Once I set my foot in Vietnam, more precisely in Hanoi, I just knew that the logical thing is to visit stunning Halong Bay.
For you who never heard of Halong Bay, it’s located around 5 hours away from Hanoi (around 200 km) and it’s a real natural wonder. The whole bay consists more than 1,000 limestones and when you combine it with crystal clear water, you’ve got a unique place that will take your breath away!
The only downside is that it became a highly touristic place that attracts millions of tourists per year. It means crowds, often overcrowded small places (man, we’re in Asia), and higher prices compared to other regions.
If you’re somehow like me, a person who loves to experience beautiful places, but doesn’t want to be around hundred tourists in small boat tour, then this article is for you!
I was wondering if there is any way to have Halong Bay only for myself. If you add a small budget to that equation, it seems like an impossible thing, but better believe me, I found a way!
Keep reading as I will provide you with the guide to experience Halong Bay on a shoestring budget:
Best Time to Visit Halong Bay
The first question that arises in your mind could be “When is the best time to visit Halong Bay?”
Well, if you’re looking for good weather and you don’t want to share this beautiful wonder with millions of tourists, the best seasons tend to be Spring (March and April) and Fall (September, October).
I visited it at the end of the March and it seems like a perfect time as the weather was pretty nice, there weren’t many tourists around and prices were just a bit higher than in Hanoi. You can experience temperatures around 20 – 25C in March which is completely fine if you ask me. I just wanted to add the fact that a visit to Halong Bay was just a few days after I left cold and snowy Croatia!
When it comes to food, drinks, and accommodation, I was astonished by our hostel price that was only 300,000 dongs (around $13) per night. The hostel was located on the main street and we had the luck to be on the fifth floor overlooking an infinite number of limestones!
Food was a bit pricier than in Hanoi and the portions weren’t so significant. I mainly ate their Banh Mi and Pho. For a can of beer in the town, expect to pay around 30,000 dongs (around $1.3).
Anyway, during the stay, I can’t say anything was overpriced or I experienced hordes of tourists, but I noticed slightly higher prices compared to Hanoi which shouldn’t hurt your wallet that much.
How to Get to Halong Bay From Hanoi
There are so many tours and agencies that are specialized in the tours from Hanoi to Halong Bay. In my opinion, taking a tour isn’t very expensive and it will cost you around 200,000 dongs (around $10), but if you want to go on the budget, then the bus is the better option.
The buses from My Dinh bus station to Halong Bay bus station costs a bit lower than 100,000 dongs. It won’t be that significantly cheaper and I guess the value isn’t near these private shuttles, but at least, you can have food for a day in Halong Bay for that money!
If you’re located somewhere outside Old Quarter in Hanoi, the best way to go around is by taking a local bus that costs 7,000 dongs in one direction. Alternatively, I was using Grab so much which is very convenient and cheap compared to regular taxis (Uber in Vietnam).
So, if you choose to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi by bus, then I recommend you to check out their official bus schedule and site Vexere for details. It seems there is a bus line every three hours to Halong Bay, so you’re quite flexible.
The bus ride will take around 4 – 5 hours with one stop where you could take a snack or beer to refresh yourself.
Note: The bus isn’t the most comfortable one and it smells pretty bad, but at least you’ll get an authentic experience and few bucks saved! 🙂
Note 2: Don’t get scammed by a bus driver who will tell you to get outside bus before the station. They will leave you in the middle of nowhere on the main road and that place will be overcrowded by taxi drivers. That’s a nice way to make some money! But again, it’s very easy to bargain! Never ever accept the first price, especially from taxi drivers as they will usually change their mind pretty fast!
When I was traveling back to Hanoi, I took another bus which was kind of VIP with one stop on the market. The bus was very nice and comfortable with only a few passengers and the trip lasted around 4 hours. The price was 100,000 dongs and pay attention to the type of the bus (look for VIP buses).
Where to Stay in Halong Bay
There are many options to stay in Halong Bay, especially when tourists start to arrive (around May). I went for a budget option again, renting a hostel on the main street in Halong Bay city.
The name of the hostel is Halong Bay View Hostel and it acts as a backpacker hub there. The hostel has a small pub with billiards and restaurant where you could order a coffee, tea or western food.
The coffee is decent, but I make better sandwiches then they serve there, so my genuine advice is not to eat there (sorry guys!).
I had a luck to have a room on the fifth floor with a huge balcony. The room had everything needed and it was clean.
The funniest thing was that in Hanoi I slept on a very hard mattress that feels like you’re sleeping on the floor and I was so happy to finally sleep on a REAL bed, but only slept three hours there! The urge to catch the sunrise on Halong Bay was much stronger than the comfort of the bed this time!
I was so amazed by the view I had from the room. Literally, you could see Halong Bay from the balcony drinking a beer! Also, the price was surprisingly low and it costs only $13 for a night in two-bedroom with breakfast included.
However, as I find out later from a German girl, it wasn’t that cheap as she paid around $20 for a night in a nice hotel room with two beds. But anyway, six dollars won’t be that hard on your wallet!
Best Way to Experience Halong Bay in Two Days
Well, before I did any planning, I was told by so many people to take a boat tour and that would be the best way to experience Halong Bay. At first, I was thinking of getting on a tour, but after some research, I find out that it’s usually overcrowded and you don’t get the value for the money you pay.
The last thing I wanted was sharing the boat with hundreds of tourists!
Luckily, on my arrival in Hanoi, I met amazing guy Bryan from the Philippines and we shared the similar opinion when it comes to the way of traveling – we were looking for memorable experiences.
We headed to Halong Bay absolutely not having an idea what to do and see. We only knew that we were heading to breathtaking natural wonder.
Before we arrived, Bryan stumbled upon a post on Instagram from one upcoming travel blogger with the alternative view on Halong Bay. We instantly agreed that we’re going there!
What is and where is that place you may ask? Well, here you go!
The place is called Bai Tho or Poem Mountain (the view really gives you much inspiration!).
Address: Hàng Nồi, P. Bạch Đằng, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh
It’s amazing that this mountain is located in the residual area, but it’s not very known place as there is no signs or nothing that could tell you where and how to climb it!
Here comes the most interesting part..
You need to navigate the doors of the local house and you basically walk through their house (very warm people) to set your feet on the hiking trail that will lead you to the top.
If you thought you would pass through someone’s house for free, you’d be very wrong! We’re in Vietnam baby! The funny thing is that when these locals show you the way to their backyard, they will start to wave with 50,000 dongs which mean “Give me 50k to climb!”.
Note: Later, we found out that there is a house on the left and the owners will let you through for 25k! 🙂
We went there twice to catch sunset and sunrise. The sunrise absolutely blew away our minds and the most interesting thing is that only four people in total were there catching the sunrise. It means a whole Halong Bay for us for only $2! 🙂
Alright, now then you have a location and know the details, I bet it’s time for pictures to show you how that hike and view actually looked alike!
Hope you enjoyed and if you have any additional questions, feel free to reach us out through contact form or directly on social media!
Cheers, and wish you an amazing experience in Halong Bay! 🙂