Chinese occupation, the free and fledgling country Vietnam christened itself ‘Dai Viet’. During this era, many Chinese customs and beliefs have been adopted which still exist to this day. The Portuguese eventually introduced in the 1500s the Roman alphabet (replacing the Chinese). In 1886, Vietnam became a part of French Indochina, leaving another weighty influence on infrastructure, but mostly on the people. All of these characteristics and ancient traces are very evident in the northern (and central) regions. The capital Hanoi, for example, with its charming urban setting and historical buildings, radiates an ancient and solid peacefulness which can be recognized again in the people’s longing for stability. The ‘Northerners’ generally have strong personalities, deep traditional family bonds, a solid etiquette of education and work values. This stands often in contrast to the more easy-going ‘Southerners’, particularly those in the modern metropolis of Saigon.
Unique Handicrafts

North Vietnam s home to numerous villages concentrating on specific handicrafts. Some communities have become a renowned trademark for their craftsmanship. For example, a Bat Trang flower vase will always be of the highest quality. Situated on the outskirts of Hanoi, Bat Trang is one of Vietnam’s most iconic villages, specializing in ceramic and porcelain pottery. Their skilled techniques and manufacturing recipes have been passed down for over a 1,000 years.

Another prized local craft is ‘Van’ silk, praised for its ultra-light weight, vibrant colours, and very smooth texture. This fabric is highly sought after for making Vietnam’s national garment, the beautiful ‘Ao Dai’.

Available Cruises

Discover the treasures of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay with our exceptional cruise itineraries

1 Night

Halong Bay

The 1-Night Halong Bay cruise along the ancient playground of dragons is an unforgettable classic voyage to discover most memorable sights.

2 Nights

Halong Bay

Explore Halong Bay’s hidden jewels with this 2-Nights itinerary inclusive of sightseeing of the largest cave in the bay, a pearl farm and an delightful kayaking tour.

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1 Night

Lan Ha Bay

A serene and peaceful cruise through the remote Lan Ha Bay coupled with an adventurous cycling tour on Cat Ba island and a enjoyable culinary theme aboard.

2 Nights

Lan Ha Bay

This luxury journey offers deep insights into far-flung corners of Lan Ha Bay’s while adding active on-shore and holistic wellness experience aboard.

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Insights

Interesting facts about Vietnam

A Geological Masterpiece
The history behind Halong Bay
The stunning, unique beauty of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay was formed over the course of half a billion years. Perpetual plate tectonic activity roughly 300 million years ago brought forth mighty limestone mountains covered with dense jungles, some with a thickness of 1,200 meters. Rainwater gradually eroded the surface of these gigantic formations, while the repeated rise and fall of ocean levels carved out the lower levels of the islands, forming an complex network of underwater caves and lakes. The bays’ estimated 2,000 limestone karsts today were formed as a result of the great Holocene transgression 18,000 years ago, in which sea levels begun rising significantly.

Coincidentally, archaeologists have found evidence of human civilization also dating back 18,000 years in both underwater locations as well as on land. Conversely, the equally breathtaking ‘Halong Bay on land’ is located just 200 km away in Ninh Binh’s natural river and limestone karst complex.
A Mythical Masterpiece
The fable behind Halong Bay
Halong, literally meaning ‘descending dragon’, received its name from a legendary myth stating a Mother Dragon and her children were sent down to earth by the gods to help protect the country from invaders approaching from the sea. Instead of chucking out fire, these fiery creatures belched out clusters of jewels. These jewels turned into the 2,000 islands and islets now dotting the bay, linking together to form an impenetrable barrier against the invaders.
The invaders were defeated after a hard fought battle, and the rather than returning to the heavens, the dragons decided to take on the form of humans and settle peacefully in the bay. It is said that today’s Vietnamese population are descendants of these mythical beasts of lore.
North Vietnam’s Climate
Four seasons of beauty
Unlike the southern parts of the country, northern Vietnam, including Halong Bay, go through all four seasons. From March to May, clear blues skies bring magnificent weather and views in the bay, making this period arguably the best time of the year to visit the region. The temperature hovers at a very comfortable (20-25°C) with little rainfall. This is also the period when flowers bloom, rice is grown, and fields bursting with the colors of spring. Another ideal time travel is September to November - Vietnam’s autumn season - with warm temperatures of between 25-30°C and a moderate chance to rain. The closer you get to the end of the year, the greater the chance of encountering fog. Although winter months of December to February can get chilly (14-20°C) and misty, this adds to the dreamlike ambiance of Halong, showcasing the fairytale-like landscapes of the bay. The summer season (June to August) is the hottest time of the year, with temperatures often above 30°C. If unlucky, rain during the year’s wettest months may affect travelling in the north.
The people of Halong Bay
Living on the water
For centuries, fishing and trade were the main sources of income for the Halong residents who lived in floating fishing communities scatted across the bay. As the nearest town on land if often an hour boat ride away, many of these villages are self-sufficient having all the facilities of a land-based settlement, including school, pharmacy, grocery shops, and even a police station. A floating house consist of a modest one-room dwelling, sitting on a square platform kept afloat by plastic oil drums. Surrounding the household are the villager’s fish farm tanks, consisting of wooden floating boards with netting both underneath and on top. A batch of baby fish is raised for up to three years, and a decent haul can bring in a decent sum of money. Nowadays, solar panels can be seen on the roofs of many homes, providing the family with electricity to make life more pleasant. Although the government’s directive is to move inhabitants onto land, these floating villages become less with just a few authentic ones remaining as of today. But many villages are still used as a base of operations by the fishermen.
Topping the Charts
Vietnam’s record breaking numbers
Vietnam is the world's largest producer of cashew nuts with 37% of the global number (and over three times second place India). In 2018, the country produced 370,000 tons of these nuts worth over 3 billion USD. After Brazil, Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee-producing nation, with 16% of the world’s total coffee. Vietnamese also love to consume it and have accordingly developed a rich coffee culture (most notable is the ubiquitous “ca phe sua da”). Vietnam is also the world’s leader in motorbikes per capita (tied with Thailand). The number of motorbikes has increased 48-fold from 1.2 million in 1990 to over 58 million in 2018. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have the largest number, and both are considering banning motorbikes from inner city areas by 2030. With its iconic S-shape, Vietnam is a long and narrow country with roughly 3,500 km of coastline and spanning just 50 km at its thinnest point. Its widest points are delta regions created by Red River in the north and Mekong River in the south.
Hello Mr. Nguyen
A name for everyone
Most have surely heard of the name Nguyen (pronounced similar to ‘win’). It is by far the country’s most popular family name, belonging to roughly 40% of the country’s approximately 100 million citizens. However, few know the origins of this singularity. Last names in Vietnam have been used since Chinese rule in 111 BC, and each time a ruling family is overthrown, citizens change their surname to escape persecution as well as curry favor with the new emperor. And not surprisingly, Vietnam’s very last ruling family, the Nguyen dynasty, ruled from 1802 until 1945 at the conclusion of World War II. Coincidentally, the second and third most popular Vietnamese family names, Tran and Le, were two dynasties preceding the Nguyens.
Local UNESCO Heritage Sites
Eight world wonders locate in Vietnam
Boasting eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Vietnam is one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations (from 5 million international visitors in 2010 to 18 million in 2019). Topping this list is one of the country’s most popular attractions, and one of Heritage Line’s cruising destinations, “Halong Bay”. Another limestone karst-studded UNESCO site lies around the corner at Ninh Binh’s “Trang An” showing equal beauty on land. Vietnam’s well-preserved, ancient town of “Hoi An”, is one more recognized heritage site which served as a major trading hub for international merchants between the 15th and 19th centuries. Lesser-travelled UNESCO gems include the former Champa empire’s large cluster of Hindu temples at “My Son”, and the spectacular “Phong Nha-Ke” Bang National Park with its system of 300 caves (the world’s largest cave “Son Doong’ was only discovered in 2009). The three remaining UNESCO sites are former seats of dynasties: the “Thanh Long” Citadel in Hanoi (Ly dynasty), “Tay Do” Castle in Thanh Hoa (Ho dynasty), and the Imperial City of Hue (Nguyen dynasty).
Bun Cha Hanoi – a Northern Delicacy
One’s president’s favourite
Across the world, Vietnamese cuisine is recognized for its iconic dishes such as pho, banh mi (sandwich), and spring rolls, but few outside of the country have heard of a northern specialty originating in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Bun Cha Hanoi. This delicacy, which is rapidly gaining popularity with international travelers, features grilled pork patties served with rice vermicelli noodles along with fresh, green herbs and vegetables. Bun Cha made global headlines in May 2016, when former US president, Barack Obama, and late celebrity chef and TV host, Anthony Bourdain, dined at a local family-owned eatery in Hanoi. Bourdain claimed it was one of the best dishes he has ever had (including a side of fried spring rolls and a cold beer), while famously adding that “Obama’s chopstick skills are on point
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