Although there is lots of information online about cruises and wonderful things to do in Ha Long, when visiting Halong you will find that it is a complicated place – not a straightforward typical set up of the beach and the town right next to it.
As a result, it is very important to work out the basics of Ha Long before you get there to make sure that you are well aware of the basic set-up so that you are able to take full advantage of all the wonderful things that Ha Long has to offer!
Visiting Halong: how to get around the bridge?
The most important thing to note about Ha Long is the fact that in many respects Ha Long consists of two towns which are connected by a huge bridge!
It is very important to note that the bridge is not able to be crossed over by pedestrians – not only because there is no walkway of any kind on the bridge itself, but also due to the fact that you would need to walk a twisting mile or so up a large hill to get to the start of the bridge!
Although it is possible to get a Grab bike to take you from one side to the other, Grab bikes in Ha Long are few and far between and you really do have to be lucky to get one! Grab cars are easy to get, however – but as the price of the car is inevitably at least twice the price of a motorbike, it can be an expensive process travelling from one side of the bridge to the other!
The two sides of the Halong bridge
The government area
To summarise, one side is more of a government area. It has more shops and buildings and houses the town’s museum. This is the side over the bridge when you are entering from the Hanoi direction.
The other side has the beaches and the entrance to the large amusement park – Sun World as well as a small town. When visiting Halong, this is the side that you will encounter if coming on the highway from the Hanoi direction.
The beach side
Ha Long beaches are located on the one side – and consist of sandy beaches with shady palm trees as well as cafes and bars etc.
Please note that when booking a hotel, although you would like to be close to the beach, it is important to look closely at the buildings along the beach as some of the beach bars and cafes can be very loud late into the night. It may instead be preferable to book a hotel which is set back a little further so that you manage to get some sleep in!
Hotels in Halong
Some hotels on the beach side are located in rather remote areas – there are quite a few “ new builds “ which consist of identical houses all in long rows. Although the hotels themselves are very nice inside, as the buildings are all identical, then the area can be rather “ soulless “ and there are very limited amenities, so you are stuck with the hotel restaurant rather than being able to go out and experience different kinds of food.
As a result, when booking a hotel on the beach side of the bridge, check the surroundings and make sure there are enough amenities close by and that you are not too close to the bars and nightclubs on the beach front!
Get to the Sun World of Halong!
The beach side also has the entrance to the huge amusement park – Sun World. This area is split into two – the amusement park – which has different rides etc and then the Zen garden / giant Ferris wheel/wax museum etc.
To get from one section to the other when visiting Halong, there is a need to enter from the beach side and then catch the huge double-storey cable car to the Zen Garden side which is located on the government side of Ha Long.
The recreation area of Halong
This side also houses Ha Long market – which is a fascinating place to visit with people selling a wide range of sea products – from crab to all kinds of sea shelled goodies and there are various stalls cooking fish products so you can sit and try some – fresh from the sea!
Ha Long museum – which explores the local province is on the government side – looking like large pieces of coal jutting out from the ground, this museum is a fascinating place and well worth the entrance fee of 40,000 VND. Note that the museum can very crowded at weekends, so if visiting Halong at the weekend, you should try to go when it has just opened ( 9 am and then again at 1 pm as he closes 12 – 1 pm for lunch )
Finally, don’t forget Cat Ba Island!
If you are looking for the typical layout of a beach with the town nestling into the bay, then Ha Long is not really the place for you. Instead, you should travel onwards to Cat Ba Island. This is a small island which is easily reached by boat ( there is a standard service ) and offers more of your typical beach resort needs.
Overall, once you understand the basic set up of the city when visiting Halong, it is easy to sort out your priorities and thereby which side you need to stay on – it is a fascinating place and offers a lot to the traveller – as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, it is certainly worth a visit!