Everybody knows that Halong Bay is a must of any trip to Vietnam and of course I did not want to miss it! But some friends also told me about Tam Coc, the “Halong Bay on land”, a less touristy place where I could find the same kind of karstic landscape but surrounded by rice fields. What to do? Unable to choose just one of them I decided in the end to visit Halong by boat and Tam Coc area by scooter.
I was looking for a transfer from Hanoi to Halong City when somebody suggested me to go to directly to Cat Ba Island, where I could also book a boat tour to Halong Bay. That turned to be maybe the best decision of the trip because apart from being the main gateway to the bay, Halong City has nothing to do or see, only a bunch of pushy boat owners. Cat Ba Island, instead, was a relaxing place (in December) with a certain charm and with some nice activities other than the classical boat trip. After a half day journey from Hanoi, I arrived to Cat Ba Island, where I stayed 3 days on a nice seafront hotel with spectacular views over the Bay.
For the first full day I booked a full day boat trip to Halong Bay. I have heard and read about hyper expensive boat tours including who knows what. My tour cost only 15$, from 8am to 5pm. The price included transfer to the harbor, decent lunch, kayak and short stop on Monkey Island to climb its summit . . more than enough for me!
Unfortunately the weather was not super nice and Halong Bay without a blue sky is not the same than on the pictures but I had a great time kayaking through the bay’s different grottoes, it was the best part of the boat trip!
I started the second day on Cat Ba’s summit! Cannon Fort has the reputation of having the best view in Vietnam, a nice blend of colorful fishing boats on the port plus the never ending blue Bay with its rocky formations. Again, I missed a little bit of blue sky for taking pictures!
After a short stop at my hotel to get the best Pho Bô (noodles soup, Vietnam’s national food) of the town, I took the nice walk along the coast which links different beaches. The landscape is always the same, of course, but the point of view is different. I did not miss the chance to take a bath in South China Sea. The water was a little bit cold but it was a good feeling after the walk 🙂
Is it possible to start the day with a better view than this one below? 🙂 These karst towers were the amazing view that I had from my room in Tam Coc, also known as Halong Bay on land. It was not the cheapest hotel in town but the view and the breakfast on the rooftop worth the extra money.
The river Song Day meanders through the Karstic landscape like a snake and boat tours are popular with tourists also here. The scene reminded me of River Li, in South China, with a similar landscape. Like in China, I decided to visit the area by bike (in the afternoon of the first day) and scooter (on the second day), stopping from time to time to enjoy this special place. It was nice, really nice! but again I was missing a little bit of blue sky for the pictures.
After one day and a half wandering around Tam Coc it was time to head to the south searching for some sun. Bye bye Halong Bay!
My Tips :
- My friend Claus, a great traveler, has an interesting post about Halong Bay on his travel blog. As a tourist guide, he has visited Halong Bay in every possible way so no one better than him to give some tips and advice about the different boat options and trips;
On Cat Ba Island a double room with views over Halong Bay costs 8$ without breakfast included (2015). You can find rooms for 6$ inland but if your budget is not that tight the VIEW worths the extra 2$!