Halong Bay has long been one of the most sought after sights for visitors to Vietnam, and now attracts some ten million visitors a year. Little wonder, given how majestic and dramatic its emerald waters look when pierced by thousands of sheer-sided limestone pinnacles, each topped by picturesque sprinklings of jungle greenery as is positioned by the hands of a Michelin-starred chef.
The traditional way of visiting Halong Bay is by day or overnight cruises, which provide wonderful vistas of the many islands from water level. However, the scope of exploration on these tours has recently been limited to five prescribed routes due to government restrictions, put in place to limit water pollution, litter and overtourism.
But now there is new a way to explore this Unesco World Heritage site without such limits and without those same local environmental concerns, and it’s one that provides newfound panoramas too. It is to see Halong Bay from a seat in the sky within a Bell 505 helicopter.
These new sightseeing flights over the bay are being offered by the Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned helicopter operator Vietnam Helicopter Corporation. Three options are possible: a 12-minute, 25-minute and 40-minute scenic flight, which cost US$125, US$255 and US$396 per person respectively. All take off from Tuan Chau Island and take in at least Ga Choi Islet, Bai Tu Long Bay, Titop island, Hang Thien Cung cave and Reu Island. The longer duration flights also take in sights such as Hang Sung Sot cave, Hang Trong cave, Cua Van fishing village and Vung Ha Beach.
Airborne tours aren’t entirely new to Halong Bay, with Hai Au Aviation running scenic sea plane flights the past few years. But unlike the Bell 505 helicopters, which seat just three visitors and can hover stationary over key sights, these are more fly-by affairs in larger planes that seat 12. Prices range from 2.4 million dong (US$103) to 2.87 million dong (US$123), depending on the season.