Ha Long was only 1.5 days long stay, but it was spectacular. Before getting to the bus station, I checked at the hotel, where and how to get the tickets. Good, I did that. When I got to the bus station some local guy, seeing that I am a tourist, came to me and offered a deal, indicating a completely different direction, but I knew I needed the desk nr. 9, and went straight to it. The guy disappeared.
The bus ride from Ha Noi to Ha Long took 4 hours, during which I was trying to get some sleep at the back of the bus. Suddenly, the bus driver’s assistant starts screaming: “Ha Long! Ha Long!” Half-awake I got out of the bus and the next thing I know – my bags are out on the road in the middle of a big square in front of the bus station and the bus is already gone. That happened so fast… It was 9:00 o’clock in the morning and the whole day was in front!
The most convenient transportation in this city I found to be the taxi (car taxi). Not only because they are fast, relatively cheap, and convenient as the places of interest are quite far, they are also very helpful and operative. When I was getting back to the Ha Long bus station, the taxi driver stopped the leaving bus in the middle of the street. At that moment everything happened super-fast: the taxi driver asks where I am going, he asks the bus driver, to where it is going and the next thing I know – my bags are on the bus and I am buying the ticket to Ha Noi – an earlier bus then I was planning to take. This time sleeping was not possible as the driver’s assistant was recounting all passengers almost every 5 minutes.
Ferry in Ha Long Bay
After I finally got settled in the room, I went to the port of regular ferries to go around the islands of Ha Long Bay. Ha Long means “Descending Dragon” and the bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, when you are doing an unplanned trip, you have to take into consideration several aspects:
- It is getting dark around 17:00-18:00 in the evening;
- The rainy season is not the most popular season for tourists. It’s good and bad at the same time. Good that there are no crowds of tourists, but…
- …there are no many regular ferries either – they stop circulation quite early in the day.
At the time I got to the port, I was not counting that it was already off-season and the regular ferries are not in the circulation that often. I got there a few minutes too late and the next boat would be too late to get back to the mainland.
So, instead of the romantic sunset or sunrise trip, or much pricy flight over the bay with the plane, I took the classical, day-time tourist ferry to see the beauty of Ha Long Bay. In the port you can choose different lengths of the trip and, according to your choice, you would see more or fewer gems in the bay. I chose 3h trip and I think it was completely enough to:
- Get sunburn in the direct sun, while staying on the fully-open deck of the ferry;
- Visit amazingly huge Thien Chung grotto (Heavenly cave) and Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden Stakes Cave) on Dau Go island;
- Check the most iconic islet of the Halong Bay – Trong Ma (Fighting Cocks islet). This islet has become not only the symbol of the bay but also the symbol of Vietnam tourism. It consists of two 10m long cock- and hen-alike islets and it looks like these cocks are fighting or, as some say – kissing.
Food in Ha Long
Similarly, as in Ha Noi, the best way to enjoy the local food is local eateries on the streets. Food is very similar as in the capital – very delicious, very satisfying – even sitting at the mini-size tables and tiny chairs.
After the sunny ride in the bay, I tried the local sweet called Bánh Cao Cấp. Bánh means ‘cake’ or ‘bread’ but it can be applied to many different pastries. Adding other words to bánh can describe sweet or savory treats that are fried, cooked, or boiled. I had a super-sweet pastry/cookie with a white and puffy shell, filled with different seeds.
Secrets of Ha Long
There is a hill in the Ha Long, from which one could have an amazing view of the whole bay and its islands. I was walking around the hill, enjoying the surroundings, fishing boats, and looking for the passage to the hill-top. There is an old sign in the city indicating the beginning of the trail, but it turns out to be a dead-end as the gate to the trail is locked.
If you keep walking around the area, be prepared that locals will notice you and discreetly will start offering their help to get you to the hill-top in exchange for a few hundred VND (Vietnam dongs). Before giving up and accepting the help, I was browsing different forums and found out that the trail has been closed since 2017 when tourists set up the fireplace and almost burned the whole hill. It’s true or not, but the trial is officially closed. Nevertheless, multiple messages say that you can “secretly” get to the top of the hill after paying 20’000-50’000 VND per person to a local old lady.
I started to look for the old lady that could get me to the “secret passage”. She takes me through her modest kitchen, where I see a couple of tourist bags laying on the dirty tile floor. Then she takes me through a very trashy yard to a metal gate with a huge warning sign… Next to the gate, there is a hole in the fence just above the cliff and a weirdly shaped tree. You don’t get through the gate, you squeeze through the hole in the fence! And the price, for the old lady’s assistance for getting to the other side, has increased to 200’000 VND. I throw the camera to the other side, give the money to the lady and she gives the instructions on how to get through the hole successfully and not to fall down the cliff. Once on the other side, you start the journey through wild bushes and rocky steps, and steep trails, but once you get on the top, the view is spectacular! Totally worth all the adventures on the way!
Next stop – Da Nang.