Ha long Bay and Cat Ba Island
Halong Bay, with a body of water of approximately 1,500 square kilometres in north Vietnam with a 120 kilometre coastline, in the Gulf of Tonkin near the border with China, and 170 kilometres east of Hanoi. “Vịnh Ha Long”—Halong Bay—means “where the dragon descends into the sea” in the Vietnamese language.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of 1969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, which rise spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Dau Go (Hiding the Timber Cave) is the largest grotto in the Halong area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th century French graphiti).
Some of the islands support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes: such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof). 989 of the islands have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and iguanas also live on some of the islands.
The bay was World Heritage listed by UNESCO at the 18th meeting of the Committee of the World Heritages of UNESCO (in Thailand on December 17th, 1994). It is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations. Halong Bay has been the setting for local naval battles against Vietnam’s coastal neighbours. On three occasions in the labyrinth of channels between the islands the Vietnamese army stopped the Chinese from landing. In 1288 General Tran Hung Dao stopped Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang River by placing steel-tipped bamboo stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol fleet. During the Vietnam War, many of the channels between the islands were heavily mined by the navy of the United States, some of which pose a threat to shipping to this day. The surrounding land region of Halong City is rich with high-grade coal deposits, and is mined by the Vietnamese government.
Weather in Ha Long Bay
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is a national park since 1986 and a tourist spot, attractive for its natural beauty and wonders endowed by nature.
Taking a ride on a car or train for two hours from Hanoi to Hai Phong, then on a high-speed vessel for another hour, you will arrive at Cat Ba Island, the biggest island (100 sq. km) out of the 366 islands on the Lan Ha Bay. There are numerous beaches, lakes, waterfalls and caves. The best time to visit the island is in October and November or December and February.
Trung Trang Cave
Situated on Cat Ba island (Cat Hai district) 10 – 30 m below the sea level, Trung Trang is the largest valley on the island, covering an area of 300 ha.
Herein lies Trung Trang cave which was naturally founded under thousands of years of rain, sunshine and water stream flowing in the limestone mountains. This deep and large cave can hold hundreds of people. Visitors who come to Cat Ba Island should never miss this place.
How to go
Independently from Hanoi
There are 4 main ways to transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay:
Mini Bus from Gia Lam (Hanoi) to Bai Chay (Ha Long). Tickets are bought at the ticket counter for 120,000 dong ($6 USD). The journey takes 4 to 5 hour with the bus stopping to pick up passengers along the way. If your bus departs Hanoi later then 10:00am it is unlikely that you will make it to Ha Long in time to catch the last ferry to Cat Ba at 3:00pm. Note: City bus number 34 goes to Gia Lam for 5,000 dong from the following bus stops: Van Mieu, Hai Ba Trung, Nha Hat Lon, Bac Co, Chuong Duong. 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 on a longer than intended journey around the city. Do not attempt to board bus #34 from Dien Bien Phu. The bus will run to the end of the line in the opposite direction before turning around and eventually making it to Gia Lam making what should be a short trip a two hour ordeal. [Sep 2013]
From My Dinh Bus Station (Hanoi) there are buses travelling to Bai Chay for 100,000 dong. They are faster and more comfortable than the “mini bus” from Gia Lam. City bus 34 goes to My Dinh bus station as well. [Jan 2014]
From Bai Chay to Ha Long City/Tourist Wharf a motorbike taxi should cost 10,000 to 20,000 dong.
From Bai Chay to Tuan Chau Wharf a motorbike taxi should cost 20,000 to 30,000 dong.
From Ha Long City to Tuan Chau Wharf a motorbike taxi should cost 20,000 to 30,000 dong.
A taxi to any of these locations could be more than double.
From Bai Chay bus station City bus 03 stops near Vuon Dao street where most of the budget hotels are located
By open bus: $15 USD one way, pick up & drop off at Bus Station
By shuttle bus: Pick up & drop off passengers in the Ha Noi old quarter. 4-6 hours pending on how many stops en route the driver makes to pick up/drop off passengers. Fare is about US$10 each way.
By Train: take cargo train from Hanoi to Yen Vien (Gia Lam) and then to Quang Ninh. The train starts at 4.30 am and arrives at 11am. The terminal at Ha Long City is near the Bai Chay bus station and about 5 km away from the harbour. Expect train delays and cancellations without notice. Hard sleeper only, $10 USD one way.(not recommend this transport)
By rent a private car or taxi: take a car from Noibai,or from Hanoi centre to Halong bay. It costs $85 USD per car, per trip or $150 USD for a 2 days, 1 night.
By Private car: Travelling by private car considers the best choice as its flexibility, safety, quality and valuable rates. It also seem be uniquely way to reach Ha Long bay from Noi Bai airport despite the taxi collection as it is indeed unsafe enough because of old age, careless drivers and non-competitive price.
Hostels in Ha Long, Cat Ba Island and Haiphong
All pictures by the author
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