Northeast Vietnam

Con Son Den Kiep Bac - Hai Phong - Around Hai Phong - Ha Long Bay - Ha Long City - Cat Ba Island - Bai Tu Long Bay - Mong Cai Chinese Border - Around Mong Cai - Lang Son - Cao Bang - Aroud Cao Bang - Ba Be National Park - Thai Nguyen - Around Thai Nguyen


IDD Code: (+84) 33
There's more to northeastern Vietnam than Ha long Bay. The sinking limestone plateau. Which gave birth to the bay's spectacular islands, continues for some 100km to the Chinese border. The area immediately northeast of Ha long Bay is part of Bai Tu Long National Park (tell: 793 365). Bai Tu Long Bay is every bit as beautiful as its famous neighbour. Indeed, in some ways it's more beautiful, since it has scarcely seen any tourist development. This is good news and bad news. The bay is unpolluted and undeveloped, but there's little tourism infrastructure. It's pretty hard travelling around and staying here, and unless you speak Vietnamese, it's difficult to get information. Charter boats can be arranged to Bai Tu Long Bay from Ha long Bay; boats range from 100,000d to 250,000d per hour depending on size and amenities. See the Ha long Bay entry for more details; the one-way trip takes about five hours. A cheaper alternative is to travel overland to Cat Rong and visit the out tying islands by boat from here. Foreigners are almost always charged double the going rate on the ferries around Bai Tu Long Bay.

Van Don Island (Dao Gai Bau) Van Don is the largest, most populated and most developed island in the archipelago However, there remains only very limited tourism development here to date. Cai Rong (pronounced Cai Zong) is the main town on the island, which is about 30km m length and 15km across at the widest point. Bai Dai (Long Beach) runs along much of the southern side of the island and is hard-packed sand with some mangroves, just offshore, almost touching distance away, there are stunning rock formations similar to those in Halong Bay.
The only hotels are at Cai Rong pier, about 8km north of the new bridge to the mainland. Cai Rong is a colourful, busy area, with lots of fishing boats and passenger vessels, and a backdrop of limestone mountains in the bay. It's also full of karaoke bars and motorbikes. You might want to get a room with air-con to block out some of the noise. There's no beach. HungToan Hotel (tell: 874 220;r 120,000d;Head to the top floor for the best rooms, which share a huge balcony. This value-for-money spot is about 100m before the pier. Viet Linh Hotel (tell: 793 898; r 180,000; One of the newer hotels in Cai Rong. this is very clean and rooms include satellite IV, fridge and hot-water bathtubs. Bai Tu Long Ecotourism Resort ( bungalows 250,000-450,000d; This resort is up on Long Beach and is a much nicer alternative to the places in Cai Rong, There are attractive beachside bungalows or more traditional rooms in stilt houses, and the beach has a beautiful backdrop.
There is a new bridge linking Van Don to the mainland, making it much more accessible from Halong City. Frequent buses run between Hon Gai (Halong City) and Cai Rong bus station (20,000d, 11/2 hours). You'll pass. plenty of coal mines en route - your face (and lungs) willreceive a fine coating of black coal dust before the journey is completed. Just pity the people who live here and have to breathe this in every day. A good way to get to Van Don is with the Mui Ngoc hydrofoil from Halong City (US$8, one hour) departing at Sam. In the other direction, it leaves for Halong City at 4pm. There is also an irregular service to Mong Cai (US$10, two hours), departing Van Don at 8.30am and returning at 2pm.
Note that these boat schedules may change and are dependent on the weather. Be prepared to hang around here a day or so. Several of the companies offering lours of Halong Bay also offer tours of Bai Tu long Bay; for more details. ATI operates ecolodges on Van Don and Quan Lan Islands and offers a combination of tours to the bay.
Other Islands
Cai Rong Pier (Cai Rong Pha) is just on the edge of Cai Rong town. This is the place for boats to the outlying islands. Chartering a boat from here to Halong City costs around US$10 per hour (the one-way journey takes five hours). Tourist boats can be chartered at Cai Rong to cruise the nearby islands for a few hours. Ask at the pier. The hourly rate is between 120,000d and 150,000d, but the boats are basic compared with what's on offer at Halong.
The main attraction here is a beautiful, 1km-long white-sand beach shaped like a crescent moon. The water is clear blue and the waves are suitable for surfing. However, there is no shortage of blissful beaches on the eastern seaboard, so take a hike. The best time to play in the water is from about May to October -winter is a bit chilly. The northeastern part of the island has some battered ruins of the old Van Don Trading Port. There is little to show that this was once part of a major trading route between Vietnam and China. Deep-water ports, such as Haiphong and Hon Gai, long ago superseded these islands in importance. The rowing-boat festival Hoi Cheo Boi is held here from the 16th to the 18th day of the sixth lunar month. It's the biggest festival in the bay area, and thousands of people turn out to see it. There are several cheapies on the island:
Minh Vu Guesthouse (tell:877 479) and Vinh Ly Guest-house (tell: 877 354) both have solar-powered hot water and rooms around the 120,000d mark.
Quan Lan Ecotourism Resort ( bungalows from 150,000-350,000d) has a fine location on the beach, with a choice of comfortable bungalows or a large stilt house fur larger groups. A ferry service between Quan Lan and Van Don runs daily (25,000d, two hours), departing Van Don at 2pm and Quan Lan at 7am, in other words, a trip to the island require an overnight stay. Foreigners usually get charged 50,000d.
One of the largest islands in Bai Tu Long Bay, Tra Ban borders Bai Tu Long National Park and offers some of the most dramatic karst scenery in the bay. The southern part of the island is blanketed in thick jungle like Cat Ba and provides a habitat for many colourful butterflies. There are boats to and from Van Don Island at 7am and 2pm (20,000d, 90 minutes).
This island is one of the most southerly in Bai Tu Long Bay, bordering on Halong Bay, and offers scenery every bit as good as the more famous World Heritage site. There is some accommodation available here in some basic beach houses (150/OOOd). There are daily boats between Cai Rong (1pm) and Ngoc Vung (6am), costing 50,000d for foreigners and taking three hours.
In the northeast, Co To Island is the furthest inhabited island from the mainland. Its highest peak reaches a respectable 170m. There are numerous other hills, and a large lighthouse atop one of them. The coastline is mostly cliffs and large rocks, but there's at least one fine sandy beach. Fishing boats usually anchor Just off here, and you can walk to some of the boats during low tide. There is a small and very basic guesthouse on the island. Ferries bound for Co To Island depart Van Don Island on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at unspecified times - check the schedule in Cai Rong. They return from Co To Island on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The one-way fare is 50,000d and the journey takes about five hours, depending on the winds.