Hạ Long Bay is a must-visit when you come to Vietnam! It’s kinda THE place people always want to go when they think of planning a trip here. My advice is to visit while you’re traveling around the North. It’s easier to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay than Ho Chi Minh City or Da Nang.
Hạ Long is in Quảng Ninh province, which is along the northeast coast, and only two hours by car from Hà Nội. They built the Hà Nội – Hải Phòng Expressway around 2018, so it’s way faster and easier than when I made the trip in 2016! You can get there just about anyway possible, so I’m going to lay it all out in this post! Here’s how to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay.
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First things first… where you going in Ha Long exactly?
The first thing to consider is where exactly are you going? “Hạ Long” encapsulates a pretty big area! If you’re just coming to get on one of the famous Hạ Long Bay cruises, then you’ll most likely want to look for then name Tuần Châu Marina. This is where most (I think all) the big 2-3 night cruises leave from. It’s part of Hạ Long City but a good 20 or so minutes from the main part of the city.
I do recommend arriving early or staying later to enjoy the area off the water as well. The two main places people stay are in Hạ Long City and Cát Bà Island:
Ha Long City
Hạ Long City is actually really lovely! It’s pretty spread out and quiet outside of busy season. I think if I was living in Vietnam long-term and had my own motorbike, this is where I’d eventually settle. It’s also a good spot to stay if you want to see more of Quảng Ninh like Yoko Onsen for its hot springs, Yen Tu Mountain, where Buddhism in Vietnam started, and Bình Liêu, a cool protected area similar to Sapa where you can see into China.
In my head, I split up Hạ Long City into three parts: Tuần Châu island, Bãi Cháy, and Hồng Hải and its nearby neighborhoods.
Tuần Châu is where the marina is. If you’re just coming up the night before our cruise, then you’ll probably want to stay here. Paradise Suites Hotel is literally in walking distance of the marina. Just be warned, getting transport off the island can be pricey and sometimes impossible. Literal nightmare on the holiday weekends!
Bãi Cháy is where Hạ Long Sun World is and there are a bunch of smaller hotels all around. This is where we stayed. it’s a nice middle point and still partially under construction so quiet and kinda spacious. I went for a run my first night and it was so spacious! Our hotel was Green Suites Hotel and it was lovely; the receptionists are super nice too.
Hồng Hải is where I’d say the main part of town is. There’s a big Quảng Ninh museum there, a delicious vegetarian restaurant, and a few other fun spots. A friend of a friend owns Deja Vu House which looks super cute. It’s in a middle spot between Bãi Cháy and Hồng Hải.
I say all this so you know where to book and where your transport is going to drop you off relative to your plans for Hạ Long! Like it’s a bit silly to stay in Hồng Hải if you’re arriving in the evening and just want to hop on your cruise in Tuần Châu Marina the next day.
Cat Ba Island
The other option slower travelers usually prefer is Cát Bà Island. There are a lot of spots to stay here now from luxury, like the MGallery, to backpacker hostels. I would say even going five years later, it still feels a lot more backpacker-y than just about anywhere else I’ve been in Vietnam. If you’re expecting an island vibe like Côn Đảo or Phú Quốc, you’ll definitely be disappointed. But if you want to do some hiking or outdoors activities, motorbike around, and eat at cheaper spots, it’s not a bad place to book a few nights. You can also easily get day cruises from here, which is what I did on my first visit.
Just keep in mind, Cát Bà is an island so it involves a few more steps. When I first went from Hà Nội to Cát Bà, it was a whole rigamarole that involved getting a train to Hà Nội, taking a bus down to what I think was Hải Phòng, and then getting a ferry. From Hạ Long City, I could just take a ferry from Tuần Châu to Cát Bà, which was actually a beautiful ride even with the rain!
Something else to note: times are also extremely limited for the public ferries.
How to Get from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
Once you’ve figured out where you’re staying in Hạ Long and where to get dropped off, here’s literally every option you can take (besides renting a motorbike or car).
If you want to fly from Hà Nội to Hạ Long, it’s definitely possible, just a little unnecessary and expensive. The closest airport is Cat Bi in Hải Phòng, which will still be a little under an hour to get into Hạ Long City and I want to say 90 or so minutes to get to Cát Bà. By the time you deal with getting to the airport in Hà Nội (40 minutes from Old Quarter), flying, and then landing in Hải Phòng and taxiing over to Hạ Long, you might as well have saved yourself the trouble and the environment the gas emissions and gone overland!
Now if you really want the fastest way to get to Hạ Long Bay from Hà Nội, then look into Hai Au Aviation. They offer a 45-minute seaplane ride. You’ll leave from Noi Bai Airport and land in Tuần Châu Marina. They don’t list the cost of the flight on their site. However, I did the sightseeing seaplane ride over the bay for 15-minutes with a full group, and I think it cost a little over 1.5 million VND (~$65 USD). I imagine chartering a seaplane for 45 minutes will be much, much more!
You can actually book a train from Hà Nội to Hạ Long and this is definitely the cheapest option. It’s also the longest, most inconvenient, and most uncomfortable. The train leaves from Hà Nội’s Yên Viên Station at 4:55 AM and arrives in Hạ Long at 11:45 AM. So it takes over twice as long as anything else. Still, I guess if you’re determined to take the train or are on the tightest budget imaginable, you can book tickets within 42 days here.
A still super budget-friendly and much faster way of getting there is booking one of the buses to Hạ Long. The cheapest option is the public bus, which leaves from My Dinh Station. I’d recommend booking ahead of time because My Dinh is kinda hectic at best. A lot of taxi drivers and I don’t know, just men, loiter around the entrance and it can be overwhelming figuring out buying a ticket as well. Seriously, I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, and My Dinh is definitely up there with spots that have made me uncomfortable, especially alone.
For more comfort, check the economy bus options. Cat Ba Express has one that leaves from their Hà Nội stop, which is actually next to Cafe Giang — the original egg coffee spot. It’ll drop you off right in Tuần Châu, so if you’re not staying there or continuing on to Cát Bà, you may want to ask if you can dropped off at your hotel in Hạ Long City.
Private Transfer from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
Car and Minivan Transfers
Depending on what you have with you or how many people are in your group, it might just be easier to book a private transfer to Hạ Long. It’s really not that expensive and you can book either a car or minivan. The best part is it should only take around 2 hours to get there!
And there you have it! All you need to know for getting from Hà Nội to Hạ Long Bay!
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