Most people book tours of Ha Long Bay either through a website or a Hanoi-based tour operator, in which case they don’t need to worry about getting there, as this is included in the price. Depending on the cost of the tour, transport for the three or four-hour journey from Hanoi is by coach, minibus, saloon car or limousine.
Most tour boats depart from the tourist jetty at Ha Long City, though several also depart from Cat Ba Island. Boats usually leave at around 07:00 for a full-day tour, while shorter tours depart around lunchtime.
Though most visitors have a definite preference for pre-booked tours of the bay, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make your own way there and choose a tour once you are in either Ha Long City or Cat Ba Island. Since more tours depart from Ha Long City, you’d have more choice from here.
If you’re looking to combine a trip to Ha Long Bay with a bit of adventure and exploration, consider going via Haiphong, a large city with some impressive colonial-style buildings, including its own opera house. Trains connect Hanoi and Haiphong, and there are buses to Ha Long City or ferries and hydrofoils to Cat Ba Island for those that want to stay in the area for an extended period.
Bus Transport from Ha Long Bay
Minibuses to Hanoi and Hai Phuong leave Ha Long City’s western bus terminal or can be flagged down on Ha Long Avenue by the post office (around 90,000D). Tours buses to Hanoi depart Bai Chay tourist wharf from 12:00. If travelling north to Mong Cai, head to Hong Gai bus station.
Getting Around Ha Long Bay
If you’re on an organised tour of the bay, it should include a pick-up at your hotel. If not, call Mai Linh Taxis in Ha Long City or ask your hotel receptionist to arrange a pick-up in Cat Ba.
To explore Cat Ba Island, part of which is designated as a national park, hire a motorbike or mountain bike in Cat Ba town. Most hotels can help arrange rental, which should cost around US$2 for a bicycle and US$5-$7 for a well-maintained motorbike.
As for boats in the bay itself, these range from converted fishing vessels that stink of diesel and are infested with rats to luxurious junks that make passengers feel like royalty. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so be wary of that 20-dollar tour of the bay