Amazing seascapes, caves, kayaking, bio-diversity and Vietnam's best seafood
At present, the only good quality hotels in the Ha Long Bay area can be found in the two major urban centres (three in Ha Long and one in Hai Phong) but, although comfortable, none is up to deluxe standard. There is a limited number of reasonable mid-range hotels in the area and an abundance of budget accommodation, much of it poor quality. International menus or dishes are very hard to find, but good, fresh seafood is a speciality of the area.
Ha Long Bay
The Vietnam’s most obvious attraction is Ha Long Bay, adjacent to the Gulf of Tonkin, and currently attracting over one and a half million visitors each year. Despite its status as one of Viet Nam’s main tourist centres, its enormous scale, amazing geology and indisputable splendour makes the journey from Hanoi well worthwhile.
Haivenu takes guests to the less visited islands and grottoes, leaving those that have been equipped with lights, walkways, refreshment stalls and souvenir shops to the tourists. The exceptions are Dao Go, a large cavern worth visiting for its grandeur, and Song Sot, for its remarkable stalactites and stalagmites.
Around Ha Long Bay
In the southwest corner of Ha Long Bay is Cat Ba, a large ‘karst’ limestone island full of small mountains covered in verdant forest. Part of the island is a National Park, rich in flora and fauna including one of the most endangered species of monkey in the world. Cat Ba also boasts two small, but pleasant, sandy beaches.
The tourist areas of Bai Chay, in Ha Long City, and Do Son, near Hai Phong, are poorly developed and have little to offer, but both urban areas are of interest for their industry and commerce. Ha Long City also has a large market and photogenic views of the Bay from the top of Bai Tho Mountain in the heart of the city. Cam Pha, 20 km east of Ha Long City, has one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world. It's far from beautiful, but the scale of operation (and pollution!) is impressive.
Yen Tu - the sacred mountain
Located about 130 km from Hanoi, a few kilometres north of the main road to Ha Long at Uong Bi, is Yen Tu Mountain, the location of a complex of 11 pagodas and close to a hundred shrines and towers, many dedicated to the early founders of Vietnamese Buddhism who lived and worked there. Heavily visited by domestic pilgrims during the early part of the year, it is worth the long, steep climb not only for its historical interest, but also for the attractive landscape and views. A cable car is a recent innovation.
The heroic battles of Bach Dang
The Bach Dang battlefield commemorates two of Vietnam’s greatest victories. In 938 AD, Vietnamese rebels led by General Ngo Quyen defeated a vastly superior Chinese army by sinking sharpened ironwood stakes into the mud so that the enemy ships were impaled when the tide fell, thus ending a thousand years of Chinese occupation. Three hundred and fifty years later, the great General Tran Hung Dao humbled the mighty hordes of Kublai Khan’s Mongol army, using the identical strategy in exactly the same place.
Apart from some of the stakes still in their original position, little physical evidence of the battlefield remains to be seen. However, the small town has a good commune house, a decent museum, and is located in a tranquil area of traditional villages and agriculture. The Bach Dang estuary is between Ha Long and Ha Phong, about 12km from the main Hanoi - Ha Long road near Uong Bi.
Mong Cai and Tra Co Beach
In the extreme Northeast of the area is the large border town of Mong Cai, devastated during the most recently attempted Chinese invasion of Viet Nam in 1979 and now re-built. Not far away and best reached by hydrofoil from Ha Long City, is Tra Co Island. It has a long beach of hard sand – wide and practically deserted. There is also a village with an interesting commune house and pagoda. Accommodation is available in Mong Cai. A new five-star hotel with a casino has recently opened in Mong Cai, but it is mainly aimed at providing overnight accommodation for people passing though the border gate to and from China.