In a nutshell
Vietnam’s famous archipelago is guaranteed to amplify the wanderlust in us all
Why go to Halong Bay
If you have travelled extensively through Vietnam or whether you have just landed, taking a much-needed holiday from your holiday always takes the form of an island. What makes Halong Bay different to anywhere else is that it is recognized as a World Heritage Site. Emerald green water, uncharted caves and a view of almost 2000 islands only justify this fact. When you arrive to the island dotted bay, there is a real feeling of romanticism with Mother Nature. There are not many places in this world where you can explore uninterrupted although nearby wildlife will distract and entice you. Halong Bay is ideal for outdoor activities such as rock climbing, kayaking or cave exploration. There is also a floating village where the locals make their living through the varied supply of marine life. If you plan to swim, try it after sunset when the illuminating plankton floats up to say hello. Hiking around Halong Bay is also a popular activity among visitors; just ensure you bring some snacks in case you get hungry when you are halfway in.
One of the most unusual things to see in Halong Bay is a casino. Royal international casino is by the main road in Bai Chay and you must show your passports in order to get inside. A great place for Instagram selfies is Bai Chay Bridge. The bridge is an elegant spectacle at night, decorated in thousands of LED lights. Hon Gai Roman Church is another unlikely find on Halong bay, this archaic building is on Nha Tho Street. If you talk to the locals and mention Bai Tho, they should point you to the direction of a mountain which you can trek and get a panoramic view of the city.
When to go to Halong Bay
The optimal times to visit Halong Bay is from spring (March, April) and fall (September, October). The weather is cool and mild. Halong is fine to visit any time of the year however, occasionally an unpredicted typhoon can hit near the end of the year. Luckily there is usually a warning a few days beforehand. During the fall, it can become a little nippy so you might want to bring a coat but it’s not mandatory.
Where to stay in Halong Bay
Navigating through Halong Bay is fairly straightforward, there are numerous 3 or 4 star hotels that outnumber the relatively cheaper hostel options (as you would expect on a tropical island). The go-to location to shop around for somewhere to stay is known as Hotel Alley, situated on Vuon Dao Street. There are a large quantity of hotels that you can choose from with medium range prices.
Most activities on Halong Bay can be completed within a day or two so it may not seem worth staying for too long. Yet whether you want a few extra days relaxing or you want to treat yourself to a private beach, Ha long has got something to fit all needs.
Bai Chay is the backpacker hub of Halong, here you will find a small selection of cheap accommodation, drunkards and street food is next to the beach. The local market is close by, stocked to the brim with fresh seafood.
If you are on a tight budget, here are a few hostels to check out.
Halong Party Hostel – This British-run hostel is in close proximity to a beach, restaurants and coffee shops. The staff are down-to earth and reflect a positive and fun ambience.
Price range: 13,000 dong for dorm, 40k for private double room.
Address:23 vuon dao, Bai Chay
Halong Backpacker Hostel – This is a great little place to make friends, they have a huge common area, fitted with a 50” TV and a bar.
Price range: 11,000 dong for dorm, 30k for private double
Address: 41 vuon dao, Bai Chay
Halong Happy Hostel – Happy hostel is only 200 meters way from ha long park. There is even a shared kitchen which is ideal for cooking anything you buy from the local market. If you are too lazy to cook, there is a restaurant in the hostel.
Price range: 11,000 dong for dorm, 30k for private double
Address: 25 anh dao, Bai Chay
Although there some hotels situated in Bai Chay that offer a bit more, it’s much easier to access mid-range hotels from Halong City.
Starlight Hotel – This relatively new hotel is based around a quiet area but not far from cafes and restaurants and a really good bakery.
Price range: 300,000 VND
Address: Paradise Town, Tuan Chau Island
City Bay Palace Hotel – City Bay Palace Hotel is centralized in a busy local area and far from the tourist area. As it’s in a more rural spot, you can get a feel for the surrounding culture and unique perspective.
Price range: 676,000 VND
Address: 156 Le Thanh Tong Street, Bach Dang Ward, Quang Ninh
Halong paradise Suites hotel – The majority of guests that go to this hotel usually spend one night. The hotel has a spa, private beach and mini-bar but the location isn’t close to anything else.
Price range:1,900,000 VND
Address: Ngoc Chau, Paradise Town
Vinpearl Ha long Bay Resort – This resort is in Bai Chay and has indoor pools as well as outdoor. The only way to get to this exclusive hotel is via speedboat.
Price range:2,900,000 VND
Address: Reu Island, Bai Chay
Where and what to eat in Halong Bay
Cai Dam food area (Bai Chay) is the most notorious location for food with snail and seafood stalls by the beach. Ngan is a popular seafood, it looks like an oyster but much bigger. Many specialty dishes are made with Ngan. Prices are cheaper for places fixated outside whereas restaurants can be a bit of a mixed bag.
Another popular specialty is Su fish (indigenous to Ha long only). Street food is close by with shrimp, mussels and mini crab and squid cakes.
Co Ngu Restaurant (next to the bai Chay beach) serves both Asian and western cuisine and one of its high-quality signature dishes is Su fish, a popular specialty dish only found in Ha long.
If you are looking for something authentic, Tu hài is an expensive gourmet shellfish found in the Van Don Island district, often referred to as 'snail spout'. This fascinating crustacean is prepared in soup or salads, steamed or baked. Steamed tu hài is modest in flavor, and sometimes mixed with spices.
Occasionally when travelling, we want something that reminds us of home, like pizza. Emeraude Café, Bai Chay beach (next to post office) serves a variety of western food for visitors. Perfect if you have a seafood allergy or just hate seafood in general.
Some of the most potent coffee you can find in Ha long is at Café 555 (opposite Bai chai Tourist Wharf). There’s nothing more enjoyable that sipping on coffee while sitting on a beach, unless it’s a beer instead.
How to get around Halong Bay
Halong bay has taxis with reasonable fares around 14,000 VND ($0.7 dollars) per meter. Taxi drivers will be familiar with local tourist attractions so don’t stress about getting lost. The preferred method by travelers is to rent a motorbike though it’s recommended to lease them from your hotel. Prices for renting a bike range from $3-$5 per day.
How to get to and from Halong Bay
There are a number of different ways to get to Halong bay. One of the best ways is by a comfortable air-conditioned bus which will cost you between $7 and $15 depending on the company and the type of the bus.
There are also minibuses plying the same route, tickets are around $15, too, and it can take 4-5 hours to arrive. There are no mini buses after 10am as the last ferry to the island is at 3pm.
Hanoi also has a train station that can take you but the train station in Halong bay is far from the harbor and the train takes longer than bus. Train is $10 but it’s not recommended as there are constant delays.
To get to Halong Bay from Haiphong, you can get a metered taxi (approx. $35) from Cat Bi Airport to Halong City. Alternatively, there are express buses which normally cost about $4 if you buy with us but at the station they may try $5-$10. Also note that the local bus will drop you off 2km away from the tourist area where you will find moto drivers. If you decide to use one, it should cost 15,000 vnd per person from the bus stop to the tourist area.
Is Halong Bay a safe place to visit?
Halong Bay is considered a safe location with almost zero crime. If you are going on a cruise however, always check that there are lifejackets in case of an emergency. Always wear safety gear on activities such as rock climbing and going into caves. There are medical facilities on the island but they are fairly basic. Bring some mosquito spray in case you need it.