In January 2008 a ticket from Hanoi to Haiphong is 20,000 VND. The trip is less than two and a half hours on trains that are clean and safe. Train travel is the best means of reaching Haiphong from Hanoi. It is quick, safe and cheap. Tickets should be purchased at the railway station in advance. Food and drink is available for sale on the train.
The best way to tour Halong Bay is via 'dragon boat' ...the Vietnamese call them Junks
These lovely two story wooden barges with giant red sails and a dragon head in the front. They looked a bit like an ancient wooden barge.
The ground floor of the boat we were on had about 10 cabins and the second floor had the dining room (again all in wood) with big open windows.
The roof is also available to sunbathe or just enjoy the sights, but my favorite place to hang out was at the giant dragon head in front of the boat watching the mountains go by.
As an independent traveler I normally avoid prepackaged tours like the plague but (goodness I never thought I would be saying this) in Vietnam this really is often the only way to go in SOME remote areas...including Halong Bay.
There really isn't an infrastructure for the independent traveler and finding information to get to here is difficult. In addition many Vietnamese charge Westerns 2 to 3 times the price they would charge a local...so the tour packages pay the local rate and make a profit...and you pay less than you would if you arranged it yourself
We did met several people who tried to do Halong Bay independently and had a nightmare time with the transportation and were charged 5 times the price we paid for our entire package.
The tours are very well put together and you can choose if you want a one, two, three or more day tour. For the most part they’re really a shuttle service that sets up everything and simplifies your life. The guides we had spoke excellent English and were a great source of information if you wanted to ask them questions.
There are many small travel agencies in the old quarter of hanoi offering U tours and trips to Halong Bay.
I guess anyone may offer the same. There are some famous ones, but here is my experience:
1.- Kangaroo Travel. I tried first here, as I had read they were good in the LP guide. They were fool for the next day, when I wanted to start. Then I asked them if I could leave my rucksack (was heavy) there while I looked for something else, as I didn't have hotel yet and didn't want to carry it around. They simply said NO, they weren't very polite :-(((
2.- Sihn Travel. Then I went to a local agent of this all Vietnam company. They have many local little branches. I found the worst of all. The guy didn't speak any english and seemed to me a little dumb, so after 30 minutes trying to explain him what I wanted, I left.
3.- Then my motorbike driver advised me to go to ODC Travel, a new local company. They were kind, helpful, and convinced me with many photos, exhaustive details, and even comments left by other foreign travellers... I finally chose this and I must say it was a good choice. I had what I paid for, the service was OK, the boat wonderful and was highly satisfied.
This reminded me that AVIS ad of the 50s: "We try harder" (than Hertz, no.1). Sometimes small companies offer a more exquisite service because "they try harder"...
Address: 43 Hang Bo St. / 142 Hang Bac St.
Tel (84.4) 828 87 29. Mail: email@example.com
The minibus from Hanoi leaves you at Halong Harbour. There you have lunch before going on board.
After lunch you are given a ticket from the guide. This ticket is necessary to go on board of your boat and to visit the Caves of Marvels, so U have to keep it with you till you visit the caves.
The boats are roughly the same, wooden boats imitating traditional style. Most of them have red sails, though they won't use them, they are rather decorative...