You are here :  Chez Pierre >> Vietnam >> Ha Long >> Along bay

Vietnam :

Ha Long Bay, the jewel

I moved to Ha Long one year ago

And I still hadn't told you more about it than on my "Tourism in Vietnam" page : it's a shame !  I'll try to make it up today with the last pictures I took on the Bay, in June 2001.

But before telling you about the Bay, 8th marvel of the World say most people, classified twice as World Heritage by the Unesco, let's do "as if" we were leaving from Hanoi, OK ?

Until March 2001, you would have had to endure the 170km road trip from Hanoi à Ha Long, beginning with a 4 lanes killer highway going through some villages, ending with an infamous dirt road where those who didn't bring paper bags had to bend over the window to relieve their poor stomach.

If this kind of experience is not your cup of tea, let me reassure you : thanks to years of work, moutain scraping and lagunas filling, the road is now flat, pretty straight and as smooth as a billiards table : you'll make it in less than 3 hours.

Several solutions to visit Ha Long Bay :

- "By myself, I can do it" (20 to 200 dollars) : go to Ha Long with the public bus (2 dollars one way), in a shared minibus (about 5 dollars ?) with a rented car or minibus (rental of a vehicle with driver : about 50-60 dollars one way) and find some accomodation in Ha Long (8 to 100 dollars/night), food (1 to 50 dollars/meal) and the visits (shared boat : about 5 dollars/pers./half-day ; rental of the whole boat : about 5 dollars + 4 dollars/pers./half-day ; drinks and meals not included).

Those who do not go to Ha Long with an organized tour will be interested to know that Ha Long (the city) is split in two by a laguna that can be crossed by ferry (0.03 dollars !) : 

Bai Chai is the "tourists" side, basically a row of hotels,  restaurants and tourists' little shops along the artificial beach : not my favorite part ;)

Hon Gai (where I live and work), was a coal mining city before, is being renovated now, and the tourists are very rare.

Those who come on their own can find cheap lodging and closer to "The Authentic Vietnam" experience on this last side, but of course with some loss of comfort !

"Chez Simone"

To stay on this side, I recommend the guest house "Chez Simone", a friend who speaks perfect French and good English.  Rooms are 8 to 10 dollars according to the comfort, add 2 dollars if you wish to use the air conditioner.

To eat on this side, all street bouis-bouis will accomodate those who are not afraid of experiences (there are some real restaurants but they are not very nice), while the others will take the ferry to go to Van Song, Simone's brother (also trilingual) : on the Bai Chai side, about 100m after the Post Office on the waterfront road (Duong Ha Long).

It's by far the best restaurant of the area, and a meal there will cost you only a few dollars !  Another good solution : sharing Simone's family meal...

To go "Chez Simone" : from the ferry, take right and go all the way to the Post Office ("Buu Dien", on a big round crossroad).  Turn left into Tran Hung Dao street and continue after the little round crossroad (Cau Xanh street).  At n° 64, take the alley on your right (there is a little "Chez Simone" sign).  The guesthouse is 50m down this alley, on the left side.

(other solutions to see Along Bay :)

  - "Backpack / I share" (20 to 40 dollars) : buy a tour in one of Hanoi's little cafés (I don't have any to recommend, see the books you all know).

Most of the time, you will get the trip Hanoi - Ha Long in a minibus and a room in a mini-hotel, as well as one or two tours on the Bay with your mates...and anybody who wants to join the tour at the last minute.  Up to 30 (or more) tourists per boat.

- "Organized tour / I want the best" (100 to 150 dollars) : buy a tour in an agency - I tested and recommend Exotissimo - see the "Tourism" page).

En route from Hanoi to Ha Long, look around !

With most serious agencies, everything is included and personalized : the trip in a private vehicle, rooms in the hotel of your choice (I love the "Ha Long 1" for its old charming atmosphere), French or English speaking guide all the time, all meals, two tours on a private boat with meals on the Bay, etc, etc.

Remember, anyway : you will need at least two days to visit Ha Long Bay.

For those who didn't  notice : Along Bay is on the Vietnamese coast.  On this coast, there are Vietnamese living.
Those who offer you to make it in one day, trips included, only think about...the content of your wallet.  You'll read about this further down, but it's evident : the Bay is enormous, you'll never see the 3000 islands anyway, but in one day, what will you do ?  At least six hours on the road, and then ?

A few hours on the Bay, in the noon hours (the worst time to see it), betting on the weather (while it can change from "Sunny" to "Storm" in less than two hours) ?  If you just have one day for it...  Too bad for you !  But later, don't say that you've "seen Along Bay" !

And if it was just about the Bay...

In Ha Long, especially on the Hon Gai side, there are Vietnamese.
Many tourists don't see them, but they are there.

 Some are rich, some middle-class and some are poor.  Some make a living with very simple jobs (I hope to make a page about them soon) like the ones on this picture, in front of my house : the man on the left buys old plastics and metals from kids and poor people going around the city all day long.  He rythms my day by crushing used beer cans with a hammer, from 7am til 7pm, under the sun.

The woman on the left prepares "coal loafs" : some coal dust, some mud, a little water, she mixes the whole thing with her feet, molds it like "bee nests" then let them dry under the sun !

Little street jobs

Later she'll jump on her bicycle and will sell them door-to-door for cooking : it's less expensive than the propane or butane gas bottles.

Another example that will be more related to your experience of Ha Long : the boat that will take you on the Bay.  Chances are pretty good that it has been made here, in the mud, by Hon Gai's artisans.  Of course, tourists buses never come on this side...

There's not only a Bay, in Ha Long...

If you can, take the chance to discover the "Halongians" life, out of the beaten and re-beaten tracks of the touristic guides, who often are not even from Ha Long and only know the wharf, the restaurants and the bars...

But, Ha Long, it's mostly the Bay !

OK, OK, you've been waiting too long for me to talk about it...;)

And to tell you the truth, you'll begin to enjoy the Bay as soon as you arrive in Ha Long, from the shore, like on this picture.

The Ha Long Bay is essentially a group of about 3000 islands, small and big rocks also called "Sugar loafs" (if I translate well) that seem to float above the turquoise waters of this part of the China Sea.

Crafted by the erosion ?  Or, says one of the many legends, by a dragon who came from the mountain and both carved the rocks with his flapping tail and filled the hollows by splashing them ?

Indeed, say some, "Ha Long" should be translated by "The descending dragon"...

But my little knowledge of the Vietnamese language tells me this isn't accurate : "dragon = con rong" et "descend = xuong" (I spare you the accents).

Ah ! OK, when discussing this with Vietnamese visitors, I got it !

It comes from old Vietnamese with Chinese origin (Hán Viêt), in which Ha = xuong ("down / descending"), and Long = rong ("dragon").

You feel lost ? Never mind ;-)

The most important for us is to open our minds and our eyes.

To look, for example, at the charming little pagoda on this picture
(click the picture to zoom in) ?

Along Bay = Magic

And this magic is impossible to show on pictures.  

His Magesty The Along Bay reveals herself only to those who deign to pay her a visit.

In pictures, she gives only a slight glance at her fur coat.  And that's not even sure : I've seen hundreds of pictures of the Bay, some really nice, but none that gives any bit of the feelings one's can have in the Bay !

So, take a boat and go around between the rocks.  The apparent banality of some enhances the beauty of the others.

Have you imagination on alert : most of these rocks do not have an official name !

However you'll easily recognize "The Dog", "The nose", "The Head" (also called "Mitterand" by the French).

 "The Cup" is now harder to recognize though, since a tourists boat recently broke its handle.  Pfff...

It also depends of the point of vue, of course : take the one on the right, a famous one.  From here, its nickname is not easy to find, right ?

When a rock pleases your eyes or intriguates your mind, don't hesitate to ask the captain to go around it : you'll find treasures !

That said, this is not a reason to take the rocks with you : I really like my Vietnamese hosts, but don't buy rocks nor corals from them : let the Bay keep its treasures !

Hey !  Look who's there !

The French will see a famous fellow here, the others will see a big head...

Between the evocating rocks, let yourself relax and enjoy the tour on the wavy Bay.

The waves usually are very smooth, and actually the authorities will not let you go out on the Bay if the weather is too bad or threathening.

There has been some accidents, because the weather can change very quickly here, but normally you'll not get a chance to test the efficiency of the rescue helicopters, nor even of the seasickness pills.

You'll by the way get a chance to walk on firm ground on several islands, sometimes with a unique view on...the Bay.

If you've been in Vietnam for some time, I'm sure you'll appreciate its silence, compared to the rest of the country !

Here's a Frequently Asked Question :

"What's to do in Ha Long if the weather isn't that good ?"

Go on the Bay, of course !

It sounds crazy, but for me and many people it's in a slightly foggy weather with a little rain that the Bay is at its best, that it really is magical...

Under the sun it's nice, under the rain it's better !

Well, let's be reasonable though : the day we took this picture, it was raining ropes (the big ones) and we were experimenting the imperviouness of the human skin...  This didn't prevent us to enjoy the day : when you're in good company...

And again, you can burn under the sun à 2pm and freeze under the rain at 4pm, or the opposite...

Is that all ?

Just old rocks ?

Of course not.  There are wonderful dream beaches, like the one on the right (I won't say where this one is, but there are many and the guides know them).

The Bay is so big that even the locals (and me further more !) don't know all its treasures, so you'll certainly find yours somewhere, hmm ?

Ha Long Bay : a magic treasure...

Page créée le 23 juin 2001 -  Mise à jour le 19 novembre 2002

©opyright 1997-2007 Pierre Gieling - tous droits réservés