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Southeast Asia’s Heritage Wonders: Exploring Ha Long Bay, Hoi An Ancient Town, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang

smile Emma Nguyen
3 min. to read

Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang Listed Among Top 16 Must-Visit Wonders in Southeast Asia by U.K. Travel Magazine Wanderlust

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay stands as an indelible representation of Vietnam’s natural allure, a destination where the very essence of the country is encapsulated in its mesmerizing seascape. This iconic bay draws travelers into its embrace with a captivating journey: cruises glide over emerald green waters, meandering amidst thousands of rugged islands and charming islets, creating a surreal vista that echoes the rich history and culture of Vietnam.

These cruises reveal hidden treasures, pausing at the entrances of awe-inspiring caves that beckon visitors to wander within. Inside, time seems to stand still as centuries-old formations cast captivating silhouettes, each stalactite and stalagmite narrating a story etched in the annals of nature. It’s a dance of time and water, creating art that awes and humbles in equal measure.

The allure of Ha Long Bay’s mystical beauty has elevated it to a prominent place on countless travel bucket lists. Yet, amidst its well-deserved fame, the bay holds secrets and serenity for those who seek it. Amidst the bustling tapestry of visitors, there are still corners of solitude waiting to be discovered, where you can create your own narrative in harmony with the whispers of the waves and the secrets of the stones. Ha Long Bay, a fusion of nature’s artistry and humanity’s wanderlust, invites you to not only witness but to become a part of its enduring story

Top things to do in Ha Long Bay

Cruise the bay

Nothing beats spending watching the sun set over the calm waters of Ha Long Bay, and waking up to a serene morning surrounded by karsts. Relaxing on a sun deck surrounded by magnificent panoramas is the highlight of many a trip.

Explore a floating village

Ha Long Bay is not just a UNESCO-listed site, it’s also home to a number of fishing communities who have lived on the water for centuries. Take a boat tour around a floating village for a glimpse of this rare and beautiful way of life.

Paddle out in a kayak

Even if you’re not an experienced kayaker, you can’t miss the chance to navigate your way around Ha Long’s gorgeous seascape. Just before sunset is an ideal time to kayak to see quiet lagoons and fishing boats up close.

Clamber into a cave

Beneath their rocks and jungled exteriors, many of Ha Long’s ancient karsts have been carved out by rain and water currents. Take a look inside these geological wonders on foot — some are a squeeze while others are enormous.

Ha Long Weather

Ha Long Bay’s climate can be cool with clear skies from September to November. Mist drifts in from December to March making the bay look all the more mysterious. April and May offer sunshine and a refreshing breeze, while the monsoon season can make visits unpredictable from June to August

Ha Long Transport

Most visitors to Ha Long Bay opt for a packaged cruise, including transport to and from Hanoi. Independent travelers can take a bus to Ha Long City or Hai Phong and a taxi to the port. It’s also possible to charter a seaplane for a 45-minute ride direct from Noi Bai International Airport. Travelling Ha Long Bay is best by boat. Those looking for a bird’s-eye view can book a 25-minute seaplane ride over the bay. In Ha Long City you can hire a taxi to get around town.

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Hoi An Ancient Town

Around 1,000 kilometers from Ha Long, Hoi An ancient town came sixth on the list.

Lying along Thu Bon River, Hoi An is characterized by its unique architectural ensemble that features iconic yellow houses and rich traditional heritage.

Once a convergence point for Chinese traders, it’s not difficult to see ancient temples and assembly halls with a touch of Chinese architecture that worships red-faced General Quan Cong (Guan Yu), an eminent figure in the Three Kingdoms legend and China’s ancient civil war.

Hoi An is famous for its colorful floating lantern festival, which is held on the 14th day of each lunar month when all electric lights of the town are switched off

Planning to visit Hội An? Here are some ideas to add to your itinerary…

MARVEL AT THE BEAUTY OF THE LANTERN FESTIVAL

Why has the lantern become Hội An’s quintessential emblem? With origins dating back centuries to Chinese and Japanese traders, these lanterns have not only been crafted but also suspended in this charming town. To truly enhance your journey and capture breathtaking snapshots, the optimal period to explore Hội An is during its celebrated lantern festival, a monthly spectacle occurring on the 14th day of the lunar calendar when the moon is at its fullest. As evening falls, Hội An gracefully dims its electrical illumination, allowing the enchanting radiance of candlelit lanterns to take center stage.

Position yourself along the riverside, where lanterns are gently launched to usher in good fortune. Alternatively, embark on a boat ride, releasing a lantern as you make a personal wish upon the serene waters.

PRO TIP: For an unparalleled celebration, time your visit with the inaugural Lunar New Year festival.

TAKE A BOAT TOUR

Embracing its coastal position, Hội An distinctively features traditional watercraft as part of its identity. The river, which has fostered generations of commerce, continues to provide sustenance for the local populace. A leisurely boat excursion presents a refreshing and serene approach to immersing yourself in the city’s waterborne essence. Among the array of options, embarking on a sunset journey aboard one of the sampans adorning the riverbanks stands as a beloved choice. Early risers might relish a sunrise adventure to the fish market aboard a classic wooden boat, lending a hand to the returning fishermen as they unload their bountiful catches for sale. For a unique twist, consider a ride in the charmingly unconventional circular bamboo boats indigenous to Vietnam.

PRO TIP: Eager to embrace the adventure of a bamboo boat excursion? Maintain your balance, stand tall, and brace for the possibility of a delightful splash

STROLL AROUND THE OLD TOWN

Stroll at your leisure through the ancient town of Hội An, where a captivating blend of European and Asian architectural styles adorns historical structures. As you wander, you’ll witness the original street grid plan that persists to this day, and among the town’s 1,107 buildings, an impressive 844 have earned their place on UNESCO’s esteemed World Heritage list. Meandering these streets is akin to traversing a vibrant living museum, where time-honored charm meets contemporary life. Allocate ample moments to pause for a ‘cà phê sữa đá’ (delightful Vietnamese iced coffee), step into galleries showcasing local artistry, or peruse souvenir shops.

PRO TIP: Enhance your exploration by acquiring an Old Town Ticket at the entrance, granting access to five of Hội An’s treasured heritage edifices.

BUY FABRIC AND CUSTOM-MADE CLOTHES

The historical tapestry of Hội An intricately weaves fabric, particularly silk, into its narrative. During the era of the Silk Road, fabric held the value of currency. As time unfolded, numerous families embraced the trade of textiles and garment production. Presently, Hội An stands as a sought-after destination for discerning travelers in pursuit of exquisitely tailored, quality items. For an immersive sensory encounter, a visit to the Hội An Cloth Market is essential. With over 50 vibrant stalls adorned with a kaleidoscope of fabrics, vendors beckon passersby to indulge in their offerings. Navigating this vibrant marketplace can prove exhilarating, so maintaining composure is key as you refine your haggling prowess. Seeking a more refined experience? Explore the town’s array of skilled tailors. Fabric costs are included, relieving you of the need to procure materials independently. And for those in pursuit of silk, the Hội An Silk Village beckons.”

“Discover the Threads of Hội An: A Legacy Woven in Silk. Explore the Hội An Cloth Market for a Vibrant Sensory Experience

VISIT THE JAPANESE COVERED BRIDGE

In the 15th century, merchants from diverse origins such as Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese, established settlements near the bustling port of Hội An. With burgeoning communities sprouting in distinct zones, their interactions followed suit. Around 1593, the Japanese community took a unique step by constructing a bridge that connected their enclave with the neighboring Chinese area. This bridge, often dubbed the Japanese Covered Bridge, bore a dual purpose – beyond linking communities, it was also believed to pacify Namazu, the mythical Japanese catfish believed to cause seismic disturbances. Today, the enduring presence of the Japanese Covered Bridge stands as a testament to the past. So integral is its significance that it has earned a place on the 20,000 VND banknote.”

“History Unveiled: The Japanese Covered Bridge of Hội An’s Multicultural Legacy

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Phong Nha-Ke Bang

Situated merely a five-hour drive away from the captivating town of Hoi An, the renowned Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park takes its well-deserved place as the ninth entry on this prestigious list. Nestled in the heart of the central province of Quang Binh, this UNESCO-recognized treasure has been etching its mark since its establishment in the year 2000. Often hailed as the ‘Kingdom of Caves,’ the park unveils a realm of awe-inspiring wonders, housing within its embrace some of the planet’s most monumental cave formations, including giants of the subterranean world. The allure of Phong Nha-Ke Bang transcends its mere geological significance, inviting explorers to uncover a realm where time, nature, and grandeur converge in a symphony of discovery and wonder.

Wanderlust advise tourists to experience a 400-meter-long zipline ride over the Chay River to the entrance of the Dark Cave or conquer Son Doong, the world’s largest cave where only 1,000 trekkers are allowed a year, to preserve the unique environment.

Other destinations in Southeast Asia on the list were Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gunung Mulu National Park in Malaysia, Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns in Thailand, Komodo National Park in Indonesia and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines

Top things to do in Phong Nha

Join a cave expedition

Enter the magical world of Phong Nha’s caves, which number 300 and counting. At Hang Nước Nứt, you can camp at the base of a limestone cliff, and Hang Én features a colossal main chamber with shimmering turquoise pools.

Go in search of wildlife

The ultimate way to discover Phong Nha’s flora and fauna is on Hai’s Eco Conservation Tour. Mr Hai, a young and enthusiastic conservationist, will bring you to the Wildlife Rescue Centre before trekking to the Thác Gió Falls for a cooling dip.

Explore Bồng Lai Valley

Hire a bike and pedal out to the Bồng Lai village in search of the Pub With Cold Beer. Here, only one item is on the menu: sublime grilled chicken served with unbeatable homemade peanut sauce. After lunch, ride to the pretty lookout at Wild Boar Eco Farm.

Walk the eco-trail

Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail is a serene retreat in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. Its wooden walkways lead to tropical forest and turquoise streams. Hire a bike, pack a picnic and make your own adventure.

See the Big One

Hang Sơn Đoòng is said to be the largest cave in the world. It’s big enough to accommodate skyscrapers and has its jungle ecosystem. Multi-day tours to Hang Sơn Đoòng last four to six magical days.

Phong Nha Weather

Optimal Times for Exploring Phong Nha: April to June Offer Ideal Conditions. Prepare for Warmer Temperatures from July to September. Navigate the Rainy Season and Potential Flooding from October to December. Embrace the Chill of December to February with Adequate Layering

Phong Nha Transport

Convenient Travel Options to Reach Phong Nha: Accessible by Trains at Đồng Hới Station and Direct Flights from Capital and Ho Chi Minh City. Seamless Transfer via Local Metered Taxis. Economical Bus Choices from Hanoi, Huế, or Đà Nẵng. Exploring National Park’s Caves and Attractions is Ideal with Rented Motorbikes or Cars. Relaxing Bicycle Rides Along the River and Bồng Lai Loop. Embrace the Waterways with Boat Tours of Son River and Phong Nha Cave

Tour Information Offer

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