GETTING THERE & AWAY
Ha Long Bay (also “Halong Bay”) is in northern Vietnam, 170 km (105 mi) east of Hanoi. The bay is famous for its scenic karst formations.
Most people come to Halong Bay on a tour.
The best, expensive, way to get to Halong Bay is to rent a car from Hanoi. It costs approximately US$100 return. From Hanoi airport the fare is about US$85 for a car.
From Hanoi: 170 km (105 mi) or 3 hrs 30 minutes drive.
From Hai Phong: 75 km (46 mi) or 1 hr 30 minutes drive.
There is a tourist open bus service offered by travel agencies around the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. US$8 net/person/way.
Some hotels & cruise operators also offer the transfer service for passengers even not staying in their hotels.
Public buses leave from Long Bien or Gia Lam Station (other side of Red River, 2km from Hoan Kiem Lake) or from Luong Yen station to Bai Chay (Halong City) every 30 minutes from 6AM to 6PM and cost 50,000 dong/person each way.
There are various motorbike / taxi options around the island once in Cat Ba City. The problem is that if arriving at other parts of the island, getting a ride to Cat Ba City (where the hotels are) can be very expensive! (150,000 dong per person on a motorbike.) It’s not very clear why it’s so expensive, but it seems like there is a monopoly on transportation, and once you negotiate with one person, others will refrain from offering you reasonable rates, thus you are stuck with whomever you’re talking with. To say the least this is not a comfortable experience. It’s recommended that you book your travels in advance, and make sure that you end up in Cat Ba City.
Rent a junk to visit the bay for either several hours or overnight on the bay.
Ha Long Bay is a beautiful area with 1969 limestone islands jutting imposingly upon the skyline. Unfortunately the place is a tourist trap and the unique panorama is spoilt by a tremendous amount of “junks” which are in fact slimly disguised tourist boats that bear no resemblance to the authentic Chinese sailing vessels of the same name.
Visitors to Ha Long Bay must purchase a ticket (30,000 dong) from the Ha Long Bay management department, which gives the option of following one of two routes:
Thien Cung Grotto, Dau Go Cave, and other sites (excluding Sung Sot Cave).
Sung Sot Cave and other sites (excluding Thien Cung Grotto and Dau Go Cave).
Su Tu Bien Islet – On the canoe route to Thiên Cung – Ðầu Gỗ Grottoes, one should visit Hòn Sư Tử Biển or Sea Lion Islet, which is 10 minutes away from the Bãi Cháy Tourist Wharf. Amidst the vast seawaters of Hạ Long, you recognize a high rock jutting from the sea, resembling a lion stretching.
In the evening, small boats with snacks, drinks, and knick-knacks are usually working the areas where the passenger junks moor. Feel free to negotiate, bearing in mind that they have a captive market. There are also many shops selling similar goods on the hill behind the beach.
There are many restaurants in Halong City (Bai Chay Town), opposite to the Bai Chay Beach, which offer mostly Vietnamese rice dishes and seafood. Local specialities include su fish, found only around Halong Bay, shrimp and mussels.
Emeraude Café, tel. 033 849 266, on the Bai Chay coast near the post office. The only restaurant in the area that serves Western food.
Co Ngu Restaurant, tel. (+84 33) 3511 363, Premium Villas, Halong road, Bai Chay, Halong city, Quang Ninh. A wide selection of Western cuisine and Asian delicacies is served at this premier local seafood restaurant.
Drinks can be found for the cheap price at the local drinks shops or restaurant around the city (cold drinks can also be bought from the boat on the cruise trip) while on the bay.
There are several new hotels on Cat Ba Island, most catering to overnight boat trip packages.
You can also sleep aboard a junk as part of an overnight cruise. The price will include dinner and breakfast aboard the boat, along with the extras described above.
There are countless travel agencies who sell these cruises in Hanoi and other cities in the region, and every hotel will be thrilled to book one for you as well. Since most agencies contract with third-party companies to handle the actual cruise, experiences can vary — the seas of Ha Long Bay are plied by smooth, classy junks and old, loud rattletraps. You might run across someone who had a great time on a US$10 cruise with one agency, and upon booking the same, spend a whole night choking on carbon exhaust fumes. The sad fact (for budget travelers) is: the more you pay, the better your odds will be. You should be safe with cruises in the US$35 range, but really nice ones can run as high as US$200 per person.
In 2011, Halong Bay was named by NewSevenWonders as one of the world’s seven natural wonders
The vast majority of tourists visit Ha Long Bay on a pre-purchased tour from Hanoi. Prices are extremely variable depending on the quality of the boat, crew, food and additional activities. The cheaper the tour, the more basic the amenities. Virtually all hostels and hotels in Hanoi offer tours to Ha Long Bay. You can usually judge the level of professionalism of the tour based on that of the hotel itself. As most hotels do not run their own tours, but serve as a proxy for tour companies, it will usually be cheaper to go to an actual tourist company location and deal with them directly.
+ Lots of activities: cave visits, kayaking, swimming, island stopovers (to climb Titov mountain, bike ride amongst rice paddies and see monkeys).
Some operators charge for the kayaking or the boat to see the caves so check if they are included for free when buying tickets.
Kayaking is great fun – find a secluded bay and soak in the amazing surroundings. The water is lovely and refreshing when the sun is out, but extremely salty.
For about $80 you will get good backpacker standard of activities and accommodation. However the amount of food you are served may not be enough and snacks are highly advised. You can buy beer on board but at an inflated price, typically $2 or 40,000 dong for a large bottle of Tiger and if you bring your own beer or buy it off a floating “shop”, you will be charged to open it on the boat.
For $30-$45/person you will get a one-day tour from Hanoi with English speaking guide, price varies depending on choice of lunch, activity, and tour operator; normal itinerary would be to stop at fisherman village for lunch & activity, and a visit to a cave; beware that pick-up may be from your hotel but they may return you at Old Quarter area by the lake, so please check on this prior to booking
Get out: if you have more time for Halong bay, you can come to visit many interesting places to travel around.
Cat Ba island: – Cat Ba Islands is about 25 km South of Halong bay. You can come by boat or go by ferry from Tuan Chau island. Cat Ba islands consists of 367 islands, off the coast of Hai Phong city and Quang Ninh province, it is far from the center of Hai Phong city about 30 km, from the city of Ha Long about 25 km. Administratively, it is the islands of Cat Hai district, Hai Phong city. It has been recognized as the World Biosphere Reserve.
Lan Ha bay: – Lan ha bay is located in the south of Ha Long Bay. It belongs to Cat Ba islands area, Hai Phong city. Many people think that it is Halong bay area because it also has hundreds of islands like Halong bay. However, Lan Ha bay is different with hundreds of small beaches where you can come to swim, go kayaking or staying overnight in a bungalow…
Quan Lan Beach – This beach lies at Quan Lan Island in Bái Tử Long Bay, between Minh Châu and Quan Lan communes of Van Don District, 55 km away from Ha Long City. Its pristine beauty features unspoiled environment. The deep blue beach has strong waves and white sand, which spans over several kilometers. Tens of meters away from the beach stand the very green wild pines, which further add to its original charm.
Bai Chay Beach – Bai Chay is a large, beautiful, artificial beach, closed to the coast of Hạ Long Bay. The 100-meter-wide-sandy beach spans over 500 m. Early in the morning or in late afternoon, thousands of people liven up the atmosphere here. The asphalt road winds its way through the white sandy beach and luxuriant casuarinas.