VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

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

HALONG CITY

IDD Code:(+84) 33
If Ha long Bay is heaven, Ha long City can be hell. Overdeveloped but under loved, the hideous high-rise hotels come in every shade of pastel and the beaches are definitely not the best in the region. However, the majority of food, accommodation and other life support systems for Ha long Bay are found in Ha long City. The capital of Quang Ninh province it is sin city, with 'massage' heavily promoted at every hotel. The town draws large numbers of domestic tourists and, until recent!)", was a major magnet tor Chinese tourists. Suddenly they stopped coming, giving birth to a million conspiracy theories about bankrupting hotel to buy them out.
Orientation
Ha long City is bisected by a bay, and the most important district for travelers is called Bai Chay. Located on the western side, Bai Chay is closer to Hanoi and offers a better choice of hotels and restaurants. It's also when the majority of tourist boats are moored. A short ferry ride (500d) across the bay takes you to the Hon Gai district. Hon Gai is the main port district for coal exports, which means it's a bit dirty, but at least there is some local flavor. There is a bridge nearing completion to finally link Bai Chay and Hon Gai, which is good news for everyone (except perhaps the ferry' captains). It will have opened by the time you read this.
District names are important; most long distance buses will be marked 'Bai Chay' or ‘Hon Gai' rather than 'Ha long City'.
Information
Industrial & Commercial Bank (Đ Le Thanh Tong) Useful ATM for those staying in Hon Gai.
Main post office (Đ Halong) Along with the usual postal services, there's cheap and fast internet access with plenty of webcams.
Vietcombank (Đ Halong$ A new and more convenient branch in Bai Chay with the usual exchange facilities and ATM.
Beaches
The 'beaches' around Halong City arc basically mud and rock - a problem the authorities have tried to 'correct'. There are two beaches in Bai Chay, both 'built' with imported sand, but they are not great for swimming as the water is pretty murky.
Sleeping
If you have any choice in the matter, stay on a boat in the bay rather than in a hotel in Halong City. The majority of visitors who do stay here opt for Bai Chay. There are hundreds of hotels located here, and keen competition keeps prices down, especially if you can avoid the commission-seeking touts. Prices rise in the peak season (summer) or during the Tet festival. There are also accommodation options in Hon Gai, but it's noisier and dustier across the water... coal dust that is! The nearby island of Dao Tuan Chau has been overhauled as a luxury resort retreat, an attempted antidote to the mistakes made in the development of Halong City.
BAICHAY
The heaviest concentration of hotels is in town, in the aptly named 'hotel alley' of Đ Vuon Dao. This is where you'll find more than 50 minihotels, most of them almost identical (a guidebook author's nightmare). Expect to pay something between US$8 and US$12 for a double room with private bathroom and air-con.
Hoang Lan Hotel (tell: 846 504; 17 Đ Vuon Dao; s US$8-12, d US$10-15; Right in the thick of the action on hotel alley, this family place has a friendly feel. Not only are the usual suspects (hot water, satellite TV and a fridge) here, but breakfast is thrown in for good measure.
Thanh Hue Hotel (tell: 847 612; D Vuon Dao; r US$10-12; Continue up, up, up the hill from the Hoang Lan and you come to this great-value hotel. It offers some cracking views of the bay as a reward for the climb and most rooms include hot water, TV and balcony.
Halong 1 Hotel (tell: 846 320; fax 846 318; Đ Halong; r US$30-55; This rambling old government-run hotel used to be set in four buildings, but the other blocks have recently branched out on their own. Set in a rambling old colonial-era building, this place always had the charm. Splash the extra for the space of a suite. You'll he following in the footsteps of Catherine De-neuve who stayed here during the filming of Indochine.
Halong Plaza Hotel ( 8 D Halong; r from US$140; A huge hotel with about 200 rooms, this place looms large over the car ferry landing. Rooms are business-tike, but are packing four stars. Dis-counts of at least 30% off the published rates are usually offered, making for a real deal

Eating
Minihotels aside, most hotels have restaurants. If you're in Halong City as part of a tour, the meals are usually included. Unsurprisingly, seafood is a serious feature of most menus. There are a couple of seafood strips in the centre of town, just south of the post office along D Halong. The strip nearest the post office is on the slide and several places have been converted to souvenir shops in the last couple of years. However, the second strip, a few hundred metres south, is still going strong. Aim for the places with fresh seafood in tanks out t he front, or gravitate to where the locals are dining. All have tables inside and spill out onto the pavement at night. These are good places to indulge in a beer in the absence of any real bars in town.
Asia Restaurant (tell: 846 927; Đ Vuon Dao; mains 200,000-40,OOOd) One of the few restaurants daring to intrude on 'hotel alley', this is a reliable spot for Vietnamese food and a smattering of Western favourites. The owner used to run a restaurant in East Berlin and speaks excellent German and pretty good English.
Getting There & Away
BOAT
For all the details on boat trips in Halong Bay, sections earlier. With a marked improvement in roads around the region, boat transport is not as popular as it once was, but the hydrofoil to Mong Cai remains a good option for anyone overland ing to China. There are daily slow boats connecting Hon Gai with Haiphong (35.000d, three hours). Boats depart Hon Gai at 6.30am, 11am and 4pm. It could be considered a cheap way to do a Halong Bay tour. There arc no longer hydrofoils linking Halong and Haiphong, as travel by road is cheaper and just as fast. From Bai Chay, Mui Ngoc (tell: 847888,Đ Halong) operates hydrofoils to Mong Cai (US$15, three hours) leaving at Sam and 1pm; the ticket office is almost next door to the Mien Tay bus station. The trip is definitely preferable to the long road journey. Book ahead, as demand often outstrips supply. The best way to get to Cat Ba Island is to hop onto the regular tourist boats from Bai Chay tourist-boat dock. It costs 100,000d one way, including a leisurely cruise through the most beautiful parts of the bay. An extra 30,000d brings entry to the most important caves and grottoes in the bay. The whole trip takes about five or six hours, but there are no precise departure times, as it depends on numbers. As always, be prepared for changes !o these schedules.
BUS
Buses from Halong City to Hanoi (40,000d, 31/2 hours) leave from MienTay bus station (Đ Ca Lan) in Bai Chay every 15 minutes. Buses to Haiphong (25,000d, 11/2 hours) depart every 20 minutes from here. Most buses to northeastern destinations start from Mien Tay bus station before passing through Hon Gai bus station (Đ Le Loi). Buses for Mong Cai (42,000d, five hours) and Cai Rong (20.000d, 11/2 hours) for Van Don Island (Dao Cai Bau) depart frequently during daylight hours. There is also one bus a day to Lang Son (45,000d, five hours) at 12.30pm, handy for anyone heading to Manning.
CAR & MOTORBIKE
Halong City is 160km from Hanoi and 55km from Haiphong. The one-way trip from Hanoi to Halong City takes about three hours by private vehicle.
Getting Around
Bai Chay is fairly spread out, so metered taxis are a good option for moving around. Mai Linh (tell: 822 226) is a reliable option. Otherwise, there are usually some taxis hanging around near the bus stations or the post office.