Ha Long Bay (Hanoi), Vietnam
This bay in the Gulf of Tonkin in northwest Vietnam is gloriously unspoiled — much of it is uninhabited — and the 1,600 islands and islets are a UNESCO heritage site. This area is where the larger cruise lines anchor to connect with Hanoi, which is about 100 miles away. Stay to explore the bay's natural wonders or head into the beguiling city of lakes and tree-shaded boulevards.
What We Love
Hoan Kiem Lake: The center of Hanoi’s Old Quarter is this lake and its red-painted bridge. Follow the maze of 13th-century lanes that accommodate pedestrians, scooters, and hawkers selling everything under the sun.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum: The notorious prison was used by French colonists to incarcerate political prisoners and later by the North Vietnamese to hold American prisoners of war. Today, the museum displays propaganda and pieces like Sen. John McCain's flight suit.
Best Known For
Bay Cruises: The ancient limestone pillars, caves, and other rock formations in Ha Long Bay really are spectacular and can be explored on a traditional fishing junk.
French Quarter: Hanoi’s impressive colonial architecture and tree-lined avenues are enchanting, from the majestic Hanoi Opera House to the Presidential Palace, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the gorgeous Hotel Metropole.
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Who It's Best For
Foodies: In Hanoi, diners sit on miniature plastic stools and feast at open-air restaurants. Try the cha ca la vong (fried fish with rice noodles) and bun cha (grilled pork with noodles).
Serenity Seekers: If you choose to stay in Ha Long Bay, the trip around the craggy pillars and deserted isles will be the zen you've been looking for.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Anticipate Traffic: Vietnam's economy is growing at a rapid pace, and the roadways are a clogged river of trucks, buses, cars, and countless motor scooters. The drive to Hanoi from your ship won’t be fun.
It Can Be Chilly: If you visit between November and February, take a jacket and a couple of sweaters. Temperatures can dip down into the 50s.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.