Where would you like to go with Indochina Pioneer?
Please click on the countries below to read more about your desired destinations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. These pages provide first-hand local travel information regarding transportation, accommodation, attractions, food & drink, entertainment ... together with some suggestions on ready-made tours to and from those places.
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is frenetic Asian city of markets, street clogged with scooters, street side food stalls, as well as foreig…
The name Nha Trang is a Vietnamese pronunciation of a Cham word Eatran or Yjatan. Ea or Yja means river, and tran means reed. According to the loca…
This is one of the best laid-back getaways in Vietnam. The town of Phan Thiet itself is a bustling little fishing port -- quite picturesque and goo…
120km (75 miles) W (over sea) from Rach Gia (Rach Gia is 250km/155 miles S of Saigon by road). The same size as Singapore, the island of Phu Quoc l…
Hanoi is relatively small and runs at quite an unhurried pace for a capital city. Resting in the Red River delta region, the centre is a mixed of t…
Taking a cruise on Ha Long Bay -- or the Bay of the Descending Dragon -- for many represents the pinnacle of their experience in Vietnam. eas…
The ancient town of Hoi An is located 30 km south of Da Nang on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early western traders, Hoi An was one o…
Siem Reap Siem Reap is a cluster of villages with a French colonial centre, and the gateway to the Temples of Angkor. These majestic temples in…
A small market town that has been a gathering spot for many local hilltribes for nearly 200 years. Hmong and Dao people, among others, still come h…
Vietiane With a troubled recent history, Laos has only recently openned to the outsite world and is one of the most untouched countries in Asi…
Set on the banks of the Perfume River, Hue was the capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 under the Nguyen Emperors, and later French colon…
The fourth-largest city in Vietnam, is one of the most important seaports in the central region, and the current booming Vietnamese economy has see…
Located 173 kilometres from Saigon, Can Tho is considered as the heart of Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The city, regarded as "Western cap…
Known as "Le Petit Paris" by the early builders and residents of this hillside resort town, Dalat is still a luxury retreat for city dwel…
Vang Vieng is a tourism-oriented town in Laos, located in Vientiane Province about four hours bus ride north of the capital. The town lies on the N…
Luang Prabang Luang Prabang is regarded by many as the most attactive cities (or town would be more accurate description) in Asia, if not the …
Setting in a green valley, Mai Chau is a wonderful collection of farms, villages and stilt houses surrounded by verdant rice paddies against a back…
Located at one of the many branches of the Mekong river and about Vinh Long is the gateway to river islands and some worthwhile sites, includ…
Extremely mountainous, Dien Bien is one of the newest provinces in Vietnam, having been split off from Lai Chau further to the north. The province …
Phong Nha - Ke Bang is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site which is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves…
Phom Penh Cambodia’s capital city is awakening from a turbulent recent past to become a busy and fernetic Asian city of Southeast Asia. …
Situated 250 km west of Ho Chi Minh City, Chau Doc is a district and town in An Giang province, bordering Cambodia, in the Mekong Delta region of V…
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels situated in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vi…
Built on both sides of Highway 1 and the railroad connecting Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City, Ninh Binh is a fairly uneventful place with only a few mi…
Sihanoukville is all about the ocean, located on the Gulf of Thailand. The pristine beaches, the sparkling clear water, the cooling sea breeze, the…
Taking a cruise on Ha Long Bay -- or the Bay of the Descending Dragon -- for many represents the pinnacle of their experience in Vietnam. easily one of the most popular destinations in the country, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay is both mystical and magnificent, an incredible feat of nature that almost never fails to impress.
Yes, it really is that good.
Last time, UNESCO had picked out 830 World Heritage sites around the world, chosen for their cultural and historical importance, and also for their geological uniqueness. Ha Long Bay offers a little of all three.
It's not the cliffs themselves that make Ha Long Bay unique, but rather their sheer number. A huge bay, dotted with nearly 2,000 mostly uninhabited limestone cliffs, the breathtaking scenery is very similar to that of the Andaman coast of Thailand, Vang Vieng in Laos and Guilin in China.
Created over millions of years, tectonic forces slowly thrust the limestone above the water-line. During this process waves lapping against the stone carved out a number of vast, striking caverns, as well as other geologically interesting formations, such as tunnel caves and uniquely shaped massifs.
Over the ages, Vietnamese fishermen with too much time on their hands began to see shapes in the stone massifs atop many of the islands, and named the islands accordingly -- Turtle Island, Human Head Island, Chicken Island and so on.
In what constitutes one of the most fascinating cultural features of the area, some of these fisherman still live on the bay today -- on floating fishing villages, where houses are set atop barges year round, the inhabitants catching and cultivating fish throughout.
How to pick the right Ha Long Bay cruise
The first thing you need to know about Ha Long Bay is that it's beautiful and well-worth seeing. The only real question for the traveller in Vietnam is how best to see it and, like many things in Vietnam, things are never as clear a they could be.
Ha Long Bay is cluttered with some 500 licensed junks, and on any given day, up to 300 of them may be plying the waters -- that's basically one boat for every ten ticket offices in Hanoi! Competition has driven prices down to absurdly low levels and as corner cutting, cheating and bare-faced lies become par for the course so do travellers leaving with a bad taste in their mouth... but it needn't be that way.
Just do your research and asking the right questions. So how do you know which Ha Long Bay tour is the one for you, Feel free to live chat with us for free information or contact us for the best deals of the season.
The primary purpose of a Ha Long Bay tour is to savour the tranquillity and beauty of the water. But two or three days of utter tranquillity can get a little too tranquil -- luckily the natural and cultural endowments of the bay provide activities -- in some cases with a heavy helping hand from the Vietnamese government.
About the cruise
They're slow: Boats ply the waters slowly and take scenic, circuitous routes. They often stop and put down their anchors while the passengers are eating lunch.
What to expect when doing a cruise?
You may visit a floating village
Not all tours make a stop at a fishing village -- some just cruise by. If you do stop, you'll be able to view the seafood being farmed, have the opportunity to buy some, and have it prepared for you free-of-charge on the boat.
You'll get to swim
Every tour stops for a swim at least once a day. Sometimes these swims take place near local fishing villages, leading to jokes and apprehensions about the toilet situation on fishing villages. All tours also include a stop at one of the beaches.
You may get to kayak
All the boats bring kayaks and, weather and tides permitting, stop to let passengers paddle around. Sometimes the opportunity to kayak through one of the tunnel cave systems will present itself. Other times passengers are simply expected to paddle in circles around the boat -- not surprisingly the caves and tunnels are far more interesting.
You'll get to go caving
All tours include at least one cave visit in the price of the tour (admission on your own is 20,000 dong). The two most popular caves are the Dragon Cave and the Surprising Cave. You won't know beforehand which cave you will see -- that decision is made on the boat. The many caves of Ha Long Bay
You may sleep over on the bay
Two and three-day tours always offer a night in a cabin. On any given night, about 80 boats are allowed to drop anchor in one of three designated areas -- that means each area is filled with 20 to 30 boats. Sometimes they anchor very close to one another, other times they'll find a more private spot away from other boats.
You may overnight on Cat Ba Island
Most two-day tours offer one night in a two-star hotel on Cat Ba Island. Activities including a hike in Cat Ba National Park, a kayaking trip through some offshore tunnel caves, and/or a lunchtime-visit to a local fish farm, where you catch your own fish before it is prepared for you, are usually offered as a part of the tour.
You'll be fed and transported
All tours offer three meals a day, starting with lunch on the first day and ending with lunch on the last day. The quality of the meals varies tremendously depending on the price of the tour as does the transport to and from Hanoi.
So, no matter how much or how little you pay, all of the above, at least in theory, will be included in the tour. Judging the differences between tours, then, is not so much a matter of what they do, but how well they do it -- and if they actually deliver on what they promise.
What to see in Halong Bay
Ha Long Bay is a beautiful area with 1969 limestone islands jutting imposingly upon the skyline. Unfortunately the place is a tourist trap and the unique panorama is spoilt by a tremendous amount of "junks" which are in fact slimly disguised tourist boats that bear no resemblance to the authentic Chinese sailing vessels of the same name. These diesel-powered floating money-makers careen about the bay with casual indifference to safety as they bump and crunch against each other in a frenzy to drop their fares onto the obligatory island or floating shop before depositing the harried passengers back at Halong Bay dock feeling like they've been cheated out of their Dong, even if that isn't particularly true. The romantic setting is forever spoilt by the cattle-market mentality. Still... nice scenery.
Visitors to Ha Long Bay must purchase an entrance ticket (40,000 dong) from the Ha Long Bay management department, which gives the option of following one of two routes:
Thien Cung Grotto, Dau Go Cave, and other sites (excluding Sung Sot Cave).
Sung Sot Cave and other sites (excluding Thien Cung Grotto and Dau Go Cave).
To savour the beauty of this amazing area, just rent a junk to visit the bay for either several hours or overnight on the bay For more information, please kindly live chat with us or contact us for the best Halong Bay deals.
Ha Long Plaza Hotel
Despite the rather boxy exterior, the interior of the Plaza is gorgeous. The attention to detail starts with the staff, whose uniforms will make you feel under-dressed unless you're wearing a top hat and tails or a ball gown. The lobby is huge, but unlike other such places, it's well-designed to feel comfortable at the same time. The theme of elegant-yet-comfortable carries on into the rooms -- dark wood touches that don't weigh down the atmosphere, marble bathrooms, great views even in the lowly 'superior' rooms -- this is what you're looking for if you're planning to shell out the simoleons in Ha Long City (though you can definitely save some simoleons booking on-line). Of course they've got the standard spa, gym, pool combo on offer, as well as live traditional Vietnamese music, performed by an all-girl band, every evening in the lobby. It's the place to be. Prices do not include 15% tax and service charge. Buffet breakfast included. Children under 8, no additional charge.
8 Ha Long Rd, Bai Chay. T: (033) 845 810 F: (033) 846 867
Saigon Ha Long Hotel
A decent option
This four-star outfit is a decent option in the luxury range, and the prices aren't quite as steep as The Plaza down the road. The cheapest rooms are the villas out back, housed in separate buildings with about half-a-dozen units in each -- not too shabby, but even the staff seem a little embarrassed by them: they really aren't four-star material. For that matter, the main hotel houses rooms that a pretty and elegant, but they still have a bit of an institutional feeling. They, too, fall a little bit shy of four-star material. Still, it's not nearly as bad as the Halong Pearl, there's a decent pool, and this is Ha Long -- there just aren't that many good options in this price range.
Ha Long Rd, Bai Chay. T: (033) 845 845-48 F: (033) 845 849
Thuy Duong Hotel
Quirky with a spacious balcony
This place stands out from the pack on Hotel Alley because -- it isn't. It's on Ha Long Road a little East of Vuon Dao Street. It's pretty much the only true mini-hotel that has strayed so far from the herd, though the prices are a little higher than what you'd pay on The Alley proper. It's a quirky-looking place with a very distinct flavour. The rooms get cheaper as you move to the back of the hotel, but what won us over were the very spacious balcony/seating areas associated with the front rooms. There's also a bar/cafe on the ground floor.
20 Ha Long Rd, Bai Chay. T: (033) 846 137 F: (033) 846 137
Peace Hotel (Hoa Binh Hotel)
Has a decent internet cafe
This place stands out on the street because of its attractive blue exterior, but the other good reason to stay here is that the first floor is given over to a pretty decent internet cafe -- on-line access is available to guests at a discount. The rooms are a good deal in the low season, but unlike some other places in the neighbourhood, their prices go up quite a bit in the high season. However, we suspect they only trot the high season prices out when the town is truly starting to fill up: otherwise, you'll probably be able to get the low season prices. As with all the mini-hotels on Hotel Alley, all the rooms are kept clean and in good shape, have private baths and useless TVs. An added bonus -- they take credit cards.
39 Vuon Dao St, Bai Chay. T: (033) 846 009
Friendly, conscientious staff
This place distinguishes itself with its friendly, conscientious staff and good proximity to the Asia Restaurant, which is where a lot of people head for their meals anyway. Also, they have some rooms with three beds that can sleep groups of up to 4 or 5. Otherwise, expect the same as elsewhere -- clean, decent rooms, decent bathrooms with toiletries, and very little to look at out the windows.
81 Vuon Dao St, Bai Chay. T: (033) 848 565
Mai Hoa Hotel
Very helpful manager
The Mai Hoa is located on Anh Dao, a bit away from the other hotels -- not close to much of anything, really. Maybe that's why the prices are a bit lower, too. Also, we found the manager, Hieu, very helpful -- he speaks English pretty well and seems more eager to please than to make a quick buck. Otherwise, as with elsewhere in this tiny village of tiny hotels, the rooms are the rooms are the rooms: decent furnishings, decent bathrooms, clean, but nothing to write home about.
8 Anh Dao St, Bai Chay. T: (033) 640 041, (089) 13 307 772
Most people come to Ha Long Bay on a package tour. This can be a day trip or spend a night on junk cruise. Click here to see some of the sample tours to Halong.
The best, most expensive, way to get to Ha Long Bay is to rent a car from Hanoi.
From Hanoi: 165km or 3 hrs 30 minutes drive.
From Hai Phong: 75km or 1 hr 30 minutes drive
In the evening, small boats with snacks, drinks, and knick-knacks are usually working the areas where the passenger junks moor. Feel free to negotiate, bearing in mind that they have a captive market. There are also many shops selling similar goods on the hill behind the beach.
Food and drinks
There are many restaurants in Halong City (Bai Chay Town), opposite to the Bai Chay Beach, which offer mostly Vietnamese rice dishes and seafood. Local specialities include su fish, found only around Halong Bay, shrimp and mussels.
Emeraude Café, tel. 033 849 266, on the Bai Chay coast near the post office. The only restaurant in the area that serves Western food.
Co Ngu Restaurant - website tel. (+84 33) 3511 363, Premium Villas, Halong road, Bai Chay, Halong city, Quang Ninh. A wide selection of Western cuisine and Asian delicacies is served at this premier local seafood restaurant.
Drinks can be found for the cheap price at the local drinks shops or restaurant around the city (cold drinks can also be bought from the boat on the cruise trip) while on the bay.
Queen VOSA (Discothéque)
Adress: 70 Le Thanh Tong, Ha Long
Phone: (84 - 33) 3826193
BinBop Hotel (include Bar, Cafe)
Adress: Tổ 10 khu 1, phường Trần Hưng Đạo
Weather in Halong Bay
Halong's climate is humid and tropical. With a hot, humid summer and dry, cold winter; Halong’s temperature varies from 15ºC to 25ºC.
Annual rainfall is between 2000mm and 2200mm. Ha Long bay has typical diurnal tide system (tide amplitude ranges from 3.5-4m). The salinity is from 31 to 34.5MT in dry season and lower in rainy season.
The best time to travel
It is possible to visit Ha Long Bay year-round, with the best time to visit from October through April, although during the winter months of December, January and February, the weather can be cool and overcast with low visibility. During the summer months from May to September, temperatures rise and storms are more likely during the rainy season.