me and a friend will of course want to see Ha Long Bay during our first visit to Vietnam, but we hate big tour groups, and while we are technically backpackers, are not big fans of the 'backpacker scene". Can Ha Long be done independently and reasonably? I was thinking of the following:
Get a bus from Hanoi to Halong City (how easy is this without a tour? where do I get it?), then take a ferry to Cat Ba (do you really see the bay in such a cruise? is that a good way to do it?), spend a couple of nights on Cat Ba and then take the ferry to Haiphong and keep going south.
#1 Buzz has been a member since 15/9/2010. Posts: 6
No it's not.I tried to do a similar thing earlier this year,It's a lot more hassle,difficult to organise and will probably cost more in the end.There aren't any ferries as such to Cat Ba from Ha Long City,so the best thing to do is take an organised cruise(check on sites like this for good operators) Take a cruise from Hanoi ,maybe get off at Cat Ba and then ferry to Haiphong,train to Hanoi and then South,or just take the organised trip and then go south from Hanoi
I agree with oasisbarhatien, although I gave up on the independent idea before I went, and it turned out to be very nice. I also dread large organized tours, but unfortunately there are some places where they are still the best choice, and this seems to be one of them.
First off, the organized tours themselves are so cheap that any money you might save on your own barely adds up to anything, and it might end up costing more.
I researched this a lot when I was in Hanoi, and you basically have "1-star" boats, which pack in all the backpacker types, with prices starting at around US$30 per person for the 2-day/1-night sleeping on the boat option. There are also "3-star" boats starting around US$50 per person for the same package, but the crowds are smaller (and older) and the food is better and more abundant. There are also 4 and 5-star boats that cost much more.
All trips include return coach transfers to Halong Bay, plus 3 meals on the boat and lunch back in Halong the next day, and most include the (amazing) cave visit, beach stop, and kayaking stop.
So my advice would be to wait until you get to Hanoi and then shop around for a 3-star trip and be done with it. I'm generally a cheapskate, but the bay is spectacular and I'm very happy to have spent a bit more for more comfort and to have steered clear of the overcrowded backpacker situation on the cheaper boats.
See the tail end of this story for info on one means to do it "independently" - you end up going via Hai Phong - which can be interesting in itself - especially if you want to dodge the crowds. http://www.travelfish.org/feature/73
Thanks for all the replies, although I guess at the end I still have conflicting answers, but that's just the way it is I guess - everyone has different experiences... Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I think I'll still try to do it. Even though some have told me it can't be done, many other articles on the net suggest otherwise. I'll give it a shot and share my experience when I'm back in 2011.
#5 Buzz has been a member since 15/9/2010. Posts: 6
We did the same journey. Didn't book any tours or package options, although we did use a tour company at one point... speaking to others we certainly spent less.
Ha Long to Cat Ba... went from the tourist dock but bought tickets directly from the office, not the touts hanging around. This was obviously a tourist boat but it worked well as we got to see the Karsts etc. Those who had bought from places other than the office paid between 20,000 and 50,000 more. Then we stayed in some cheap hotel on the island, about 100,000 for a double room, no air-con.
Getting back we got prices from all the tour places and did some haggling for the cheapest route back to Haiphong. It was a bus to a dock, then a packed ferry (only four westerners on board) and a packed bus. The three seperate tickets can be bought seperately but there were pennies in the difference.
So not 100% independent but more flexibility than those who book a 2 days 1 night thingy.
Remember though that there's never more than $10 or so in it.
#6 dizriz has been a member since 7/10/2010. Posts: 7
Like dizriz we did it sort of independently. But we booked the ticket in Hanoi to Cat Ba. A mini bus took us to the port and a slow boat to Cat Ba Island which arrives about 5 pm. Included is the bus to Cat Ba town (the ferry arrives at the far side of the island).
Once at Cat Ba you can find your own accommodation, which at weekends may not be that easy!
When you've had enough, just shop around for the fast boat back to Haiphong or Hanoi. (We took the Hanoi option). Others on the boat had packages that included food on the boat and either stayed on the boat overnight, or had a hotel on Cat Ba included. All options are possible.
I don't think we saved anything (except time!) but it did makes us more flexible as to how long we stayed on Cat Ba.