Magnificent Halong Bay – UNESCO World Heritage site has charmed many people before, during and after their visit to this wonderland. But maybe because of its dreamlike beauty, travelers sometimes feel being let down when visiting other places. Well, don’t worry, Vietnam has many to offer. Right here, we will introduce to you some places you might need to put on your plan after Halong Bay.
1. Cat Ba Island:
Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba, the largest island in Halong Bay, is northern Vietnam’s adventure sport and ecotourism hub. Approximately half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba langur. The island is easily accessible and matches neighbors Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay for stunning natural beauty.
A peak mountain in the shape of a turtle divides the beach into 2 small beaches, Cat Co One and Cat Co Two. On the right hand is fabricated rock mountain, while on the left hand is the clear and blue sea water, white and smooth sand. The beauty of the beach has been changing side by side with the flying time. Yet, never would it lose the natural luring power. The national park is a good place for a close-to-nature trek among the mangroves and freshwater lakes.
You can also explore Hospital Cave on the main island, enjoy the views from Cannon Fort or just cruise the island on a rental bike (or a motorbike if you want more adventurous) to visit incredibly beautiful countryside and small villages where life in Cat Ba has gone on, largely untainted by the decades-long boom in tourism.
Most of the year Cat Ba Town is a laid-back place, and an excellent base for activities around the island, or sailing and kayaking around Lan Ha Bay. On summer weekends Cat Ba turns into a roaring resort, filling up with vacationers. Weekdays are saner, but still busy between June and August.
Cat Ba’s best weather is from late September to November, when air and water temperatures are mild and the skies are mostly clear. December to February is cooler but pleasant. From February to April is still good, but you can expect some rain. Summer (June to August) is hot and humid with occasional thunderstorms. This is also peak season.
To get to Cat Ba islands from Halong Bay, the easiest and most economical way is by Tuan Chau/Cat Ba Ferry. The trip is going to take approximately 1 hour with the ticket falls around USD 4-5. Depend on the weather and the season, there are usually 3-5 trips per day with the earliest starts at 7:30 AM from Tuan Chau wharf and 9:00 AM from Gia Luan wharf (Cat Ba islands). The last ferry of the day departs at 3:00 PM from Tuan Chau and at 4:00 PM from Cat Ba.
- Tuan Chau to Cat Ba: 7:30, 9:00, 11:30, 1:30, 3:00.
- Cat Ba to Tuan Chau: 9:00, 11:30, 1:00, 3:00, 4:00.
As the service depends on demand, it’s best to ask for a ferry schedule at the ticket counter. First and last ferry of a day will always go. Cat Ba minibus from the ferry terminal, which is on the north of the island, leaves to the main town to the south after every ferry and takes around 30 minutes costing USD 1– 2/person/way.
2. Yen Duc Village:
If the sea tires you, then our next destination may refresh your trip with its uniqueness. Yen Duc village is in Dong Trieu town of Quang Ninh province, in the Northeast Vietnam. The village ideally locates on the way between Hanoi and Halong Bay, just a short drive of 60 km from Halong Bay and 100km from Hanoi. Yen Duc Village is a typical Vietnamese agricultural village which is rich in culture and traditions, it is also granted with beautiful landscape. The village is surrounded by the historical mountains which are mirrored themselves in the Kinh Thay river. Also, similar to other typical traditional Vietnamese village in the North of Vietnam, Yen Duc Village has charming golden rice fields in the harvest time, a lot of lakes and ponds, colorful garden, especially the ranges of areca trees in the sunshine.
Since the village is only 60km from Halong Bay, car and motorbike are the most obvious choices. Only one little problem may get you down is that there is no public transport to this destination. So if you are exhausted after your cruise and not an adventurous type, travelling car is the answer for you. There are rental car (it comes with a driver which can be easily arrange with your hotel/your cruise company) and tour bus (which obviously comes with a tour to Yen Duc village). For daring travelers, you may test your driving skill with Vietnamese traffic, but we do not recommend this since even Vietnamese are scared of our own traffic.
A visit to Yen Duc village may come in many forms. There are the 5 hour trip, the day trip and the overnight trip which also like your cruise with 2 options: 1 night and 2 nights. The itineraries of the 5 hour trip and the day trip have large similarities with each other which consist: a quick tour of the village and some surroundings and a chance to try some daily activities with the local people. But since you are mostly tired after the cruise if not the hour long drive, the smart choice would be an overnight trip. The overnight trip will share some activities with the day trip but mostly it will have its own unique itinerary. For the night stay, you could choose between “Vietnamese traditional style resort” which is a typical country home dedicated to traditional culture and homestay. Of course, homestay would be the best option if you want a total submersion in the rural life style. However, the first option is also worth to considerate if privacy is your concern.
What activities can you expect from this trip: Gardening, Fishing, Cycling, Sight-seeing, Traditional cooking, Water puppet show,…This place is a perfect stop after Halong Bay cruises for families with small children.
3. Ninh Binh:
A little further to the south of Halong Bay is the ancient capital – Ninh Binh city. Ninh Binh city is the capital of the province of the same name: a small wedge-shaped province south of Hanoi, which stretches from Cuc Phuong National Park in the west to a sliver of land facing out to the Gulf of Tonkin. Built on both sides of Highway 1 and the railroad connecting Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City, the city itself is a fairly uneventful place, but it is surrounded by a stunning landscape of lush green paddy fields and striking limestone outcrops and is the hopping off point for sights and attractions including Tam Coc and Trang An, Bich Dong, Hoa Lu, Phat Diem Cathedral, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long and Cuc Phuong National Park.
From Halong Bay to Ninh Binh city, beside private vehicle, public transport also is a popular choice. From Bai Chay bus station (which is 25 minutes by taxi from Tuan Chau port), you could catch a shuttle bus to Ninh Binh city with the price under USD10 per person. After about 3 hours, the bus ends at Ninh Binh bus station, walking distance from hotels and hostels. As you are using local transports so expect locals boarding at various places.
Many of the sights are within 12km of Ninh Binh city, and the land is flat, so they can be reasonably easily reached on a bicycle or motorbike. To really appreciate the scenery you need to get out and about, and — outside of the boat trips — the best way of doing that is by bicycle. The paths take you through villages and alongside rice paddies and lakes, with the ever present karst formations in the background. Make sure you get a good map, but bear in mind this may not help you and you may need to resort to asking passers-by.
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc are two most beautiful sceneries of Ninh Binh province, just 100km to the southwest of Hanoi. Hoa Lu is a complex of ancient vestiges, which has been officially preserved by Vietnamese Government since 2003. The collection of national relics here is larger than any other provinces of Vietnam which consists of temples and communal houses worshiping national heroes Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh; antique pagodas which are well-known all over Indochina like Bai Dinh Pagoda, Ban Long Pagoda or Nhat Tru Pagoda; underground palaces and grottos; not to mentions a bunch of natural wonders like Thien Ton Cave, Tam Coc – Bich Dong; Ma Yen Mountain, Flag Mountain.
Also situated in Ninh Binh is the famous Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An Tourism Complex. Trang An – the eco tourist attraction is located in the East of Ninh Binh with an area of 2000 ha. It includes 47 historical vestiges with many mysterious things, with limestone mountains, valleys and underground river systems. Bai Dinh Temple is a complex of Buddhist temples on Bai Dinh Mountain in Gia Vien District, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. The compound consists of the original old temple and a newly created larger temple. It is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and has become popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages from across Vietnam.
Most hotels will provide a map and rent bicycles for a few dollars and motorbikes for around USD 7. Alternatively, arrange a tour or guide from your hotel or book onto a day trip or longer tour.
So that’s our suggestions for you. And as suggestion always does, nothing is obliged. If you want, you could visit anywhere you prefer. Because, if there’s a will there’s a way.