Asia,  TDM,  Travel Journal,  Vietnam

Ha Long Bay (Vietnam): A Wonder of Nature (travel book + guide)

I am asked questions about Ha Long Bay and Sapa Bay, while my blog does not contain any article about these two top destinations… I feel a little guilty 😀 while I am Vietnamese and well placed to give you some advice to enjoy your trip in my country

Let’s say I visited these destinations before the creation of this blog. So, I bring you to Ha Long Bay from 2010, which I visited with JB. The agency programs still haven’t changed, so this article is still useful if you travel in 2018/2019

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

For this trip, we opted for a 3 days 2 nights tour, with departure and return to Hanoi

Tips: If you don’t want to come back to Hanoi, tell your agency so that they can organize a bus to go to Ninh Binh, or directly to Phong Nha

Day 1 :

A van comes to pick us up at the hotel at 8:15 am, it goes around the old quarter to look for other customers, and we are gone. We take a pee break at Hải Dương, a city known for its pastries made with mung beans, very appreciated by the Vietnamese (except me). We take advantage of it to have a quick breakfast

We finally arrive at the town of Ha Long (in Vietnamese, the “h” isn’t dumb, so it is incorrect to write bay d’ha long), it is at the Ha Long 1 hotel, where Ho Chi Minh and Catherine Deneuve stayed, in suite 202. Now, with all kinds of cruises, nobody stops at this city anymore but hurries to take one of the many boats. When I was little, I came here, like all Vietnamese, to swim at the Bãi Cháy beach. Already at that time, this “beach” was of little interest because there was no sand, but now, the water is well polluted by the many boats, it is no longer of any interest to stay long in this city

Note: before, you could access the top of Bai Tho (poem mountain) to take a breathtaking picture of the whole Ha Long bay. But in 2018, the access to this mountain is closed because of some tourists who had the “good” idea to make a fire and accidentally burn everything on top of the mountain, making the access dangerous. So “thank you” to them!

What tourists don’t know is that Quang Ninh province, to which the city of Ha Long belongs, is well known for its abundance of coal. Even today, there are still plenty of coal mines in this region, an important resource for generating electricity in Vietnam

We get on our boat right away. The boats are moored next to each other, sometimes we have to cross several boats to reach ours. But the people are super nice and help us with our luggage. JB and I specified to the agency that we wanted a room on the floor above (there are two floors), a sherry more expensive but it’s safer like that and we have a better view from our mini-balcony. Our boat is called Imperial (3* according to the Vietnamese criteria that is much more luxurious than a French 3*). We have a private mini-shower and a small bed for JB which is 1m85

We have lunch on the boat, we are 8 per table. Lunch isn’thing exceptional. We stay on board while the boat sails on the bay of Ha Long. We are sometimes shown the rocks of particular shape, they are very well known, especially the one that looks like the shape of the traditional sailing junk (the one we see in the movie Indochina)

Sailing junks are very rare on Ha Long Bay. Boats are now motorized. To take this type of junks, you have to pay more. My mother was invited to travel on a sailing junk like this, and apart from the more luxurious service, she tells me that the landscapes remain the same, so why pay more (mom is practical :D)

Example of motorized boats

Ha Long Bay


Cellar Surprise

The boat moors and we visit the surprise cave. The name is badly translated, Hang Sung Sot should rather be translated by the cave “Bouche bée” so beautiful it is. It is the most visited cave of Ha Long Bay. When I went there in 1993, it was not yet lit. I know that many tourists criticize the facilities that have been made, and the lights that are a bit kitschy, but I have to assure you that when I visited it unlit, frankly I was not in any way in “gawking” mode because I couldn’t see anything, and I could fall into a hole and die at any moment. So it’s a very good thing, to see its true beauty, that the lights were installed. However, I am critical of the choice of light (no need for red/blue lights, normal light would have sufficed)

From the cave you can admire the bay and its many boats

The locals take advantage of this to sell fruit to tourists on board their boats. If you wish, the saleswoman can peel the fruits for you, especially mangoes, carambolas… The price is at the head of the customer, so negotiate a little 😀

Then it’s time to go kayaking. Two people per kayak. Of course, it’s JB who works, I enjoy the landscapes

We then go back on the boat, which is moored a little further in the bay. The boats are moored not too far from each other for safety reasons (but not too close either, to the point of jumping from one boat to the other)

JB jumps off the boat and swims in this hyper deep water (10 meters). There aren’t a lot of fish, but he loves to do his dives

No stars today, the sky is overcast

Day 2: Cát Bà Việt Hải – Đảo Khỉ – Vịnh Lan Hạ

The next day, we stop at the village of Viet Hai. Several bikes are already waiting for you there. It has just rained so the roads are a bit flooded

The small village is super nice, everything is green, quiet, typically Vietnamese

Then we will take the boat back to Lan Ha Bay

We stop on an island (whose name I don’t know) for lunch

Some clients stay here, while we continue the journey with another French couple who have been traveling in Vietnam for 2 weeks with their 8 year old child. They are executives, lost all the money by sleeping too deeply in the train Huê’ – Ha Noi. But they remain positive and shoot the scenery with their pro objective. The boat will take them to another island(Đảo Nam Cát I think) where they will sleep in a bungalow and see a lot of stars

We chose to sleep on the island of Cat Ba so we take the boat to continue our way. JB is too jealous and asks me why we did not reserve a bungalow. I answer him that my agency did not propose it to me 😀 and that I absolutely want to return to Cat Ba

Cat Ba Island

Here we are dropping off on Cat Ba Island. I’ve been there only once so far. Cat Ba Island can be visited by itself, independently from Ha Long. In any case, it is what the Vietnamese do. One can take the bus from Ha Noi, to be dropped at an island next to it (Cat Hai). Then, we can either take the ferry which takes an eternity, or a speed boat (which goes so fast that the plastic bags for the vomito are distributed to all the customers)

It is absolutely not necessary to swim in the port, there are two beaches hidden behind the mountain and you aren’t necessarily told. Motorcycle-taxis are everywhere in the city, ready to take you there (2 or 3 per motorcycle) because the mountain is quite high

Here is the first beach. It looks peaceful like this but as soon as you set foot on it, you will see that the waves are strong. It isn’t recommended for bad swimmers and children. To be quiet, you have to get away from the shore and there, the waves won’t hurt you anymore. However, near the shore, the waves pulled my hair out and I almost fell my head in the sand 😀

Then, we can take the stairs stuck to the mountain (very dangerous because there are unrepaired steps, at least it was the case in 2010, I don’t know if it has been repaired since), or a normal path that goes around the mountain to go to the beach n°2 (we can see it on the picture above). This beach is even more dangerous, you just have to put your foot on it, at 20cm, the sand suddenly goes down 50cm, and the safety buoy is only 2m from the edge of the beach. It isn’t watched, be very careful!

Apart from these extremely beautiful beaches, what I like about Cat Ba Island is its seaside resort atmosphere in the evening

Day 3: Vinh Bai Tu Long, and back to Ha Noi

The next day, we take a bus to go to another port. But as it rained too much during the night, a part of the road is flooded until: impossible to pass by bus

But you have to rely on the Vietnamese ingenuity and business acumen. Several locals have detected the problem and they arrive, out of nowhere, with their bamboo boat, ready to transport tourists, luggage and motorcycle. These are additional fees for our agency, but they do not charge us. Our guide calls his agency to validate the additional budget, while we enjoy this improvised walk, delighted to do it in the heart of the forest 😀

We did not do it because of the flooding and the risk of rain (and lightning), but JB’s brothers, who came to Vietnam in December, were able to visit the view point in the middle of the forest of Cat Ba Island

We take the boat for a trip on the Bai Tu Long bay

We visit the fishermen, who live on the floating villages. They don’t fish too much anymore, in fact, it’s more a breeding

The boat returns to the town of Ha Long at 11:30 am, to meet the French couple of the day before in a huge restaurant. We ask them if they loved their bungalow, they answer us that their child bathed for hours. They are going to continue their way towards Ninh Binh. While we return to Ha Noi by bus (arrival at 4 pm)



Part 2: Practical Tips

  • To save money, most tourists opt for 2 day/1 night stays (one night on the boat). Whereas if you take a 3 day 2 night tour like us, from the 2nd day on, you are at peace. But hey, it will be more expensive too.
  • I have the impression that we were all grouped together, we bought the tour in different agencies to finally find ourselves on the same boat. When discussing with the other customers, the price varied a little bit (5$ to 10$ per person).
  • It isn’t uncommon to be asked to change boats on the 2nd day (especially when clients opt for various options). In any case, since you only spend one night on the boat, on the 2nd day, you already do the “check out”.
  • Be prepared to travel on another boat on the 2nd day, and another boat again on the 3rd day, even if the comfort remains very similar.
  • There are deckchairs on the boat, to sunbathe quietly if you wish
  • For the 2nd night, you can choose either on the same boat, a bungalow or a night on Cat Ba Island.
  • In 2010, this tour cost me 100€/person. In 2018, with inflation, this tour should cost between 150-200€/person.
  • Many people ask me if it is reasonable to visit Ha Long Bay in December. It’s possible, there will be less people, but expect to have a lot of fog, and especially the water will be cold. The winter in the north of Vietnam is very hard, we aren’t in Morocco, if you can, travel rather in September/October/April/May to have less tourists, and good weather.
  • Opt for the deluxe room (on the upper floor) for a better view and especially to have a mini-balcony.
  • Those traveling alone may request to share a room (with twin beds) with a stranger to pay less.
  • If you wish to address your request (transportation, organized tours, car rental with driver…) to a French-speaking person, please contact Linh, my childhood friend, who currently works for Hanoi Tourist. Here is her email: linoupham @ Tell her that you come from tourdumonde5continents. I don’t get any commission, tell her you come from me just to make sure your request is treated with even more attention.
  • Here are the available programs, with prices dating back to 2012, sent to me by my agency at the time (which no longer exists today)

  1. Hạ Long 2 days 1 night: one night on a 3* boat (ex: Poseidon Sail 3*). Superior room: 85$/person. Deluxe: 95$/person
  2. Hạ Long 3 days 2 nights: two nights on a 3* boat (ex: Poseidon 3*). Superior room: 200$/person. Deluxe : +20$/person
  3. Hạ Long 3 days 2 nights: one night on a 3* boat (ex: Poseidon 3*). One night in a Monkey Island Resort bungalow ( Deluxe room 225$/person.
  4. Hạ Long 3 days 2 nights: one night on a 3* boat (ex: Poseidon 3*), one night on Cat Ba Island: 4* Catba Island Resort ( Price : 245$/person


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