Introduction to Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay, only 170 kilometers to the east of Hanoi, is famous for its wondrous ocean karst topography and thanks to its unique landscape, it is one of the top Natural Wonders of the World. The name “Ha Long” means “Landing Dragon” which gives you just a little insight into the extreme landscape of this area. The location first appeared on a French Marine Map in the late 19th Century and at that time, there was a rumor that a dragon emerged from the bay. This was reported in the Hai Phong News (French newspaper): “In 1898, a sub-lieutenant named Lagredin, captaining the Avalanche cruiser reported seeing a huge sea snake on Ha Long Bay together with many of the crew members.”
In Ha Long Bay, 1,969 limestone pillars rise above the sea along with hundreds of blooming islands. There are also several large marine caves scattered offshore. The biggest cave in the area is the Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes Cave), formerly known as the Grotte des Merveilles. The largest islands are Cat Ba Island and Tuan Chau Island, which are inhabited by the locals, with many beaches and accommodations for tourists. Smaller uninhabited islands have their own ecosystems, but you will not find any accommodation facilities of course. They usually host some unique animal species of their own, such as wild chickens, antelope, monkeys, and giant lizards.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay is a very popular touristic area and most of the land and waters are well-protected. The islands vary greatly in size and shape, forming a complex maze on the ocean surface. You have probably seen this in a short scene of Kong Skull Island when the expedition crew boarded the Skull Island.
Discover Halong promotes and conserves Ha Long Bay, as well as provides support and information to tourists about the destination.
Getting to Ha Long Bay
This part of the planning can be slightly confusing since there is a huge number of options from Hanoi and Hai Phong.
There is a bus line connecting Hanoi and Ha Long city, 160 kilometers away from each other, which equates to three and a half hours. From the bus station, it takes 15 minutes via taxi to the Tuan Chau ferry pier to Cat Ba Island or 40 minutes to your specific boat station (at the end of Khe Ca Street). The ride to Cat Ba Island is roughly two hours.
There are four main ways to transfer from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay:
From Gia Lam Bus Station in Hanoi to Bai Chay Bus Station of Ha Long, it costs 120,000 Vietnamese Dong (6 USD), and the ticket can be bought at the bus station. There are mini 17-seater buses and the trip can take up to five hours since the buses will stop along the way to fill up passengers.
Pro tips: To get to Gia Lam, you should take Bus #34 for 5,000 VND from the following bus stops: Van Mieu, Hai Ba Trung, Nha Hat Lon, Bac Co, or Chuong Duong in Hanoi. Be sure to wait for the bus on the side of the road where the traffic is flowing east or north. Otherwise, you may end up at the other end of the city.
From My Dinh Bus Station, Hanoi, buses traveling to Bai Chay Station of Ha Long cost 100,000 VND. They are bigger, faster, and more comfortable than the 17-seater from Gia Lam. City Bus #34 goes to My Dinh Bus Station as well, which is on the opposite route of going to Gia Lam.
If you plan to explore Cat Ba Island, which is considered an essential destination of Ha Long Bay, you should depart before 10:00 AM to make it to Ha Long on time before the last ferry that departs at 3:00 PM.
It takes a bit more traveling time once you have arrived at Bai Chay Bus Station to either Tuan Chau or Cat Ba Islands or the UNESCO Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay. Here are some estimated traveling expenses:
- From Bai Chay to Ha Long City: a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) should cost 20,000 VND, and roughly 50,000 VND more to the UNESCO site.
- Bai Chay to Tuan Chau Island: a Xe Om should cost 40,000 VND. From Tuan Chau Island to Cat Ba Island, it costs 80,000 VND for the ferry.
A taxi to any of these locations could be more than double the price of taking a Xe Om. Grab is not yet available in Ha Long at the moment.
From Bai Chay station, head over to the area surrounding Vuon Dao street. Here you will find most of the budget accommodations for a day or two exploring the bay.
For your convenience, Cat Ba Express is the best private bus company that gets you to Ha Long. Therefore they also operate lines to Cat Ba, Sapa, and Ninh Binh (Phong Nha Cave). Check here!
You can also take the private shuttle bus that picks up and drops off passengers from the Hanoi Old Quarter for 10 USD. It also takes four to six hours depending on how many stops the driver makes to pick up more guests. Usually, if you book a cruise service in Ha Long Bay, it includes the shuttle bus, either with extra fees or not.
Taking a seaplane flight from International Noi Bai Airport to Ha Long City is only 45 minutes. It is surely a more fabulous experience with aerial views over the countryside and a thrilling water-landing at the Tuan Chau Island Marina. The flight can be extended with an additional 15-minute scenic tour over the bay, which allows you to enjoy a bird’s eye view of up to 300 meters above the sea level of thousands of limestone karsts and the beautiful jade green waters. You should see floating fishing villages prior to arrival at Tuan Chau Island Marina.
This is the one and only seaplane service in Vietnam which is 175 USD one way and almost double for the extended scenic tour. The ticket can be bought directly at the Noi Bai Airport or booked at their website.
There is no convenient train route from Hanoi to Ha Long, therefore it will be a bit of an adventurous ride. You must first find your way to Yen Vien (Gia Lam) either by train or bus and then take a train to Ha Long.
The official train by Vietnam Railways can take up to seven hours and it costs only 70,000 VND for a hard wooden seater. The ticket can be bought at Yen Vien Train Station or booked on the official VR website. You should expect train delays and cancellations without notice.
The Ha Long Train Terminal is near the Bai Chay bus station, around five kilometers to the harbor.
By Private Car
You can book a private car from Noi Bai International Airport, or from any travel agency in Hanoi city center to Ha Long Bay. It costs 85 USD per car round trip for one day, or up to 150 USD for 2 days.
Traveling by private car is one of the best choices due to its flexibility, safety, quality, and valuable rates compared to traditional Hanoian taxis.
I highly recommend Hanoi Transfer Service. You can also get a private car through Grab, but fees will vary greatly. In addition to these options, Dichungtaxi (Vietnamese Blablacar) is considered the most affordable taxi/shared car service.
Getting to Ha Long on your own rented transportation is also straightforward and easy if you use GPS to navigate, but driving in Northern Vietnam can be quite nerve-wracking if you do not know the rules.
From Hai Phong
The Cat Bi International Airport in Hai Phong is around two and a half hours away from Ha Long city by road. The metered taxi fare is approximately 850,000 VND but you should be able to negotiate for a price under 800,000 VND. This is the most expensive way to get to Ha Long compared to the options above.
There are only two bus stations in Hai Phong that will directly take you to Ha Long: Lac Long and Ben Binh. Lac Long is cheaper because it’s a local bus station, which could be a bit inconvenient. Ben Binh is the tourist bus station next to the ferry dock with more modern and comfortable buses. These stations are a five-minute walk from each other.
A local bus from Hai Phong to Ha Long at Lac Long bus station is about 70,000 VND and it will drop you off two kilometers away from the tourist area. Xe Om (local motorbike taxis) will be waiting there and they will aggressively try to pick you up as they get commissions from local hotels. Walking is also not an option as you will be jogging along the fast and furious highway. A Xe Om should normally cost 20,000 VND from the bus stop to a hotel, but they will charge you up to 10 USD for the trip so beware.
A tourist bus from Hai Phong to Ha Long at the Ben Binh station will drop you off at the ferry dock to Cat Ba, starting at 6.5 USD, which is safer to take.
Another exciting means of transportation Cat Ba island is the hydrofoil at the Ben Binh Ferry Station, departing at 9, 10, 1, 3, and 4 daily. The duration of the hydrofoil is about 45 minutes from Hai Phong to Cat Ba island, which is only 8 USD for the boat ride. If you are in no rush and want to save a bit of money, taking a two-hour 5 USD ferry is ideal. You can check the timetables and fares here.
You can also choose to make this entire process easier just by joining our private Onetrip Ha Long Bay adventure! Embark upon a three-hour scenic drive in a comfortable, air-conditioned car from Hanoi to the less-visited Lan Ha Bay. Here, board a wooden cruise ship that will take you around the limestone karsts and help you explore the most unspoiled, magnificent, and pristine destinations of this gorgeous bay!
End of Story
This is just one of the few steps on your way to exploring Ha Long Bay. The next step is to really enjoy Ha Long Bay and find the right tour to help you do so: The Best Ha Long Bay Tours for All Budgets.
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