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I decided to spend a few days in Halong City before heading for Hanoi… I wanted to see whether or not Halong City was more than just a transit point for people going to / from their Halong Bay cruises.
I organised my own way from Quan Lan to Halong.
I still had my Viettel SIM card that I bought on arrival in Saigon. It was topped up in Nha Trang and again in Hoi An. I burned up a lot of the data in Quan Lan but still had enough left for Bai Chay (the tourist area of Halong City).
Vietnam is, generally, very good for internet access with almost all Accommodation, Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars offering decent and reliable Free WiFi. Obviously, some are better than others. And, obviously, only in ‘tourist’ or ‘city’ locations.
HOWEVER, this is NOT the case in Bai Chay.
The WiFi in my hotel was good but the internet elsewhere was sometimes unreliable or non-existent. Even though some places advertised ‘free wifi’, you could connect to the wifi but that was it – once connected, there was ‘no internet access’.
I needed my own data plan on most occasions when I was out of the hotel.
Walking around Bai Chay Town is easy. It is so small. You can walk around the tourist area in 15 minutes.
Bicycle / Scooter:
You can rent them, but there aren’t many paces to go.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are lots of hotels to choose from and they are all within a 1 square kilometer area.
The streets are, literally, lined with door to door hotels… many of which are not listed on the internet.
Unless you are coming in the height of peak season, I would suggest that you can just turn up and find somewhere walking in off of the street.
As I work most mornings whilst having breakfast, the nice restaurant looked like it would come in handy.
I checked-in at the reception and made my way to my room. It was a nice room to GRANDPAcking Standard with a floor to ceiling window looking out over the street. But, no balcony.
The next morning I went down to the restaurant at 7am. There was no-one there. A cleaning lady walked past… ‘when do you open’ I asked… She spoke no English and took me to reception… ‘the restaurant is closed’ said the receptionist.
So, I booked the hotel because it had a balcony and a restaurant… it had neither.
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.
There are lots of cheap eateries and local cafes in the area. Many are very ‘rustic’.
As my hotel didn’t have a restaurant, I found myself out on the street each morning looking for somewhere to eat.
There aren’t many nice options. I had no luck finding a Fried Eggs breakfast. Fortunately, I am happy eating a Vietnamese breakfast of noodle soup.
I found myself every morning in a little local cafe 4 doors down from my hotel. They had about 10 things on their menu. All priced at about VND30k. But, no coffee.
If you walk down Anh Dao Street towards the waterfront, you will find a couple of very popular Bia Hoi local cafes near the market. VND50k will get you a simple meal. A pint of draft beer will cost you VND10k.
If you want something more western, you need to go to one of the tourist hotels or one of the backpacker hostels: try the Backpacker Pub on the waterfront road.
There are very few ‘bars’ as we would know them.
If you want a bar atmosphere, try the Backpacker Pub. Beer prices start at VND20k for a can of local brew. Mixers (like a Gin & Tonic) start at about VND40-45k. They have a happy hour between 7 & 8pm – but it is not a very good one… when I was there, their Happy Hour was ‘2 local cans of beer for the price of 1’… which was 2 cans of Bia Halong for VND20k.
Get into the local ‘rustic’ cafes, and you get a large bottle of Viet beer (like Bia Ha Noi) for VND15k.
If you fancy a Bia Hoi (local draft beer), head down to the market. You will find 2 popular Bia Hoi restaurants about 20 metres up the street. The food isn’t that great though. I had a bit of fun there one night with a few local boys…
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
You could have a go at walking up the nearby ‘mountain’…
You could have a look around the ‘very average’ market…
But, the only reason why anyone is here is to come and go from Halong Bay cruises.
Bai Chay is safe and friendly.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
All of the ATMs are down on the waterfront… about 8 different banks have ATMs there. Not one of them has thought to put an ATM in amongst the plethora of hotels.
I already knew from by trip from Cat Ba to Quan Lan that the taxi fair from Tuan Chau ferry port to the Bai Chay bus station costs VND110k; a rip off!
I had, also, pre-booked my hotel in the Old Quarter, Hanoi.
With this in mind, I went down to the Backpacker Pub; for some reason, I trusted them after a couple of previous encounters… They have a travel agency. I asked them for the cost of a ‘tourist bus’ for the 4 hour trip to Hanoi.
The price was VND150k which included a minivan pickup from the Backpacker Pub to the Tuan Chau bus station and delivery to the Hanoi Old Quarter (not the main Hanoi Bus Station on the edge of the city – which would have meant another ‘taxi’ at the other end).
As I was avoiding the taxi cost at both ends, I booked it. It seemed reasonable to me.
I was picked up at the Backpacker Pub at 12 noon; It took us a while to pick people up from other hotels but we got to Tuan Chau harbour by about 12:40pm. There was some confusion as to where to take us but we got to the right spot in the end.
I was dropped off outside one of the cruise waiting rooms. When the cruise boat came in from its overnight tour of Halong Bay, I joined the crowd and got on their bus. We left at 1:15pm.
It was a small bus with insufficient luggage space. Luggage was piled in the boot, next to the driver, and in the gangway. The seats were so close together that I couldn’t get my legs in which made the 4 hour trip a bit uncomfortable but there’s nothing that you can do about it so you just get on with it.
At 3:00pm we had a rest stop at a tourist facility that over-charged almost double for everything (e.g. a small pack of Oreol Biscuits was VND35k instead of VND12k). They wanted VND150k for a tube of Pringles (as much as the bus ticket to Hanoi!).
If you walk 15 metres across the road you will find a local shop where you can buy everything at closer to the right prices.
The driver asked everyone where their hotels were before we got to Hanoi. We were in Hanoi Old Quarter by about 5:30pm. He dropped groups off close to their hotels as he weaved through the streets. I only had to walk 30 metres to mine. I was in my room by 6:00pm.
There are NO nice restaurants to go to.
There are NO decent bars to go to.
There is NOTHING to go and see… just Halong Bay itself
This place purely exists to ferry people to / from Halong Bay cruises. It is that simple.
I won’t be coming back.
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