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My stay over Christmas and New Year 2015 in Cat Ba Island left me feeling that I had not seen enough of Halong Bay.
So, I looked north to the lesser known islands…
I organised my own way from Cat Ba To Quan Lan.
Please note that before you get onto the ferry out to Quan Lan you have to register your passport and Vietnamese Visa details with the police. You have to do the same when you leave Quan Lan.
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 thought that the Hoi An top up would last me until I planned to leave Vietnam on 17th January 2016…
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.
HOWEVER, this is NOT the case in Quan Lan Island.
The WiFi in my hotel was either very slow or non-existent; on most days I got a ‘No Internet’ warning when connecting to their wifi.
I strongly suggest that, if you need WiFi, you come with your own data plan with sufficient GBs for your planned usage.
If you are staying in Quan Lan Town, you will need transport to get to the beaches.
From Minh Chau Town, you can walk to Minh Chau Beach.
Most of the island is flat and easy to get around on bicycle.
You can rent a scooter for US$5 (VND100k) per day. This might be more in Peak Season but don’t pay more than VND120k.
As I say in going Around The Island By Scooter, you should pay a bit more to get a new and economical-on-petrol scooter if you plan to do a lot of kms in one day.
Petrol costs VND40k / 1.5L bottle in town or VND50k on the road.
WHERE TO STAY:
As I say in my Cat Ba To Quan Lan posting, I was not intending to come to Quan Lan (I was trying to get to Co To Island). This meant that I had no booking on arrival.
After going Around The Island By Scooter, I would suggest that GRANDPAckers look to stay in Quan Lan Town or Minh Chau Town. I chose the former.
These are the only 2 places where you can find GRANDPAcking accommodation. Elsewhere, you are facing resorts at higher prices that are out of GRANDPAcker range.
You will not find many Quan Lan hotels listed on the internet.
However, once you get to the island, you will find several Vietnamese hotels and guesthouses to choose from in the townships.
Ngan Ha Hotel:
They spoke good English and asked me where I was going to stay.
I said that I had nothing booked yet.
One of the young men said that I could stay at his father’s hotel.
I said that I would have a look and got off the tuk tuk with them.
I was introduced to his father and he took me to the 3rd floor and showed me a GRANDPAcking Standard Double room with aircon, shared balcony and TV (with 4 local Vietnamese channels).
I looked at him and signaled for him to bring down the price.
He entered VND250k.
I entered VND200k.
He reluctantly agreed.
The room was clean and tidy and included toiletries but no breakfast.
There are not many eating options in Quan Lan. You will not find the street stalls that you find elsewhere in Vietnam.
You will, also, only find 3 or 4 cafes in Quan Lan and Minh Chau towns. In these local cafes, you can get simple dishes like Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup) for VND30k.
In high season, you will find the odd restaurant / cafe on the most popular part of some of the beaches.
This means that you will, predominantly, eat in your hotel.
The first thing that you will notice in Quan Lan is that most menus have no prices. This gives you a choice, you can either:
- Spend a lot of time asking for the price of different things on the menu every time that you want something, or
- Trust your hotel to charge you a reasonable price
As I had ended up in the Ngan Ha because of an introduction from the owner’s son, I chose to do the latter: trust.
In Vietnam, this is usually not a good idea as (even when you think that things are OK) there always seems to be an ‘angle’ at the end that leaves you disappointed.
However, at the Ngan Ha, I was right to trust. When I paid my bill at the end, the prices were all very reasonable.
I ate a Pho Bo there one lunchtime which cost about VND35k.
I ate dinner there 2 nights:
- Fried Fish with rice for VND100k
- Fried King Prawns with rice for VND120k
Both dinner prices were comparable with the best prices that I would have been able to achieve elsewhere on my travels in Vietnam.
If there are 2 or more of you, I highly recommend one of their seafood hot pots.
Again, there are no bars so you tend to drink at your hotel.
Again, I trusted the hotel.
When I checked out, they charged me VND15k per can of Bia Ha Noi. This again, is a very reasonable price for a hotel.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
Don’t expect much from Quan Lan Island.
If you come here, you come here to experience a more real Vietnam.
You can go Around The Island By Scooter which takes 3-4 hours excluding stop offs.
There are some walks that you can do but, other than that, you are really looking for beaches.
Minh Chau Beach can be walked to from Minh Chau Town.
If you read my Around The Island By Scooter post, I suggest the middle to eastern end of Sau Hoa Beach as being the best beach on the island.
Quan Lan is safe and friendly.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are NO ATMs on the island some come with enough cash.
If you get short on money, you can change money at one or two of the more expensive hotels. Do not expect to get good exchange rates.
I could have gone back to Cai Rong on the daily 1pm fastboat for VND100k.
But I decided to make my way from Quan Lan to Halong on the 7am fastboat that costs VND200k.
This is where the Vietnamese go for a holiday – you don’t see many westerners. Hardly anyone on the island speaks English.
Expect to turn up somewhere on your scooter and have a local ask you to sit down for a cup of tea. They will try and talk to you in broken English and sign language. Relax and show them some photos.
Expect people to walk up to you on the street and ask you back to their house for a cup of tea.
I popped into a guesthouse foyer one night about 9:30pm to catch the last 3 minutes of West Ham vs Liverpool (there were no sports channels back at my hotel). The owner was there sitting on his own. When I went to leave he grabbed my hand and signed that another game started at 10:00pm and that he wanted me to stay and watch it with him.
Personally, I would NOT recommend coming at this time of year. If you come to Quan Lan Island, make the trip worth it… come when the sun shines.
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