Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Tue, 03 Dec 2019 13:46:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Phu Quoc Island: North & East Coasts http://vietnamcoracle.com/phu-quoc-island-north-east-coasts/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/phu-quoc-island-north-east-coasts/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2019 04:55:30 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=30583 Newly completed roads have opened access to the beaches, bays, forests & hamlets of the north & east coasts of Phu Quoc Island. Previously difficult to get to, these parts of Phu Quoc are the least developed, most characterful & charming on the island.... Continue reading

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First Published December 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Right now, if you visit Phu Quoc Island, it’s all about the east and north coasts. Newly completed roads have opened access to beaches, bays, forests, and hamlets that were previously difficult to get to. These parts of Phu Quoc have yet to see the huge changes, developments, and construction that currently blight much of the rest of the island, and have laid waste to the natural environment and local life in the process. But, on the north and east coasts, Phu Quoc still has real island charm; still offers a chance to explore, to find empty beaches, eat local food in local restaurants, meet local people, wander through forests, and even spot some wildlife. Over the last few years, Phu Quoc’s reputation as a tropical island getaway has (deservedly) diminished, largely due to horrific over-development and environmental destruction. Indeed, the south and west coasts of Phu Quoc are far gone to both of the above, ruined by concrete and litter (save for a few lovely pockets and excellent resorts). But, on the north and east coasts my spirits are lifted. Here, there’s still a chance to see and experience the Phu Quoc of old; the one that travellers initially fell in love with: the lazy charm and rustic seascapes that pulled visitors here during the nineties and noughties. All this still exists on the east and north coasts. Today, I see Phu Quoc like this: the south and west is the tourist side of the island; the north and east is the travellers side.

Phu Quoc Island, North & East CoastsRight now, the east & north coast are the places to be on Phu Quoc Island

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GUIDE: PHU QUOC | NORTH & EAST COASTS


Below is my full guide to the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc Island, including my annotated map. If you want to experience Phu Quoc without the crowds and the construction, spend all your time in the east and the north: forget about the south and west. An entire week (or more) can be easily and satisfyingly spent on the east and north coasts. There’s plenty to see and do, lots to eat and drink, access is easy, and there are some great accommodation options. It’s all here on this page. The whole point of this guide is to get people away from the commercialized areas of the island (mainly the south and west), and into the much quieter, prettier, more characterful east and north coasts.

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CONTENTS:

MAP

North & East Coasts of Phu Quoc Island, Kien Giang Province


View in a LARGER MAP


Phu Quoc Island, North & East CoastsThe north & east coasts are far less-trodden than the rest of Phu Quoc Island

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Location, Background & Environment:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of the north and east coasts of Phu Quoc Island, followed by some information about the state of the natural environment:

East cost, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamUnlike the rest of Phu Quoc Island, the north & east coasts have yet to see large developments


Orientation & Topography:

In many ways, the north and east coasts are the most strikingly beautiful parts of Phu Quoc Island. The long, densely jungled ridge of Phu Quoc National Park rises dramatically behind the East Coast Road, curling up from the coast like a long, unbroken, wave, reaching its highest peak towards the north of the island, where it tapers off, before dropping into the placid waters of the Gulf of Thailand. While the northern hills are covered in thick, wild jungle (screaming with cicadas during the day, and throbbing with frogs during the night), the east coast is a garden of tropical fruit trees reaching all the way to the sea: coconut palms, mango, cashew, tamarind, eucalyptus, tropical almonds. The east coast smells of garlic during the hot, still, midday hours, when lunch is cooked in the fishing hamlets that line the road. Traffic is light, life moves at a slow pace, the sun is bright and hot, but the air seems always to be cooled by an onshore breeze, blowing in from the Cambodian mainland. And with the breeze, the shallow waters are faintly ruffled, swelling around the submerged rocks and lapping the piers and beaches, so that the day times are filled with a pleasant, hypnotic wash-knock sound. Throughout the day, narrow fishing sampans skate over the sea, punting over its smooth surface. The quality of light in the north and east of Phu Quoc is sharp and bright: perhaps because the air is clearer than other parts of the island, where dust particles from construction sites diffuse the light.

Starfish Beach (Rach Vem), north coast, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamThe north & east coasts of Phu Quoc receive far fewer visitors than the south & west coasts


The east coast of Phu Quoc Island, VietnamBecause tourist numbers are relatively low, local island life continues on the north & east coasts

Looking out to sea from the north and east coasts isn’t just a plain horizon. From the east, the Pirate Archipelago is a hazy mirage, with the Vietnamese mainland town of Ha Tien faintly visible beyond. From the north, the green islands and distant mountains of Cambodia rise up like monsoon clouds. The two largest villages in the north and east are Ganh Dau and Ham Ninh respectively. Both are bustling, lively places with local markets and fishing fleets. Besides these, small fishing communities dot the northern and eastern coastline: tiny hamlets consisting of concrete and corrugated iron dwellings. These villages are scruffy and rough around the edges, but friendly and charming, too. Out in the shallow sea, floating fish farms and homes on wooden stilts rise above the surf. Ever since the sealing of the east coast road, linking Ham Ninh with Bai Thom, was completed in 2018, access to this previously under-visited coastline is easy. The International Airport, Bai Vong ferry port, and Duong Dong town are all just 15-30 minutes away by road. And Da Chong Port, just south of Bai Thom on the northeast coast, will surely reopen again soon, offering direct ferries to/from Ha Tien, as the east coast becomes more and more popular.

East Coast Road, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamThe East Coast Road, completed just over a year ago, has really opened up this part of Phu Quoc Island


East cost, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamAlong the east & north coasts there’s still a distinctive & appealing island charm

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Environment & Pollution:

Currently, the north and east coasts of Phu Quoc are the only parts of the island that aren’t in a state of massive transformation due to tourist development. The contrast between, for example, the northwest coast (where gigantic resorts and entertainment complexes have utterly destroyed the forests and occupied every inch of beachfront) and the northeast coast (where the beaches are completely undeveloped and the jungle reaches the ocean) couldn’t be more apparent. Depressingly, I remember (it was only 10 years ago) when the northwest coast looked just as beautiful, empty and beguiling as the northeast coast does today. Surely it won’t be long before the bulldozers arrive on the north and east coasts, too. But, for now, at least, there’s very little major construction here. Most resort development is centered around Ganh Dau and Cay Sao beaches, where relatively small, low-rise accommodations have opened. While most of the south and west coasts of Phu Quoc are in a frenzy of construction and suffering from appalling litter, traffic, dust, pollution, and overcrowding, the north and east coasts are quiet, deserted, green and (fairly) clean.

That’s not to say that everything’s perfect with the natural environment in the north and east. Litter and sewage from the villages and hamlets is a big issue, and so is debris from the small fishing fleets. Flotsam and jetsam washed up on the beaches – mostly household plastic items – marrs almost every beach and bay. Unfortunately, it seems the Gulf of Thailand is full of trash, and much of it gets washed up on Phu Quoc’s beaches.

Clearing the forest for large resort development, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamSo far development on the north & east coasts has been small scale, but larger projects will surely come


Trash washed up on the beach, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamSea & beach pollution is a problem all over Phu Quoc: most of it is household waste & fishing debris

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Beaches & Things to Do:

There are plenty of good beaches on the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc. And, unlike elsewhere on the island, most of them haven’t been subjected to major development projects. This makes the east and north coasts perfect for exploring: take your time, go down dirt lanes, get lost, have an adventure. The north and east coasts also have local life (something that’s lacking in other parts of the island) in the form of villages, hamlets, markets, and temples. And don’t forget to go inland, where there are farms, orchards and forests:

Rach Tram Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamUnlike other parts of the island, the beaches on the north & east coasts are quiet & empty


Ganh Dau Beach [MAP]:

At the northwestern tip of Phu Quoc Island, Ganh Dau is a rocky cape with a sandy stretch of beach on either side. The southern side of the cape is a short sandy beach between two jungled, rocky bluffs. It’s an attractive spot with some seafood restaurants, a small fishing fleet, and views over to the Cambodian islands. Perhaps the best place to experience this side of Ganh Dau is by strolling along the wooden walkway at Nam Phuong Restaurant, which clings to the rocks and leads to a small, hidden, sandy cove. But the best beach in Ganh Dau is on the eastern side of the cape. A paved lane leads away from the bustling village, down to a cluster of good beachfront resorts. Here, coconut palms grow tall over sandy spits of white sand, and the sea is calm and blue. If you take the lane as far east as possible you can find a patch of beach to yourself, but really this part of Ganh Dau is best experienced at one of the mid-range resorts, particularly Gold Coast.

Ganh Dau Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandGanh Dau Beach, just east of the village, is beautiful


Ganh Dau Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe bay to the west of Ganh Dau village is also very attractive


Ganh Dau Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandNam Phuong restaurant has a nice wood-plank walkway along the coast


Ganh Dau Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandGanh Dau village & beach is one of my favourite parts of Phu Quoc Island to spend a few days

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Starfish Beach (Rach Vem) [MAP]:

Even though it’s grown in popularity over the last couple of years, Starfish Beach (also known as Rach Vem) is one of the few places left on Phu Quoc Island that is still only accessible via a red dirt road. The bumpy, sandy, dusty lane (muddy in wet conditions) leads through trees to a large bay. Rach Vem hamlet, at the southern end of the bay, is a very scruffy, weather-beaten, rustic little settlement, with trash and sewage strewn all over the place. However, continue on the dirt lane due north and you’ll reach a lovely stretch of sand with clear, calm, shallow waters. Paddle around and you’ll see starfish on the sandy seabed. But what’s really put this beach on the map is the floating seafood restaurants (quán bè hải sản) out in the bay. Accessed via long piers or little canoes, these restaurants are good for lunch, offering fresh seafood at reasonable prices. It’s particularly popular with domestic tourists. Meanwhile, most foreign visitors rent a lounger on the sand and laze away a few hours with the jungle-clad mountains of Phu Quoc’s rugged northern coast forming an impressive backdrop. As a general rule, the further due north up the beach you go, the better the quality of the sand, the sea, the restaurants, and the price.

Starfish Beach (Rach Vem), north coast, Phu Quoc IslandStarfish Beach has good bathing in shallow waters accessed via a wooden bridge


Starfish Beach (Rach Vem), north coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe prettiest part of Starfish Beach is to the north, away from the hamlet & fish restaurants


Starfish Beach (Rach Vem), north coast, Phu Quoc IslandStarfish Beach is famous for its local seafood, served in dozens of floating restaurants


Rach Vem hamlet, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe hamlet of Rach Vem is a very scruffy settlement at the southern end of Starfish Beach

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Rach Tram Beach [MAP]:

The most northerly beach on the island, Rach Tram is also the most remote and least visited of all the beaches on Phu Quoc. Accessed via a newly paved road through beautiful jungle and cajeput forests, Rach Tram is a long, sandy, tree-rimmed beach with high, green hills rising behind. It’s one of the most scenic stretches of coastline anywhere on the island, and there’s no development at all, yet. That will change soon, as plans are afoot to build a large ‘eco-tourism area’ here. But, for now, if you take the rough, red dirt lane to the northern section of Rach Tram, you’ll have the entire beach to yourself. It’s not perfect: there’s plenty of fishing-related debris on the sand and in the water, and each year more household litter washes up on the beach from the open sea. But the swimming is good, the scenery marvellous, and other travellers are nowhere to be seen. Rach Tram is great to explore and is one of the last such places left on the entire island. Enjoy it while you can.

Rach Tram Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe northern-most beach on the island, Rach Tram is totally deserted


Rach Tram Beach, north coast, Phu Quoc IslandRach Tram Beach stretches for miles: it’s one of the best beaches on Phu Quoc Island

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Bai Thom Beach (West, East, South) [MAP]:

At the northeastern tip of the island, Thom Beach (Bãi Thơm) has a stark beauty. Silent, still, hot, sparsely populated, and filled with the scent of cashew fruit and the sound of midday cicadas, there’s something beguiling about this remote northeastern tip of Phu Quoc. Most of the beaches are pebbly, rocky, and hidden from view – reached via dirt tracks – and the water’s very shallow and tidal here. And yet, tranquil, sleepy Thom Beach is charming and characterful. There isn’t one beach; rather, there are several sprawling bays. I’ve marked these roughly on my map as west, east, and south. Bai Thom may not have the long, stretching sands of some of Phu Quoc’s other, most famous beaches, but it has calm shallow waters (hiding some coral and plenty of fish), wonderful views over to the Cambodian coast and highlands, friendly locals, lush tropical foliage, a couple of informal places to sit and to stay, and, most importantly, hardly any large-scale construction or noise pollution. Places like Local Beach Bar and Luna Beach, where you can camp by the sea under huge palms while dogs play in the surf and you order a fresh coconut and a glass of local beer before settling down to a seafood dinner in the cool evening sea breeze, remind you that Phu Quoc still has real island life. Thom Beach and the surrounding area is ripe for exploration, and it’s a place to sit back, relax, and let time stand still for a bit.

Thom Beach (Bai Thom), northeast coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Thom Beach is quiet, breezy, slow & remote: it has a very relaxing vibe


Thom Beach (Bai Thom), northeast coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Thom’s beaches are shallow & tidal: not great for swimming but perfect for relaxing with a drink


Thom Beach (Bai Thom), northeast coast, Phu Quoc IslandSeveral good, cheap, local beach bars & restaurants have set up on Bai Thom’s long coastline


Thom Beach (Bai Thom), northeast coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Thom has lots of local life & activity, especially fishing

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Hon Mot Islet & Beach [MAP]:

A few minutes south of Bai Thom of the East Coast Road, Hon Mot is a tiny, green and rocky islet, just a stone’s throw offshore. Accessed via a rickety wood and stone causeway, Hon Mot makes a fun little excursion. There are good views from the islet, through the thick foliage, over to the Cambodian mainland. Rather worryingly, there’s sign warning of land mines. However, I’m told it’s safe if you stick to the trodden pathway. Opposite the islet, a couple of good seafood restaurants sell food and drinks. Quan Hon Mot has a large and attractive slice of shady, sandy, beachfront. A pier juts out into the bay, there’s a pretty garden with benches and gazebos beneath casuarina trees, and the beach is nice to look at (but not so nice to swim in, due to a build up of litter). All things considered, Hon Mot is a pleasant, relaxing, quiet, shady, peaceful stop on the East Coast Road.

Hon Mot Islet & Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandHon Mot is a tiny islet off the east coast reached via a causeway from the mainland


Hon Mot Islet & Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe path to Hon Mot Islet is often flooded at high-tide


Hon Mot Islet & Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandOpposite Hon Mot Islet, the mainland has a pretty beach & a good restaurant


Hon Mot Islet & Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandA small fishing community exists around Hon Mot Islet: it’s a peaceful stop on the East Coast Road

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Bai Bon Beach [MAP]:

Right in the middle of the East Coast Road, Bai Bon Beach is a long stretch of coast with hardly any development on it whatsoever. There are a couple of sleepy hamlets that are good for a drink or a snack, but apart from that, this section of coast is empty and lovely. The sea is very shallow and calm; fishing boats and floating fish farms sit on the flat surface. Palms and other tropical trees nod in the breeze. Oftentimes, the sea is reached via narrow, sandy lanes leading through the foliage. Sometimes you’ll find a good bit of sand, but mostly the beach here is rocky. But it’s beautiful and charming, and a relief to be on a long section of coast that hasn’t been transformed for tourism. Take your time, slow down, and explore.

Bai Bon Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Bon Beach stretches along much of the central section of the East Coast Road


Bai Bon Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Bon Beach is mostly undeveloped & uninhabited


Bai Bon Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandFishermen’s homes & floating fish farms on stilts above the water just offshore


Bai Bon Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandBai Bon Beach is long & empty: a place to take your time & explore

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Cay Sao Beach (North, Central, South) [MAP]:

Cay Sao Beach essentially refers to most of the southern section of the East Coast Road, north of Ham Ninh village. On my map, I’ve marked Cay Sao Beach in three sections: south, central, north. The southern section is a sprawling, shallow bay: sometimes very pretty with large swathes of trees leading right to the water’s edge; other times a bit scruffy with fishing and building debris. There are excellent local seafood restaurants hidden down dirt lanes around here, and some interesting sights, such as wooden boat building yards. The central section is the most up-and-coming part of the East Coast Road. This is where a cluster of lovely, small, mid-range resorts have opened up over the last year or so, thus drawing the attention of travellers. The landscape and seascape here are alluring: to the east, the water is glassy and like a mirror to the sky, while to the west the densely jungled ridges of Phu Quoc National Park rise dramatically. The northern section of Cay Sao is also starting to attract investment and visitors. Smart resorts, such as The Pier, and the relocation of Rory’s Beach Bar here, are an indication that the east coast of Phu Quoc is set for big things in the future. In general, Cay Sao is a beguiling bit of coastline and well worth exploring: head down some of the red dirt lanes toward the ocean and see what you find.

Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandCay Sao Beach is the southern section of the East Coast Road: it’s an up-and-coming destination


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandSmall-scale, good resorts dot the coastline around Cay Sao Beach


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandLocal life continues around Cay Sao Beach, including wooden boat building yards


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandMany of the resorts on Cay Sao Beach utilize piers jutting out to sea with bungalows on them


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandBecause the waters of Cay Sao Beach are so shallow, many resorts build their bungalow on stilts


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandMore & more resorts are choosing to open on Cay Sao Beach, thus putting the east coast on the map


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandOne of many wooden piers leading out into the shallow seas of Cay Sao Beach


Cay Sao Beach, east coast, Phu Quoc IslandThe seas & skies around Cay Sao Beach are big, empty & beautiful

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Riding & Cycling Routes [MAP]:

Exploring the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc Island on two wheels is really great fun. You can bring your motorbike or bicycle with you to the island, via the many ferry crossings from the mainland, or you can rent motorbikes and bicycles (although the latter are less available) from your accommodation. The blue lines on my map indicate roads for riding: they’re all highly scenic, well-made (with the exception of the red-dirt road between Ganh Dau and Starfish Beach), and the traffic is light. If I had my way, I’d happily spend a week or more just riding slowly up the East Coast Road, stopping for food and swims, checking-in to one of the resorts, then continuing the next day through the cajeput forests on the road to Rach Tram, camping for a night, then down the jungle-clad Bai Thom Highway to the Pepper Farm and the quiet inland road to the Bee Farm, then on the next day down the dirt road for lunch and a swim at Starfish Beach before hitting the red dirt once more, through dense jungle, to the white sands and resorts of Ganh Dau Beach.

Bai Thom Highway, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamRiding around the north & east of Phu Quoc by motorbike or bicycle is extremely good fun


Getting around Phu Quoc Island by motorbike is great funMost of the roads are good, paved & empty of traffic; just one remains a red-dirt road

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Bee Farm, Pepper Farm, Cajeput Forests [MAP]:

Phu Quoc is famous for the quality of its black and white pepper. Along with Kampot, just across the sea on the Cambodian mainland, Phu Quoc pepper is considered by many to be the best in the world. You’ll see lots of pepper farms on the island: the pepper vines grow vertically in neat rows. At the Pepper Farm, located on a pretty, quiet, inland road, you can explore the property’s pepper production, along with other farm products, such as honey and local liquor made from the sim fruit – another Phu Quoc speciality. You can also stay overnight at the Pepper Farm in cosy wooden bungalows.

Further along the inland road, Phu Quoc Bee Farm offers the opportunity to see how the island’s honey is made, as well as tasting various honey-related foods and tropical fruits which grow on the farm. A free tour explains the production process and why bees are an important part of our ecosystem.

The newly paved road to Rach Tram Beach passes through an interesting and striking landscape of tropical trees and green hills. Not far from the junction with the Bai Thom Highway, a large cajeput forest stretches over a flat, swampy plain. The trees have twisted trunks and branches, and a white-silver, shiny bark.

The forests of inland Phu Quoc Island, VietnamInland, the north & east are very green, including jungle, cajeput forests, bee farms & pepper plantations

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Ganh Dau & Ham Ninh Markets [MAP]:

Local life is something that many parts of Phu Quoc have lost to tourism over the last decade. However, both Ganh Dau and Ham Ninh villages still have bustling local markets, which buzz with people, produce and food stalls throughout the day, but especially in the mornings and late afternoons. Just wandering around the villages and markets is enough to soak up the appealing atmosphere and energy that occurs anywhere in Vietnam when people, food and commerce come together. But to really get into these markets, stop by some of the stalls, buy some produce – maybe some fresh tropical fruit – and try some of the cooked food – noodle soups, sweet snacks etc. By doing this, you’ll genuinely engage with the people and the produce, and you’ll be contributing to the local economy outside of the resorts and restaurants aimed at tourists. Phu Quoc needs more of this, in my opinion. And, personally, after a couple of days in a resort, I crave some local interaction and food. Ganh Dau and Ham Ninh markets provide this. In Ganh Dau, the market now sprawls along two of the village’s intersections, whereas in Ham Ninh the market spreads along the road before the pier.

Durians for sale, Ganh Dau Village, Phu Quoc IslandGanh Dau village, in the northwest, is a bustling little place with good street food, markets & local life


Ham Ninh Village, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamHam Ninh village, on the east coast, is a scruffy but lively place with lots of food stalls & seafood

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Nguyen Trung Truc Temples [MAP]:

A Vietnamese hero who fought against French colonial expansion in the Mekong Delta, Nguyen Trung Truc organized a militia which inflicted several defeats on the colonialists, including the sinking of the ship, Espérance, in 1861. Nguyen Trung Truc was eventually captured by the French and executed at age 30, in 1868. He is now a celebrated national hero and worshiped at temples and shrines, especially in the Mekong Delta, where he was born and was militarily active. In the last few years, temples dedicated to Nguyen Trung Truc have been erected all over Phu Quoc Island. Two of the largest and most impressive of these are in the northwest of the island: one in Ganh Dau village, the other in a quiet setting, down a series of inland back-streets. Both temples are ornate, decorative, shiny places constructed in the traditional style with pitched tiled roofs adorned with dragons and a large courtyard featuring a statue of Nguyen Trung Truc drawing his sword from its scabbard. Of the two, Ganh Dau temple is the more impressive.

Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, inland road, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamNguyen Trung Truc is a national hero who fought the French colonialists during the mid-19th century


Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, Ganh Dau Village , Phu Quoc Island, VietnamThe temple to Nguyen Trung Truc in Ganh Dau village is particularly ornate & impressive

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Accommodation:

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There are two main clusters of accommodation in the north and east of Phu Quoc Island, plus several other options scattered about the region. Ganh Dau beach, just east of the village, has a row of good, small, mid-range, tasteful, low-rise resorts; and Cay Sao beach, a few kilometres north of Ham Ninh village, has a rapidly growing number of excellent little resorts for budget and mid-range travellers. As well as these, Bai Thom has a few modest, quiet places to stay, and inland there are a couple of rustic, farmstay-style bungalows. Bear in mind that rates are considerably higher during high season (November-April):

The Pier Resort, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamThe two main clusters of accommodation in the north & east are Ganh Dau & Cay Sao beaches


East Coast Road: It’s amazing how many places to stay have already opened along the East Coast Road, considering it’s only really been fully paved for just over a year. In the south, stretching up from Ham Ninh village, there’s a cluster of excellent, cosy, tasteful and affordable little resorts, and some are starting to pop up further north, too. Expect a lot of new developments along the East Coast Road in the coming years:

• Cay Sao Beach Resort [MAP]; $30-$60 [BOOK HERE] This is an excellent little resort with just a handful of attractive wooden bungalows raised on stilts in a lush garden studded with palm trees by the sea. Cay Sao Resort has a passion for low-impact, sustainable travel, which is exactly the kind of attitude that might save the east coast of Phu Quoc from the environmental destruction that has taken place on the west coast. Let’s hope so. There’s a small pool. $30-$60 [BOOK HERE]

• Kiki Coconut Beach [MAP]; $35-$60 [BOOK HERE] This lovely little place has a handful of simple brick-and-tile bungalows set among a sandy grove of coconut palms on a breezy seafront. Simply but thoughtfully furnished rooms, lots of garden space and hammocks to swing in, Kiki’s is a very relaxing place to be. However, prices in the high season creep up to the extent that it’s on the verge of being too pricey for the standard of accommodation. Book in advance, because there are limited rooms and demand is high. $35-$60 [BOOK HERE]

Cay Sao Beach Resort, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc IslandCay Sao Beach Resort is a superb little place to stay, among many others on the East Coast Road

• Banana Homestay [MAP]; $25-$40 [BOOK HERE] Another excellent and diminutive place to stay on the east coast, Banana Homestay has just a few bungalows set on a wooden pier jutting out over the shallow sea. Rooms are sweetly and cheaply furnished. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly, homey, and peaceful. However, the beachfront here is changing quite quickly, because other properties are following Banana Homestay’s lead by building more ‘bungalow-piers’ next door (see below). $25-$40 [BOOK HERE]

• Lotus Home Pier & Wooden Chalets [MAP]; $60-$100 [BOOK HERE] Next to Banana Homestay, and similarly centered around a long pier jutting out to sea, Lotus Home is a newly opened property with two kinds of rooms: bungalows on the pier over the water, or brick chalets set among the gardens. The former are a strange mix of wooden and corrugate iron, and the latter are sturdier, more permanent looking structures. Of the two, the brick chalets are the better furnished, but the pier bungalows get the sea views, which are fabulous. It’s a great little place to stay (there’s only a handful of rooms), but I think the rates could be $10-$20 less.  $60-$100 [BOOK HERE]

• The Pier Resort [MAP]; $60-$150 [BOOK HERE] Currently the smartest accommodation on the East Coast Road, The Pier is a modern resort featuring angular chalets, bungalows and rooms on a pretty slice of seafront. The grounds are lush and the pool fronts a seafront deck shaded by tall coconut palms. The eponymous pier stretches out into the ocean with a viewing platform and bar housed in a gazebo on stilts above the water. It’s gorgeous at dawn and dusk. Rooms are classy, tastefully and crisply furnished. The most expensive are bungalows above the sea off the pier. $60-$150 [BOOK HERE]

• Mango Beach Resort [MAP]; $60-100 [BOOK HERE] Further up the East Coast Road, Mango Beach occupies a lovely steep hillside, dotted with tropical fruit trees, that slides down to the shallow sea. Attractive wooden chalets on stilts are arranged around a good pool with views out to sea. Rooms are smartly furnished by not showy. However, it was closed on my last visit. $60-$100 [BOOK HERE]

The Pier Resort, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc IslandThe Pier Resort is one of the smartest accommodations on the East Coast Road to date

• Cosiana Resort [MAP]; $40-$60 [BOOK HERE] Another smallish, mid-range resort with a pretty location on the seafront and a long wooden pier, Cosiana has cozy, well-maintained rooms, including a couple of beach bungalows. Most of the rooms are set on a steep hill looking out to sea. There’s a small swimming pool and colourful gardens. Service was a bit too ‘relaxed’ when I visited, but Cosiana is usually a bit cheaper than other mid-range resorts on this strip on coastline. $40-$60 [BOOK HERE]

• Cashew Villa [MAP]; $100 [BOOK HERE] A well-equipped, modern villa situated among a grove of cashews trees right by the sea, Cashew Villa is ideal for a family or perhaps two couples. It’s a beautiful place and reminds me of holiday villas on the Greek islands, set among olive groves. Book early, because it tends to be full in during the high season. $100 [BOOK HERE]

• Sunrise Resort [MAP]; $25-$35 [BOOK HERE] Although it’s on the opposite side of the road from the beach, Sunrise Resort is a nice, tidy little place to stay, with several brick, wood and tile rooms, all fitted with tasteful interiors, set back on the hillside. Prices are very reasonable. $25-$35 [BOOK HERE]

• Wildland Resort [MAP]; $25-$40 [BOOK HERE] Representing good value for money, especially compared with other seafront properties on this stretch of the east coast, Wildland features brick-and-tile bungalows set around a pleasant pool. The interiors are bright, the gardens are lush, and the beach is good. $25-$40 [BOOK HERE]

Cosiana Resort, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc IslandCosiana, a cheaper option, is a good-value mini-resort on the East Coast Road

• Eastern Bay/Chez Vu [MAP]; $50-$60 [BOOK HERE] A collection of attractive brick and stone bungalows built on and around the rocks fronting a good beach, Chez Vu (also referred to as Eastern Bay) is a good place to stay, but it’s been closed the last couple of times I’ve been by. $50-$60 [BOOK HERE]

• Vaniza Resort [MAP]; $60-$90 [BOOK HERE] The stylish chalets at Vaniza are designed in a modern-meets-traditional style. With stone walls, curving glass windows, high ceilings, and palm-thatched roofs, the rooms are very striking. There’s a good pool, bar and beachfront. $60-$90 [BOOK HERE]

• Rocks Beach Boutique [MAP]; $100 [BOOK HERE] Constructed around a rocky bay, Rocks Beach Boutique has a decent pool, bar and bungalows. But, apart from its pleasing setting, I can’t work out why the rates are so high. $100 [BOOK HERE]

• Dugong Resort [MAP]; $40-$60 [BOOK HERE] A sprawling but low-rise property, Dugong Resort occupies a large stretch of land on the seafront just north of Ham Ninh village. Its rooms and bungalows are situated in gardens, around a swimming pool, and on the beach. The space and environment is good for children, and the resort is popular with Vietnamese families. $40-$60 [BOOK HERE]

• Gecko Homestay [MAP]; East Coast Road (TL48) | tel: 098 786 8877 : A large hostel with access to an undeveloped stretch of beachfront, Gecko Homestay is right in the middle of the East Coast Road. The setting is green, breezy and quiet, but when I visited it was closed. However, it’s definitely worth checking by when you’re in the area.

Kiki Coconut Beach, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc IslandKiki Coconut Beach is one of the most attractive of the mini-resorts of the East Coast Road

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Bai Thom Beach & Village: At the northern end of the East Coast Road, Bai Thom is a quiet little hamlet and a series of lovely, tranquil, shallow beaches and bays. There’s a handful of modest budget options along this coastline, offering a more rustic, local, and cheaper experience:

• Luna Beach [MAP]; $250-$45 [BOOK HERE] Occupying a green patch of seafront gardens under tall, swaying palms, Lunar Beach is a small and intimate resort in the sleepy settlement of Bai Thom. Its has a few bungalows by the sea which, although minimally furnished, are cheap and good value for money. You can also camp here in the lovely gardens. The beach is very shallow, the breeze is beautiful, and the peace is enchanting. This is a good budget option. $25-$45 [BOOK HERE]

• Local Beach Homestay [MAP]; $10-$20 [BOOK HERE] Another quiet, relaxed and informal budget option on the seafront at Bai Thom, Local Beach has recently added a few simple bungalows for visitors to its cosy little beach bar. Bare but clean, the rooms are comfortable for a night. $10-$20 [BOOK HERE]

Luna Beach, Bai Thom, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamBai Thom Beach has a handful of quiet, affordable places to stay, including Luna Beach (pictured)

• Capella Resort [MAP]; $20-$40 [BOOK HERE] Just east of Bai Thom hamlet, Capella is a small, cheap resort on an attractive bit of rustic seafront. The brick bungalows are comfortable and inside they’re neatly and brightly furnished. It’s a quiet spot with shallow water – good for kayaking – and views over to Cambodia. Good value for money. $20-$40 [BOOK HERE]

• Nam Em Rooms & Hammocks [MAP]; East Coast Road (TL48) | tel: 0938 676 555 | 150,000-250,000vnd: One of my favourite spots on the East Coast Road, Nam Em is a seafood restaurant but also has a couple of rooms and hammocks for overnight guests. The beach is sandy and lovely. There’s a wooden pier and palm-thatched gazebos right by the sea under coconuts palms. Amenities are basic, but it’s all you need for a night or two on a beautiful, isolated section of coast. This is a great little, budget option. (Camping would also be possible, if you have your own tent.)

• Quan Hon Mot Camping [MAP]; East Coast Road (TL48) | tel: 0965 648 468 | 200,000-500,000vnd: Not far south of Bai Thom, Quan Hon Mot is a beachside restaurant and chill-out area set on sandy ground in the shade of casuarina trees on a pretty bay next to Hon Mot Islet. It’s a quiet, relaxing place and, although there are no rooms available, it’s worth asking for permission to camp (if you have your own tent with you), because there’s lots of soft, sandy, shady space in the seaside gardens here.

Nam Em, Bai Thom Beach, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamNam Em, on the East Coast Road, has a beautiful setting & a few, very cheap places to stay overnight

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Ganh Dau Beach & Village: As the coast road veers east of Ganh Dau village, the local homes fade away, giving way to a few good-value, small, low-rise resorts. It’s a beautiful, quiet setting, with views over Cambodia and the mountainous northern jungles of Phu Quoc Island. Another good thing about staying here is the proximity to Ganh Dau village, which offers local life, street food and markets:

• Gold Coast Resort [MAP]; $50-$90 [BOOK HERE] One of my favourite places to stay anywhere on Phu Quoc Island, and definitely my favourite in Ganh Dau, Gold Coast is a small, mid-range resort set on a beautiful white sand beach. Near the end of the lane leading along the coast east of Ganh Dau village, Gold Coast is quiet and secluded with a dozen or so red brick bungalows spread along a grassy seafront and around a new swimming pool. Rooms are comfortable and large, the restaurant and beach bar are good (happy hour cocktails are great), but it’s the location that really swings it. The sand is bright and powdery, dotted with tall coconut palms; a long pier juts out to sea, from where the views over to the Cambodian islands and hills of the mainland are wonderful. Prices are pretty reasonable compared to other resorts of similar standards. This is a good place for families and couples. $50-$90 [BOOK HERE]

• Peppercorn Beach Resort [MAP]; $100-$150 [BOOK HERE] For several years, Peppercorn was the place to be on Ganh Dau beach. Its position on a stretch of white, powdery sand among a grove of tall coconut trees, and its classy but restrained brick bungalows, made Peppercorn a tasteful, isolated accommodation. However, due to erosion, its beach is now gone, and prices – which kept going up year upon year – no longer represent value for money. Peppercorn is still very nice, indeed. But, you have to ask why you’d chose to stay here instead of Gold Coast, when the latter is considerably cheaper and just as good, with a better beach. $100-$150 [BOOK HERE]

Gold Coast Resort, Ganh Dau Beach, Phu Quoc IslandGold Coast is an outstanding mid-range resort on a fabulous section of Ganh Dau Beach

• Kim 2 Resort [MAP]; $35-$45 [BOOK HERE] A nice arrangement of thatched bungalows near the beach and rooms in a villa-style two-storey building overlooking the swimming pool, Kim 2 Resort is a solid mid-range place to stay in Ganh Dau. It’s tasteful and friendly, and within easy walking distance of Ganh Dau Market. $35-$45 [BOOK HERE]

• Hula Hula Resort [MAP]; $60-$100 [BOOK HERE] A neat and tidy collection of red-tile roofed rooms around a pool and on the seafront, Hula Hula is comfortable, clean and well organized. It’s waterfront is attractive to look at, but there’s no beach. $60-$100 [BOOK HERE]

• Dumbo Bungalows [MAP]; $40-$60 [BOOK HERE] Part of the same complex as Hula Hula, Dumbo appears to be almost identical. I couldn’t establish whether or not they are under the same management. Either way, Dumbo is as good a place to stay as Hula Hula. $40-$60 [BOOK HERE]

• Sea Breeze/Mayfair Resort [MAP]; $40-$70 [BOOK HERE] Formerly Mayfair Resort, Sea Breeze is a smart, small, mid-range resort, right next door to Gold Coast. The bungalows are crisply furnished, including nice bathrooms, and the resort grounds are attractive. The beach is good. Sea Breeze is worth considering if Gold Coast is full. $40-$70 [BOOK HERE]

• Nam Phuong Resort [MAP]; $30-$50 [BOOK HERE] On the western side of Ganh Dau Cape, Nam Phuong is a cosy place with several wooden bungalows in a garden. The rooms are quite basic but fine, although they should really be cheaper than the asking price. The main reason to stay at Nam Phuong is its access, via a garden path, to an attractive seafront, where there’s a good restaurant, a pretty wooden walkway along the coast, and a little private beach in a hidden cove. The water is good and snorkeling is not bad here, too. $30-$50 [BOOK HERE]

• Newland Bay Resort [MAP]; $20 [BOOK HERE] A decent budget option, Newland Bay has a handful of bare but clean bungalows on the waterfront on the western side of Ganh Dau Cape. The setting is pretty and some rooms have little balconies looking over the bay and its fishing fleet. It’s not bad, although prices could be $10 less, and occasionally loud ‘vina-techno’ is played. $20 [BOOK HERE]

Nam Phuong Resort, Ganh Dau Beach, Phu Quoc IslandNam Phuong has affordable wooden bungalows near Ganh Dau beach & village

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Inland Farmstays: Inland Phu Quoc is very attractive, and it’s yet to be fully exploited by the tourist industry. But a couple of rustic, farmstay-style wooden bungalows and homestays dot the river valley just south of the intersection of the Ganh Dau dirt road and the Bai Thom highway. Quiet, eco-conscious and cheap, these places offer a glimpse of a different side of Phu Quoc Island:

• Pepper Farm Bungalow [MAP]; $10-$20 [BOOK HERE] A few rustic but comfortable and cosy wooden bungalows stand raised above the greenery on this little pepper farm. Small, quiet, cheap and friendly, Pepper Farm Bungalows is good value and low-impact – something that Phu Quoc needs a lot more of. There’s also good, home-cooked food. $10-$20 [BOOK HERE]

• Ut Phuong Resort [MAP]; $10-$30 [BOOK HERE] A quiet place to stay with a wooden house, including private rooms or dorms beds in a communal rooms with mattresses on the floor, Ut Phuong feels more like a homestay than a resort. The Bee Farm is nearby and the setting is very green and peaceful. $10-$30 [BOOK HERE]

Staying inland of Phu Quoc Island, VietnamOn the inland road, there are a couple of excellent farmstays, including Pepper Farm Bungalow

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Food & Drink:

In the north and east of Phu Quoc, eating and drinking is more local than anywhere else on the island (with the exception of Duong Dong town, on the west coast). Seafood restaurants and street food stalls can be found in the villages and scattered along the coastlines. Apart from the resorts, there are very few Western-style dining options, and very few English language menus. There are several good places to get a drink, too:

Eating & Drinking on the north & east coasts of Phu Quoc IslandThe north & east coasts have local seafood restaurants, street food stalls & a few bars


Eating: One of the nice aspects of the north and east coasts of Phu Quoc is that there’s still some local life, local street food, local markets, and local seafood restaurants (quán hải sản). This makes dining a lot more fun and rustic than in other parts of the island, where it’s all to often English menus, average international food, and mediocre versions of Vietnamese dishes. Most of the accommodations listed in this guide also have decent restaurants, but below I’ve listed several places to sample some street food or get a seafood feast: 

Street Food & Markets: During meal times, street vendors and informal food stalls roll out on the streets of Ganh Dau and Ham Ninh villages, offering good, fresh, cheap and local food:

Ganh Dau Village Street Food & Market [MAP]: The village of Ganh Dau has grown over the last few years, thanks largely to the influx of migrant workers (from other parts of Vietnam) and the booming tourist industry. And so, the street food scene in Ganh Das has exploded, too. At the village’s main intersections, food carts, market stalls, and shops serve excellent Vietnamese street food dishes. You’ll find classic Vietnamese noodle soups, grilled shellfish, barbecued chicken, roast pork, savoury pancakes, fresh fruit and much more. When you’re hungry, just wander around the main intersections and dive in.

Ham Ninh Street Food & Market [MAP]: As with Ganh Dau, the fishing village of Ham Ninh has a local market around which street food stalls proliferate at meal times. There’s a pleasant buzz here in the mornings and late afternoons, when smoke from sidewalk barbecues fills the air. There’s lots to eat and drink in a typically lively atmosphere. Come with an empty stomach.

Durians for sale, Ganh Dau Village, Phu Quoc IslandGanh Dau & Ham Ninh villages have a good selection of street food, especially around the markets

Seafood & Restaurants: As an island in the Gulf of Thailand, seafood is obviously a big deal on Phu Quoc. However, it’s harder than you might expect to find good quality, affordable seafood on the island. This is partly because much of Phu Quoc’s seafood bounty gets shipped to restaurants on the mainland, particularly Saigon. But, the east and north coasts still have some excellent value, good quality, fresh, local seafood restaurants:

Ganh Dau Seafood Restaurants [MAP]: On the western side of Ganh Dau Cape, several decent seafood restaurants cluster around the pretty, sandy bay, with views out to sea and over to the Cambodian islands. Although slightly overpriced, the food is good and fresh, and the atmosphere is nice, especially with the sea views stretching out before you. The Ganh Dau seafood restaurants retain a local feel. They’re great for a lunch stop or dinner if you’re staying at the nearby Ganh Dau resorts.

Starfish Beach (Rach Vem) Floating Seafood Restaurants [MAP]: Now days, Starfish Beach (Rach Vem) is a popular lunch stop for travellers in the north of the island. Even the bumpy, muddy access road doesn’t stop hundreds of visitors coming for a seafood lunch here every day. There are essentially two clusters of floating seafood restaurants here: one around Rach Vem hamlet, a very scruffy, litter-strewn place, and the other just to the north, on a very pretty stretch of beach. Obviously, the latter is the better. Some of the seafood restaurants are located on long piers in the shallow bay, others are floating wood-and-corrugated iron shacks, still others are simple concrete and wooden structures on the beach. There are dozens to choose from. Personally, I like to head as far north along the beach as possible, over the little bridge, and to the small collection of drink stalls and eateries by the sea.

Floating seafood restaurants, Starfish Beach (Rach Vem, Phu Quoc Island)Starfish Beach is famous for its floating seafood restaurants out in the bay

Ham Ninh Seafood Pier [MAP]: The long, concrete pier jutting out to the sea from Ham Ninh village was once where boats from the mainland docked. But, now that the main ferry port has shifted south to Bai Vong, the pier has found a new life as a hub for floating seafood restaurants. All along the pier, seafood eateries (quán hải sản) jostle for space, raised on stilts above the water. It’s a very popular lunch stop, especially for domestic tourists, and things can get quite busy. The atmosphere is loud and the menus feature a host of different seafood dishes. Prices are OK and quality is fine, but not exceptional.

Bai Thom Seafood Restaurants [MAP] Although the tiny hamlet of Bai Thom doesn’t have that much in the way of dining options (save for a few street food stalls in the mornings and late afternoons), there are several good seafood eateries spread out along the coast road, often hidden down little lanes. For example, Friendly Beach is a beautiful spot for a meal, so too is the restaurant at Quan Hon Mot. Gio Bien is another local place, and Nam Em has excellent food and a very pretty location. There’s even a seafood restaurant off the remote road to Rach Tram, called Kieu Anh. You’ll also find decent food and a beachside setting at Lunar Beach and Local Beach Bar [MAP].

Nam Em seafood restaurants, Bai Thom, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamNam Em, on the East Coast Road, is an excellent seafood restaurant in a beautiful location

East Coast Road Seafood Restaurants [MAP]: Scattered at irregular intervals all along the East Coast Road are excellent local seafood restaurants. Look for signs saying ‘quán hải sản‘. Often located down red dirt lanes right on the beach, these seafood eateries offer some of the best, freshest, and most affordable food on the island. In particular, there are several good ones just north of Ham Ninh village, like Tinh Bien, for example. This is but one of many such places along the East Coast Road. Drop by during lunchtime (11am-1.30pm) or for dinner (5-8pm). Note that these restaurants rarely have English language menus, so be prepared to point, gesticulate, and make mistakes. If you’re an adventurous diner who likes to eat local, these places are exactly what you’re looking for.

Pepper Farm Restaurant [MAP]: Excellent home-cooked (and often home-grown) food in a quiet setting and an intimate environment. Stop by for lunch if you’re passing through, or dine-in if you’re staying as a guest at the Pepper Farm for the night.

Tinh Bien seafood restaurant, East Coast Road, Phu Quoc IslandTinh Bien is one of several good, local seafood restaurants that dot the East Coast Road

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Drinking: Most of the places to stay and eat listed in this guide also serve beers, sodas, fruit juices, smoothies and cocktails; they are all good places to stop by for a drink.

Rory’s Beach Bar: Cay Sao Beach, East Coast Road (TL48) [MAP] The big news for the east coast is the opening of Rory’s Beach Bar. A long-time Phu Quoc favourite for drinking and night life, the relocation of Rory’s from Long Beach, on the west coast, to Cay Sao Beach, on the east coast is a sign of the area’s increasing popularity and the confidence businesses have in its future. Rory’s is a classic, tropical island beach bar. It’s got everything you want and would expect: a creative menu of good food and drink, pool table, games, sports, activities, plunge pools, gazebos on the rocks, and a ship-wreck theme running throughout the property. The location is beautiful, sitting on the rocks and sand under coconut palms looking over the placid water towards the hills of Cambodia. I expect Rory’s new location to be just as popular as its former one, and it will be a big part of putting the east coast of Phu Quoc firmly on the map. Make sure you stop by.

Rory's Bar, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamRory’s Beach Bar has recently relocated to the East Coast Road (Cay Sao Beach), which is a big deal


Rory's Bar, Phu Quoc Island, VietnamRory’s is huge & features everything you’d expect & want from a great beach bar

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Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use any of the Baolau.com links below to book your transportation, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Phu Quoc Island is well-connected to the mainland by regular air and sea routes. Once on the island, the east and north coasts are now easily accessible, thanks to newly paved roads, with the exception of Starfish Beach (Rach Vem), which is still accessed via a bumpy, dirt road:

Getting to Phu Quoc from the mainland by boatGetting to Phu Quoc (by road, sea & air) & then to the north & east coasts is easier than ever before


Getting There:

By Air: There are dozens of flights daily between Phu Quoc International Airport and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), as well as other domestic routes, such as Hanoi. Fares are very affordable, thanks to four airlines competing 0n the route: Jetstar, Bamboo, Vietnam Airlines, and VietJet. In addition, there’s an ever increasing number of direct international air routes, including many Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian cities. [Check air fares on Baolau.com]

By Bus: As an island, you can’t travel directly to Phu Quoc from the mainland by bus. However, there are good bus connections between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Rach Gia or Ha Tien, both of which have ports with regular ferries to Phu Quoc. Sleeper buses are a particularly good (and reasonably priced) option. For example, Thien Thanh Bus Line runs comfortable sleeper buses from Saigon to Rach Gia, from where you can hop on a ferry to Phu Quoc. Or Tuan Nga Bus Line operates from Saigon to Ha Tien, where there are plenty of daily ferries to Phu Quoc. [Check bus fares & times on Baolau.com]

By Boat: The ferry routes between the mainland and Phu Quoc Island have boomed in recent years. There are now well over 50 sailings every day in both directions between the two mainland ports (Rach Gia and Ha Tien) and Bai Vong Port on Phu Quoc Island. There are fast boats for passengers and motorbikes, and fast and slow car ferries. Boats leave throughout the day from both Rach Gia and Ha Tien. Ticket prices are fairly reasonable and journey time is between 90 minutes and 3 hours, depending on the route and the type of boat. For full details see my Phu Quoc Ferry Guide or check boat fares & times on Baolau.com.

Fast boats from the Mekong Delta to Phu Quoc Island, VietnamFast boats & car ferries run over 50 times daily between the mainland & Phu Quoc Island

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Getting Around:

By Bike, Motorbike, Taxi & Bus: Exploring the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc Island on two wheels is ideal. If you don’t have your own bicycle or motorbike with you, your accommodation should be able to organize one. With the exception of the red-dirt lane through the jungle between Ganh Dau and Starfish Beach, all the roads on the east and north coasts are now paved and excellent for riding. The scenery is lush and very pretty, the riding is smooth, and the traffic is very light. The Bai Thom Highway cuts through impressively dense jungle; the Rach Tram road passes by haunting cajeput forests; the East Coast Road is enchanting and a joy to ride; and the Ganh Dau→Starfish Beach dirt road is an adventure (although best avoided in wet conditions).

There are public buses between Duong Dong (Phu Quoc’s main town) and Ham Ninh village (on the east coast) and Ganh Dau village (on the north-west coast). I didn’t see any public buses along the East Coast Road to Bai Thom, but perhaps there is one: it’s worth asking around. Taxis are easy to find in Duong Dong town and can take you anywhere on the island. It’s also easy to order a taxi from your accommodation if you want to visit somewhere else on the island for a day trip. For example, if you’re staying at a resort on Ganh Dau Beach and want to visit Starfish Beach (Rach Vem) for a couple of hours, just order a taxi at reception. However, remember that Phu Quoc is a fairly large island, so distances can be quite far. There will usually be a set fare for your route, rather than using the meter.

Getting around Phu Quoc Island by motorbike is great funGetting around the north & east coasts by road is easy, highly scenic & a lot of fun

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Weather:

The best time of year to visit the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc Island is the Southern Dry Season, lasting from roughly November to April. During these months, conditions are stable and pleasant: the sun is out, the colours are bright, the heat is dry, there’s little rainfall, and the sea is beautifully calm. However, my absolute favourite times to visit are the shoulder months: October and May, during which the weather is still good (although there’s still likely to be some rain around) but visitor numbers are low and so are room rates: the island is quiet, clean and affordable. The high rainy season months, roughly June to September, can be very wet and the seas can get rough and the water dirty.

Dry season is the best time to visit Phu Quoc: November to AprilThe best time of year to visit the north & east coasts of Phu Quoc is between November & April


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these coastlines & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang by Train: Passengers & Motorbikes http://vietnamcoracle.com/hanoi%e2%86%92lang-son%e2%86%92dong-dang-by-train-passengers-motorbikes/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/hanoi%e2%86%92lang-son%e2%86%92dong-dang-by-train-passengers-motorbikes/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2019 06:01:53 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=30677 A train runs once daily in both directions between Hanoi, Lang Son & Dong Dang, on the Chinese border. Linking Vietnam’s capital with its mountainous northeastern provinces, this is a scenic rail journey & passengers can carry their motorbikes on board Continue reading

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First published November 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A train runs once daily in both directions between Hanoi, Lang Son, and Dong Dang, on the Chinese border. Linking Vietnam’s capital city with its mountainous northeastern provinces, the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train route is a scenic rail journey and a great alternative to taking the bus. But this rail route is particularly convenient for travellers with motorbikes, as it’s one of the few train routes in Vietnam that allows passengers to take their motorbikes with them on the same train. For riders intending to explore the 5 Northeast Routes & Loops, which offer some of the best riding opportunities anywhere in Vietnam, this train route plugs you straight into the northeastern mountains, saving you a whole day of riding, and cutting out the slow crawl on congested roads and horrible highways through Hanoi’s industrial suburbs. Journey time is just over 4 hours, tickets prices are cheap and easy to purchase, and the trains are comfortable. Yet, hardly any foreign travellers utilize the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train route.

Hanoi-Lang Son-Dong Dang by train, VietnamThis scenic rail journey between the capital & the northeast is fun & a convenient option for motorbikers

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GUIDE: HANOILANG SONDONG DANG BY TRAIN


This is a full guide to taking the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train, for passengers and motorbikes. I’ve written and organized all the information into separate sections below, and plotted the rail route and stations on my map. As mentioned in the introduction, the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train is particularly convenient for travellers with motorbikes intending to ride the 5 Northeast Routes & Loops, because it cuts out a day of riding, including the slow crawl through Hanoi’s industrial suburbs. For travellers without motorbikes, this train route is one of the most scenic stretches of railway in Vietnam and a much more interesting way of getting between the capital and the northeast than taking the bus, which is the only other option.

Click an item below to read more:

ROUTE MAP:

Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang by Train

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SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Onward Travel around the Northeast:

For many travellers taking the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train, the main purpose will be to explore the wider northeastern region of Vietnam. The provinces of Lang Son, Cao Bang and Bac Kan are the focus of my Northeast Routes & Loops guide, which covers a large swathe of beautiful landscape and roads. The northeastern provinces are all highly scenic areas and, for the most part, far less touristed than other mountainous regions of the north, such as Sapa and Ha Giang. Sights like Ban Gioc Waterfall and Ba Be Lake are the most well-known destinations in the northeast, but there are incredible landscapes between these points, and lots of opportunities for off-the-beaten-track exploration. For motorbikers in particular, the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train is a great way to get straight into the northeastern highlands, without having the face the long and often congested ride out of the capital. By putting your motorbike on the train between Hanoi and Lang Son, motorbikers can plug straight into some of the best riding anywhere in Vietnam. And the same is true of the return trip from Lang Son back to Hanoi: the train cuts out the long, miserable crawl back into the city. I’ve used this train route on several occasions with my motorbike: it was easy, convenient and fun. For passengers without two-wheels, the Hanoi→Lang Son train route is still a good point of entry to the northeast. The train ride is far more of an experience than taking the bus, and you are unlikely to see any other foreign travellers on this train.

Northeast VietnamThe northeastern provinces offer some of the best scenery & riding opportunities in Vietnam


Dong Dang train station, VietnamBoth Lang Son & Dong Dang stations are good entry points for exploring Vietnam’s northeastern region

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Train Operators & Contacts:

The Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang rail service is operated by state-run Vietnam Railways. It’s one of several northern spur lines which fan out from Hanoi, not connected to the main north-south Hanoi-Saigon line, known as the Reunification Express. (Other northern spur lines include Hanoi→Hai Phong and Hanoi→Lao Cai.) However, the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang line is a bit different, because it actually continues into China. From Dong Dang station, on the Vietnam-China border, trains can take you all the way to Nanning and on to Beijing. But, to do this, you’d need to arrange your Chinese visa well in advance, and I don’t cover any of that information in this guide. Apart from the information on this page, you can check more details about the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train, including times, prices, availability and booking, on the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn) and Baolau.com.

Freight trains waiting at Dong Dang Station, VietnamThe once daily train between Hanoi, Lang Son & Dong Dang is operated by state-run Vietnam Railways


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Train Times & Schedules:

There is only one train in both directions every day between Hanoi, Lang Son and Dong Dang. From Hanoi, the train departs every morning; from Dong Dang and Lang Son, the train departs every afternoon (see the full schedule below). Journey time is a little over 4 hours, and there are at least a dozen stops along the way, including Bac Giang and Bac Ninh, both of which are provincial capitals. But, for most travellers, the important stops to note are the three different stations in Hanoi. These are: Hanoi Central (on Le Duan Street), Long Bien (on the west bank of the Red River, by the famous bridge of the same name), and Gia Lam (east of the river and the city centre). All three Hanoi stations are just a 10-minute taxi ride from most popular areas of the capital, such as the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, and West Lake (Ho Tay). [See Stations for details]

*Note: The schedule below is accurate at the time of writing (November 2019), but is subject to change. All Hanoi times given below are for Hanoi Central Station: for Long Bien & Gia Lam stations add a 10 minutes to the times. For example, if the train departs Hanoi Central at 7.05am, it will leave Long Bien at 7.16am and Gia Lam at 7.29am. For current times you can check Baolau.com or the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn) or ask at the stations directly:

HANOI→LANG SON→DONG DANG:

  • Train DD5: Hanoi Central: 7.05am | Lang Son: 11.18am | Dong Dang: 11.40am (daily)

DONG DANG→LANG SON→HANOI:

  • Train DD6: Dong Dang: 3.10pm | Lang Son: 3.30pm | Hanoi Central: 7.45pm (daily) 

Dong Dang Station, VietnamThere’s one train daily in each direction linking Hanoi, Lang Son & Dong Dang: journey time is 4 hours


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Ticket Prices & Booking:

The Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train is very good value for money. Ticket prices for passengers and motorbikes are reasonable and booking is easy. There are two classes available: air-conditioned soft-seat carriages or fan-cooled hard-seat (wooden bench) carriages. Booking at the stations, at least 30 minutes before departure (preferably more, to avoid travel anxiety), should be a straightforward process. Bookings are made at the tickets counters at any of the stations. Staff are helpful so you shouldn’t have too much trouble, but not much English is spoken. If you need orientation, look for the words Phòng Vé (Ticket Office). Alternatively, you can buy tickets online at Baolau.com or the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn). However, if you’re taking your motorbike, you must buy your ticket in person at the station of departure (see Sending your Motorbike for details). The prices below are accurate at the time of writing (November 2019), but are subject to change:

  • Hard seat: 68,000vnd
  • Soft seat: 89,000vnd 

A Hanoi bound train at Lang Son Station, VietnamTickets can be purchased in person at the stations or online at Baolau.com or Vietnam Railways


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Sending your Motorbike:

General Information: The Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train is one of the few rail services in Vietnam which allows passengers to carry their motorbike with them on the same train. (Three other routes that allow this are: Hanoi↔Lao Cai, Hanoi↔Hai Phong and Saigon↔Phan Thiet). This is a very convenient option, especially for riders intending to explore the Northeast Routes & Loops, which, in my opinion, currently offer some of the best riding opportunities anywhere in Vietnam. By travelling with your motorbike on the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train, you cut out the horrible crawl through Hanoi’s industrial suburbs, and save a whole day of riding, leaving you ready and refreshed to wheel your bike off the train at either Lang Son or Dong Dang stations and start your two-wheeled road trip around the northeast immediately. Similarly, this train service is equally convenient when returning to Hanoi, meaning you don’t have to face the long ride back into the capital, with the inevitable build-up of traffic and pollution.

Ticket Prices: The ticket price for most standard automatic and semi-automatic motorbikes is 100,000vnd, plus a 25,000vnd handling fee, although this is not always collected. Larger motorbikes cost more: the price is calculated according to the bike’s weight and size. Unlike sending your motorbike on north-south trains, you don’t need to empty the gas from your fuel tank and your bike is not wrapped in any protective covering. The whole process should be relatively easy to do and generally OK up to half an hour before departure time. However, on weekends and public holidays, try to get to the station and book your tickets at least an hour in advance.

At the Stations: To load your motorbike at any of the stations make sure you are at the correct gate. The easiest way to do this is to go to the ticket counter and ask where to load your motorbike, or look for signs saying something similar to ‘Nơi nhận vận chuyển xe máy.’

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Although you can load or unload your motorbike at either Lang Son or Dong Dang train stations in the northeast, there’s a possibility that this will not be the case with all three stations in Hanoi. When I’ve taken my motorbike on this train service, I have been able to load & unload my bike at either Hanoi Central, Long Bien, or Gia Lam stations. But I’ve been advised that, in some cases, only one of the three Hanoi stations allows this. Therefore, I suggest checking at the station the day before travel to make sure. Either way, this is hardly a big concern, because all three Hanoi stations are just a 10-minute ride at most from the city centre.

My motorbike on the platform at lang Son train station, VietnamPassengers can carry their motorbikes with them on the same train between Hanoi, Lang Son & Dong Dang


Riding by motorbike in Vietnam's northeastTaking your motorbike on the train is a great way to avoid the long ride through Hanoi’s industrial sprawl

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Departure & Arrival Stations:

There are five stations that travellers need to know in order to take the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train. These are: Hanoi Central, Hanoi Long Bien, Hanoi Gia Lam, Lang Son and Dong Dang. All five are very attractive or, at least, interesting stations, some with structures dating from French colonial times. Passengers and motorbikes can board/alight at any of these five stations. (However, if you’re sending your motorbike please read this first):

Dong Dang train station, VietnamPassengers need to be aware of 5 stations: Dong Dang, Lang Son & the three different Hanoi stations


Hanoi Stations: Passengers and motorbikes can board/alight at three different stations in Hanoi. (However, if you’re travelling with your motorbike please read this first).

Hanoi Central Station is located on Le Duan Street in downtown. At almost 120 years old, it’s the capital’s main station: a large, grand, French colonial building with an incongruous grey concrete box in the middle, like a growth, essentially filling-in the gap where the station was bombed during the war. The station is easy to navigate, there are plenty of ticket offices (Phòng Vé), staff are helpful, and there are refreshments and toilets.

Long Bien Station is a lovely, cute little stop, just north of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It stands near the beginning of the famous Long Bien Bridge across the Red River, constructed at the turn of the 20th century. The cosy and cramped station – in fact, the diesel locomotives dwarf the station building – is walking distance from the narrow streets of the Old Quarter.

Gia Lam Station, is located down a side road across the Red River, east of Hanoi’s city centre. An interesting building with Art Decor flourishes and a calm, arched waiting hall, Gia Lam is only a 10-minute ride away from downtown Hanoi.

Gia Lam Railway Station, Hanoi, VietnamThe train serves three different Hanoi Stations: Central, Long Bien & Gia Lam (pictured above)

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Lang Son & Dong Dang Stations: Only 15km apart, Lang Son and Dong Dang stations are both good access points to Vietnam’s northeast. However, Lang Son is a far bigger city and most travellers will alight here instead of Dong Dang. But the station at Dong Dang is one of the most interesting in Vietnam and the town itself has a fascinating edge, because it’s right on the border with China, and a major trading post between the two countries.

Lang Son Station, located in the east of the city on Le Loi Street, is a modern-looking, two-storey building. Fairly bland and unfriendly from the outside (especially in miserable weather conditions), once you climb the wide stairway into the light-filled atrium where the small ticketing office is, the station begins to exude more charm. It’s a quiet station that deals mostly with freight cars passing to/from China. A line of squat doors lead out onto an attractive, tiled platform where the trains arrive, and is also used by locals as an evening promenade and exercise area.

Dong Dang is one of the most interesting and attractive stations in Vietnam. A large, well-maintained, ochre-painted building featuring several arches and decorative motifs, such as Bronze Age Dong Son artistic symbolism, Dong Dang station is a treat to stumble upon in such a remote and seldom-visited outpost town. Just 3km from the Chinese border, the station deals with lots of freight trains due to booming trade between Vietnam and China. But Dong Dang is also an international passenger terminal. Twice a week, trains run through Dong Dang to Nanning, in China, and then on to Beijing. The station itself has a long history of over a century, when it was first constructed under French colonial rule. Dong Dang was recently revitalized when, in February 2019, the eyes of the world’s media were (albeit, briefly) on the station, as Kim Jong-un entered Vietnam by train from China and alighted at Dong Dang to much fanfare, before travelling on to Hanoi for his highly publicized summit with President Trump. A fascinating photo gallery in the station’s large waiting hall catalogues the DPRK’s (North Korean) leader’s visit, along with black-and-white photographs of the station over the last one hundred years.

Dong Dang train station, VietnamDong Dang train station is one of the most interesting & attractive train terminals in Vietnam


Lang Son train station, VietnamLang Son train station looks fairly bland from the outside, but inside it’s quite bright & pleasant


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Trains:

The trains on the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang service are only 3-5 carriages in length (much shorter than on any other train route I’ve ridden in Vietnam) and the level of comfort is good. Large windows let in lots of natural and are great for watching the green and hilly landscape glide by. There are toilets and sinks in each carriage, and the general condition and cleanliness is fine. The air-conditioned soft-seat carriages are comfy and spacious, the seats are reclinable, and there are some electrical sockets for charging your tech equipment. In the fan-cooled, hard-seat compartment, the carriages are filled with wooden benches, which are actually quite attractive: it feels like being in a train wagon crossing The West in the 18th century. The carriages are pulled by a large, bullish diesel engine. Some drinks and snacks are wheeled down the aisle throughout the journey, including a couple of piping hot cooked items (something which you certainly don’t get on British trains). There’s really not much to complain about in either class.

The Hanoi-Lang Son-Dong Dang train, VietnamPulled by a giant diesel locomotive, the Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train is only 3-5 carriages long


Interior of soft-seat carriage, Hanoi-Lang Son-Dong Dang trainInside, the soft-seat carriages are comfortable, clean & quiet with air-con & electrical sockets


Interior of hard-seat carriage, Hanoi-Lang Son-Dong Dang trainHard-seat carriages comprise of wooden benches & are fan-cooled & bright


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Journey:

Of all the northern spur line rail routes, I think Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang is the most scenic. For at least half of the 4-hour journey, the train winds slowly through lush, sparsely populated mountain scenery. Crops fields, rice terraces, limestone crags, high ridges, and pleasant river valleys roll by your window as you sit in comfort in the carriage. Remember, too, that if you take this train during the winter months, from November to February, there’s a chance that weather conditions could be cold and misty, with low cloud hanging in the valleys, and farmers and animals wading in mud. I once returned on the train from Lang Son to Hanoi in conditions such as these, and it was a cozy feeling being inside the carriage. When I arrived in the evening at Hanoi’s Central Station, in the lights, life and warmth of the capital, it was hard to believe that, just a few hours ago, I had been riding in soaking, freezing conditions in the northeastern highlands. Because it’s a small train – usually just three carriages – there’s an intimate feeling on board. If you’re a foreign traveller, you’re likely to be the only one on the train, which is a great conversation starter for many of the other passengers.

The Hanoi-Lang Son-Dong Dang train, VietnamThe Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train route is the most scenic of all the northern spur lines


A view of Lang Son, northeast VietnamLang Son, near the Chinese border, is a likable city with big markets surrounded by green mountains

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.


A train waits at Lang Son StationThe Hanoi→Lang Son→Dong Dang train route is scenic, fun & very convenient for motorbikers

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this train route & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Beach Bus: Saigon↔Rach Gia Limousine | Passengers & Motorbikes http://vietnamcoracle.com/beach-bus-saigon%e2%86%94rach-gia-limousine-passengers-motorbikes/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/beach-bus-saigon%e2%86%94rach-gia-limousine-passengers-motorbikes/#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2019 07:57:52 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=28065 Thien Thanh Limousine runs luxury buses between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) & Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta, gateway to Vietnam’s islands in the Gulf of Thailand. This is a great service for passengers & motorbikes... Continue reading

The post Beach Bus: Saigon↔Rach Gia Limousine | Passengers & Motorbikes appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

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First Published October 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Part of a growing trend in luxury bus lines on popular routes, Thien Thanh Limousine service runs between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and the Mekong Delta hub of Rach Gia, gateway to Vietnam’s islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Rach Gia is the main port for fast boats and car ferries to/from Vietnam’s exquisite tropical islands, namely the well-known beach retreat of Phu Quoc, but also the lesser-known (and less-touristy) islands of Nam Du and Hon Son. Thien Thanh Limousine is a premium, luxury (or VIP as it’s commonly termed) sleeping bus that whisks you in style and comfort (and peace) from the nation’s largest city to one of its most bustling ports, from where island-hopping opportunities abound. Journey time is 5-6 hours, and there are at least 6 services daily in both directions. Comfort is exceptional and prices are reasonable: one-way fares are 280,000vnd ($12). For that, you get a private cabin, fully-flat bed with cushions and blankets, personal TV and air-con, a headset and USB sockets, free transfers to/from the bus stations and ports, and free food and drink. And you can take your motorbike on board.

Thien Thanh Limousine bus, Saigon to Rach Gia, VietnamThien Thanh Limousine is a luxury sleeper bus for passengers & motorbikes between Saigon & Rach Gia

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GUIDE: SAIGONRACH GIA VIP BUS


Below is my full guide to taking the Thien Thanh Limousine bus service between Saigon and Rach Gia, for passengers and motorbikes. I’ve divided this guide into several easy sections and plotted all relevant places on my map. I recommend using this bus service in conjunction with my ferry guides and island guides to Phu Quoc, Nam Du and Hon Son: this will give you all the information you need to go on an independent island-hopping exploration of Vietnam’s islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the Baolau.com links & search boxes on this page to book your bus tickets, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

CONTENTS:


ROUTE MAP

Thien Thanh Limousine Bus: Saigon↔Rach Gia


View in a LARGER MAP


SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Bus Operator & Contact:

Although several other bus lines operate along the Saigon↔Rach Gia route, this guide focuses only on Thien Thanh Limousine, which is far more comfortable, easier and more enjoyable than any of the competition. The standard of comfort, safety and reliability is such that the higher price (only an extra $5) is well worth it. Thien Thanh Limousine are easily contacted by phone or through their Facebook page. (However, at the time of writing their website had been down for quite some time.) Alternatively, Thien Thanh have offices in Saigon and Rach Gia. If you speak/write some Vietnamese, then contact via Facebook, phone or in person is easy and smooth. If not, some staff speak a little English, and everyone is generally very helpful. See the contact information below or check Baolau.com:

Faecbook: www.facebook.com/xekhachkiengiangsaigon/

Phone: 0908731119 | 0908621119 | 0941962926 | 0911962926

Website: www.thienthanhlimo.com (not functioning at the time of writing)

Offices:

  • Saigon: 99 Tân Thành Street, Tân Phú District, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) [MAP]

  • Rach Gia (outskirts): 26-33 corner of Duong 3 & Duong 7 streets , Chau Thanh [MAP]

  • Rach Gia (city): Phan Thi Rang Street gas station, An Hoa Ward, Rach Gia City [MAP


Sleeping compartment of a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamThien Thanh can be contacted via Facebook, phone, email or in person at their Saigon & Rach Gia offices


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Bus Schedules & Prices:

At the time of writing (October 2019), Thien Thanh Limousine operates 7 journeys daily in both directions on the Saigon↔Rach Gia route. Departure times are the same in both directions. Journey time is 5-6 hours, including a 30-minute rest break midway. As a general rule: night buses take 5 hours; day buses take 6 hours (due to heavier traffic). Ticket prices for passengers are the same for upper and lower sleeping compartments: 280,000vnd per person. This price includes pick-up and drop-off transfers by mini-van to/from the Thien Thanh bus stops and your destination. For example, transfers to your hotel in Rach Gia or to the ferry port in Rach Gia. Motorbike carriage ranges from 200,000-300,000vnd, depending on the type of bike (semi-auto/auto). The schedule and prices below are accurate at the time of writing (October 2019), but are subject to change. (You can also check current times & prices on Baolau.com):

SAIGON→RACH GIA:

  • Departures: 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 11pm, 12pm (daily)
  • Passenger Ticket: 280,000vnd (upper or lower sleeping compartment)
  • Motorbike Ticket: 200,000-300,000vnd (semi-automatic/automatic) [Details here]
  • Price Includes: transfers to/from bus stations & destinations

RACH GIA→SAIGON:

  • Departures: 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 11pm, 12pm (daily) 
  • Passenger Ticket: 280,000vnd (upper or lower sleeping compartment) 
  • Motorbike Ticket: 200,000-300,000vnd (semi-automatic/automatic) [Details here] 
  • Price Includes: transfers to/from bus stations & destinations

Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamThere are 7 daily services in both directions between Saigon & Rach Gia: 280,000vnd per passenger


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Booking Tickets:

There are several ways to book tickets for the Thien Thanh Limousine bus: in person at one of their offices, online via Baoalu.com, over the phone, or via the Thien Thanh Facebook page or website (although, at the time of writing, the latter was unavailable). In all cases, I found the Thien Thanh staff to be well-organized and very helpful. If booking online via Baolau.com, you will need to enter your passport details, but booking via any other method only requires your name and phone number. In most cases, you only need to make a booking on the day of travel (with the exception of public holidays, of course). However, it’s a good idea to book at least a day in advance to be sure of getting a ticket for your preferred departure time, especially if travelling on a weekend. Bear in mind that, because the limousine buses are spacious and luxurious, their capacity is far smaller than the average sleeper coach. Thien Thanh Limousines only have 20 sleeping compartments, compared to at least twice that on an average sleeper bus in Vietnam. See below for booking options:

 • By Phone(some English is spoken) 0908731119 | 0908621119 | 0941962926 | 0911962926

 • By Baolau.commake your book at www.baolau.com or use the search box below

 • In Person at the OfficesSaigon [MAP] | Rach Gia city [MAP] | Rach Gia outskirts [MAP] 

 • By Facebook: (some English is available) www.facebook.com/xekhachkiengiangsaigon/ 

 • By the Website: www.thienthanhlimo.com (not functioning at the time of writing)


Sleeping compartments of a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamTickets can be booked online via Baolau.com or via Facebook, by phone, or in person at the offices


SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Taking your Motorbike:

Putting your motorbike on the Thien Thanh Limousine bus between Saigon and Rach Gia is easy and a really useful resource for bikers wanting to visit the Gulf of Thailand islands, such as Nam Du, Hon Son, Phu Quoc, and the Pirate Archipelago. This is because it cuts out the long crawl through Saigon’s industrial suburbs and across the vast, flat, hot, wet plains of the Mekong Delta (a full day’s ride). Instead of that long ride, you can simply drive my motorbike to the Thien Thanh bus station in Saigon, load your bike onto the 11pm departure (for example), travel overnight to Rach Gia, ride to the ferry port, and get a car ferry at dawn to any of the islands. By 9am, you and your motorbike will be standing on a beach in the Gulf of Thailand. 

Taking my motorbike on the Thien Thanh Limousine Bus, Saigon to Rach Gia, VietnamMotorbikes can be carried on-board: a great convenience for riders heading to the Delta or islands

The process is straightforward and the price isn’t too bad considering the convenience of the service. Bear in mind that there’s limited space on the buses for motorbikes. It’s best to book a place for your motorbike by phone (see Contact for details) at least a day in advance, but showing up at the bus station a couple of hours before departure should also be OK. Your bike will not be packaged or even emptied of gas. You do not need to show your motorbike blue/green card or your driving license. Your motorbike is stored in the undercarriage of the bus, lying on its side. Prices are 200,000vnd (semi-automatic) or 300,000vnd (automatic).

Taking my motorbike on the Thien Thanh Limousine Bus, Saigon to Rach Gia, VietnamMotorbikes cost between 200,000-300,000vnd depending on the type of bike


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Departure & Arrival Bus Stations:

In my experience taking the Saigon↔Rach Gia Thien Thanh Limousine bus service, passengers need to know three different bus stations: one in Saigon, two in Rach Gia. In Saigon, all buses depart and arrive at the same bus stop; but in Rach Gia, there’s a separate bus stop for arrivals and departures. See below for details, and remember that Thien Thanh Limousine offers a free pick-up/drop-off service to/from their bus stops (you’ll need to arrange this in advance: see Contact for details):

The Thien Thanh Limousine Departure/Arrival Bus Stop, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)Passengers need to know three different bus stops: one in Saigon & two in Rach Gia


Saigon (Departure & Arrival Bus Stop): 99 Tân Thành Street, Tân Phú District [MAP]: Known as the Thien Thanh Tan Phu Stop, all buses depart and arrive at this location in Saigon’s ‘wild west’. Way out in Tan Phu District, among the pulsating tangle of streets, throbbing with life and youthful energy, this bus stop isn’t exactly convenient if you happen to live in central Saigon. Nor is it a particularly beautiful bus station. In fact, it appears to be a large, gravel parking lot on what looks to be the clearing site for the foundations of a huge new apartment block. The office and waiting area is on the right as you come in from the main street. There are seats and free refreshments, such as noodles, biscuits, coffee, and soda. The toilets are fine and, although the bus stop might look pretty shabby, it’s well-organized and perfectly fine.

The Thien Thanh Limousine Bus Stop, Tan Phu District, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)The Saigon bus stop in out in Tan Phu District: there’s free food & drink for waiting passengers

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Rach Gia (Arrival Bus Stop): Phan Thi Rang Street gas station, An Hoa Ward, Rach Gia City [MAP] Thien Thanh buses arrive at the large gas station on Phan Thi Rang Street, in the new southern suburbs of Rach Gia. This broad boulevard has easy access to all of Rach Gia’s main thoroughfares, namely Nguyen Trung Truc (to the city centre), and Duong 3 Thang 2 and Ton Duc Thang streets, both of which run parallel to the coast, leading north to Rach Gia ferry port, from where all boats to the Gulf of Thailand islands depart. There’s a Thien Thanh Limousine ticket office at the gas station and several cafes and shops nearby. However, Thien Thanh buses only arrive at this stop; departures are from a different location (see below for details).

The Thien Thanh Limousine Arrival Bus Stop, Rach GiaThien Thanh buses arrive at the gas station on Phan Thi Rang Street in the new suburbs of Rach Gia

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Rach Gia (Departure Bus Stop): 26-33 corner of Duong 3 & Duong 7 streets , Chau Thanh [MAP] A few kilometres south of Rach Gia city centre, the departure stop for Thien Thanh Limousine buses is at the corner of two small streets, behind the main provincial bus station (Bến Xe Tỉnh Kiên Giang). The bus stop has a Thien Thanh ticket office, waiting area and bathroom. Just like the Saigon bus stop, free drinks and snacks are available for waiting passengers. The immediate area around the bus stop is pretty quiet and empty, but there are shops along the busy main road just two minutes’ walk to the west.

The Thien Thanh Limousine Departure Bus Stop, Rach GiaThien Thanh buses depart Rach Gia from a stop in the streets behind the main Kien Giang provincial bus station


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Buses:

Thien Thanh Limousine buses are Hyundai Universe Express Noble coaches. These are standard vehicles for long-distance bus travel in Vietnam. But the ones used by Thien Thanh Limousine are converted for maximum space, comfort, convenience, and luxury. Several other bus lines on other routes in Vietnam operate similar ‘VIP’ (as they’re known) coaches, but Thien Thanh are the smartest I’ve been on so far. Each bus only has 20 individual sleeping compartments, compared to 40 or more berths on ordinary sleeper buses. Of course, Thien Thanh is more expensive than standard sleeper coaches. But, not really by much: a standard sleeper bus between Saigon and Rach Gia costs around 170,000vnd ($7); Thien Thanh costs 280,000vnd ($12). The difference is 110,000vnd ($5), but the gulf in quality and comfort is enormous. In my opinion, it’s worth the extra expense, especially if (as in my case) you’re taking the night bus and then heading straight to the ferry port in Rach Gia for a connecting boat to one of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Add to this, the massive convenience of being able to carry your motorbike on-board the coach, and I think Thien Thanh is great value for money.

Sleeping compartments on a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamThien Thanh Limousine buses have two rows of fully flat sleeping compartments

Thien Thanh Limousine buses feature two rows of individual sleeping compartments on two levels: upper and lower. There’s no difference between the top- and bottom-level cabins: they’re the same size and getting in/out is equally easy (or challenging, depending of your agility). Each compartment is pretty substantial and private: there’s a window on one side, a curtain on the other, and proper partitions at the top and tail ends, so the space is entirely yours. Each cabin features a soft, nearly flat bed. The length is suitable for a genuine sleep, but taller passengers will be frustrated: I’m about 1.8m and was able to get comfortable and doze off happily (although some seats have an irritating bump which digs into your spine at certain angles). Also provided inside your private cabin are: blanket, pillow, comforter, personal air-con with remote control, headphones, USB port, personal T.V with remote control, WiFi, drinks holder, shelf space, tray table, mood lighting, and even a framed photograph of a famous Vietnamese tourist destination. What more could you want? There’s no toilet on-board, but the bus stops once en-route (about 2.5-3 hours into the journey) for a bathroom break and refreshments.

Sleeping compartment on a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamThe cabins are very comfortable: TV, air-con, WiFi, pillows, blanket, mood lighting & more

But the luxury on-board the Thien Thanh buses goes further than the amenities. The whole experience is much more pleasant than an ordinary sleeper bus. Various ‘rules’ are in place to ensure this: no shoes are allowed on the bus (you must take them off and bag them up when you board); no odious or messy food and drink is allowed in the cabins (this means no horrible smells, no irritating loud crunching, no crumbs between the seats); no loud music, movies or phone calls are allowed in the cabins, and none are played on the bus systems either (this means no being forced to listen to other people’s [bad] music, no listening to other passengers family rows, no hearing annoying ringtones and video game sound effects). It’s quiet, civilized, peaceful; professional, hushed and organized. Staff are actually quite strict (but nice) about these rules. This is a rarity on transportation in Vietnam. There are even some safety measures, such as seat-belts and a little red hammer in each compartment to smash the glass in the event of being stuck. The driving discipline seemed better, too: not too fast, and not leaning of the horn for the entire journey.

Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamThien Thanh buses are clean, quiet & ‘civilized’: the whole experience is very different from regular buses


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search bus times, prices & make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Journey:

I usually take the night bus, so there’s not much to see as the bus glides through the flat plains of the Mekong Delta on arrow-straight roads, crossing colossal new bridges spanning the great width of one of the world’s longest rivers. During the daytime, there are industrial suburbs which melt into a tapestry of green rice fields and orchards of tropical fruit, bisected by narrow canals, with large barges, laden with an agricultural cargo, ploughing the viscous, chocolatey waters. Even at night, there’s a sense of the vastness of the Delta: on the two occasions that the route crosses the Mekong River, at the My Thuan Bridge and the newly opened Vam Cong Bridge, if you peer out the window, you’ll see an expanse of shimmering silver-black water stretching to the horizon, in it reflected the lights of dozens of boats, plying the waterway from farm to factory.

Sleeping compartment of a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamComfortable in your cabin, you can sleep or watch the flat agricultural plains of the Mekong Delta go by

Journey time between Saigon and Rach Gia is now only 5-6 hours, thanks to the recent opening of the Vam Cong Bridge, which cuts out the time-consuming and massively overused ferry crossing. Indeed, there’s no longer any ferry crossing at all on this route. The first hour from Saigon utilizes the CT01 Expressway, which was the first of its kind to open in Vietnam. It’s a smooth and fast ride. However, the second hour is along the old and dreadfully inadequate Highway QL1A, a dreary, traffic-clogged drive all the way to the enormous and impressive My Thuan Bridge. After a 30-minute rest stop, the journey continues on Road QL80, which ultimately leads all the way to Rach Gia. West of Sa Dec, the Delta becomes lusher and more interesting. Canals run parallel to the road, where rickety homes of wooden and corrugated iron sheets lean over the water’s edge. A long, new stretch of road flies across the brand new Vam Cong Bridge before deteriorating into the old (and pretty bumpy) road. This dead-straight last leg on QL80 takes over an hour. In general, the nighttime journeys are quieter and quicker than the daytime ones.

Sleeping compartments of a Thien Thanh Limousine (VIP) bus, VietnamAt night there’s not much to see, but during the day the vast Mekong River can be viewed from bridges


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this bus route & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Pirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc) | Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/pirate-islands-dao-hai-tac-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/pirate-islands-dao-hai-tac-travel-guide/#respond Thu, 17 Oct 2019 04:59:04 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=30414 Lying in the Gulf of Thailand, just off Vietnam’s southwest coast, Pirate Islands is a rugged archipelago, only recently opened to foreign visitors... Continue reading

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First published October 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The Pirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc) lie in the Gulf of Thailand, just off Vietnam’s southwest coast, between Ha Tien and Phu Quoc. A small, rugged archipelago with calm seas and green hills, the Pirate Islands have only recently opened to foreign travellers. For centuries, the islands provided shelter for pirates, who lay in wait in the rocky coves, poised to attack commercial ships plying the lucrative Southeast Asia trade route, laden with goods. Today, the Pirate Islands have a wild and rustic charm: electricity is limited, accommodation is basic, the population is small, and the scenery is relatively unspoiled. But change is coming. Soon the Pirate Islands will be connected to the national grid, giving residents 24-hour electricity for the first time. And this is expected to spark a tourism boom. Below is my full travel guide to the Pirate Islands.

The Pirate Islands (Hai Tac Archipelago), Travel Guide, Vietnam)Pirates Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc): a small archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, between Ha Tien & Phu Quoc

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GUIDE: PIRATE ISLANDS (ĐẢO HẢI TẶC)


Below is my full guide to the Pirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc), including a detailed map. I’ve divided this guide into several categories (see below), and then sub-sections within each category. The best time of year to visit Pirate Island is November to April, when the weather is generally dry and bright, rainfall is light, and seas are calm. Try to avoid weekends and public holidays, when visitor numbers increase. It’s possible to visit Pirate Island as a day trip from Ha Tien, by taking the morning ferry out and the afternoon one back. However, I would recommend spending at least two days and one night. The main island in the archipelago is known by several names, but for the purposes of this guide, I will refer to it interchangeably as both ‘Pirate Island’ and ‘Hai Tac Island’.

Click a category in the contents below for more details:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Pirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc), Kien Giang Province


View in a LARGER MAP

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Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of the Pirate Islands and a little bit of history and background, followed by some information about the current state of the natural environment:

Beaches on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamGlassy seas on Pirate Island & nobody there to see it: but change will come


Orientation, Topography & History:

The Pirate Islands Archipelago (Quần Đảo Hải Tặc) comprises 16 islands. These islands make up Tiên Hải commune, part of Kiên Giang Province. However, only a few (perhaps six) of the islands are permanently inhabited. The Pirate Islands lie in the Gulf of Thailand, roughly 20km west of Ha Tien, on the mainland, and 40km east of Phu Quoc Island. Most of the archipelago’s population of a couple thousand live on the largest island, which is known variously (and confusingly) as Đảo Hải Tặc (Pirate Island), Tiên Hải (Sea Fairy Island), Hòn Tre Lớn (Big Bamboo Island), and Hòn Đốc. Whichever name you choose, this island is the administrative and commercial centre of the archipelago: it’s where all tourist infrastructure is located.

Sunset over the Pirate Islands, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamPirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc) comprises 16 small, rugged islands off Vietnam’s southwest coast

Rugged and green, the Pirate Islands got their name for good reason. Their location, in the middle of an ancient, lucrative and busy trading route between China, Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, made the islands an ideal hideout for pirates. For several centuries, pirates used the islands as a base from which to launch raids and rob passing commercial ships as they sailed their cargo through the straights between Phu Quoc Island and the mainland. Apparently, the pirates painted a broom or mop on their sails, symbolizing the thorough job they did of ‘cleaning’ the ships of their cargoes. The pirates are said to have stashed their booty in the nooks and crannies of the rocky archipelago. Indeed, there are still rumours of buried treasure on the islands, and a haul of old coins has already been discovered. Pirating continued right up until 1975. Today there’s still something of a rough edge to the Pirate Islands, because of a large military presence due to its proximity to Cambodia, with whom Vietnam has a checkered history. When I arrived there was an assault and target practice underway on Bai Bac beach.

*Please note: Historical information in this article is based on my reading of various sources & conversations with people: I am not an historian.

A beach, abandoned boat, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThe islands get their name from pirates who used the archipelago as a base from which to attack ships

The Pirate Islands are less developed and friendlier than Vietnam’s other islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Although not as striking as Hon Son, not as sophisticated as Phu Quoc, and not the same quality beaches and water as Nam Du, the Pirate Islands are much quieter, less trodden, more open, and more rustic. Approaching the archipelago from the mainland, the islands come into view like ships on the horizon: little, grey-black silhouettes floating on a silver sea. Until very recently, foreign visitors weren’t allowed to set foot on the islands; now they’re gearing up for tourism. The long, high ridges of Phu Quoc Island are always visible on the horizon to the west, as are the irregular bumps of Ha Tien’s limestone hills to the east. A bonus of this location, for me at least, is being right in the path of the Ha Tien↔Phu Quoc ferry route. This crossing has exploded in recent years, and you can watch the boats – car ferries, fast boats, cargo ships – ply back and forth from anywhere on the south, east and west coasts of Pirate Island. The archipelago is also very close to Cambodia. Indeed, my phone thought I was in the Khmer kingdom, sending me a message: ‘Welcome to Cambodia’.

A dog on the Pirate Islands, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamLife on the Pirate Islands is slow & quiet, but that’s set to change with the advent of 24-hour electricity


Fishing boats, Pirate Islands, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamFishing is the main industry on Pirate Island, but tourism is expected to play a major role in its future

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Environment & Pollution:

The Pirate Islands are on the cusp of big change. This, of course, could be said of many places with tourist potential in Vietnam. But this archipelago is just about to be connected to the national grid, giving it 24-hour electricity for the first time. This, in turn, is set to fuel a tourism boom. I visited in October 2019, when everyone and everything was gearing up for the arrival of electricity and an expected explosion of visitors. The harbour was being redeveloped, stone quarried to construct new piers, bungalows on the beach being built, rudimentary English being taught to islanders in order to communicate with foreign travellers, and a large new reservoir to provide a constant supply of clean water. This means, as with anywhere in 21st century Vietnam, there’s ongoing construction on the islands. Compared to other places in the country, however, it’s very mild. But you still get cement trucks plying the narrow lanes, kicking up dust, the sound of drills and hammers, and the sprawl of building materials awaiting use. This is just a symptom of a nation in the midst of industrialization and, in this case, a pleasant island getting ready to make money from tourism. Fortunately, it’s not too disruptive on Pirate Island, yet. And, I suppose, one must remember that the concrete guest house one is staying in and the paved road to get there, was once a noisy, unsightly construction site.

Construction vehicles on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamConstruction work on Pirate Island is ongoing but relatively small-scale; that may change in the future

When I visited Pirate Island, electricity was still in limited supply: power cut out daily between 11pm and 5am, as well as regular outages during the day. The islands were noticeably quieter than other beach destinations in Vietnam, largely thanks to the absence of karaoke blaring into the night. (Hopefully, noise pollution will not become an issue once the islands are connected to the national grid.) Unsurprisingly, the islands have caught the eye of resort developers: two islands are already being developed by River Hotel, based in Ha Tien. And so, I imagine, development will continue to grow and things will continue to change, as they always do. But, whether it’s for the better or the worse, remains to be seen.

Electricity pylons at sea linking Pirate Island to the national grid, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThis line of electricity pylons at sea will bring 24-hour power to the Pirate Islands for the first time

Water quality is pretty good around the Pirate Islands. But it’s a sad fact that you’re never far from plastic trash in Vietnam’s seas these days. A lot of it is fishing detritus, discarded by fishermen and then washed up on the beaches; but a lot of it is household trash, discarded by the local community and visitors to the island. The situation on the Pirate Archipelago is nothing like as bad as other islands in Vietnam. However, it’s difficult to see how the problem of trash will be contained if the expected tourism boom is to happen. There’s a landfill – fairly empty at the moment, but it’ll fill up quickly, as it has done on other islands – and there’s evidence of plastic trash being collected, presumably to be sent back to the mainland for recycling. Government signs can be seen all over the island, encouraging proper disposal of trash and protecting the local environment. I hope that Pirate Island doesn’t follow the same path as other islands before it, where litter quickly built up in the harbours and on the beaches as the local population swelled, tourist numbers increased, and infrastructure projects were implemented. In my time on Pirate Island, I witnessed trash thrown in the sea on several occasions, as well as trash left on the rocks and on the sand. The results of this casual disposal of plastic waste is clearly visible on the ferry crossing from Ha Tien: hardly a moment goes past on the boat’s deck, looking out at sea, without a plastic bag, polystyrene box, plastic bottle, plastic sachet of shampoo, crisp packet, or beer can floating by. It wasn’t always this way.

Trash wasted up on Bai Bac beach, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamTrash washed up on Bai Bac beach: litter is a huge problem all along Vietnam’s long coastline

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Things to See & Do:

As mentioned above, the Pirate Islands are on the cusp of big change, but for now this archipelago is quieter, less developed, more rustic, and friendlier than the other islands in Vietnam’s portion of the Gulf of Thailand. Although not as striking as Hon Son, not as sophisticated as Phu Quoc, and not the same quality beaches and ocean as Nam Du, the Pirate Islands are far less-trodden. There’s not much to ‘do’ as such. But, if you’re an independent traveller with similar tastes to mine, then exploring the islands on foot, two wheels and by boat, as well as swimming in the sea, and chatting, eating and drinking with local people, will be perfectly satisfying for a couple of days. (Once again: don’t travel on the weekends or public holidays):

Beaches on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThings to do on Pirate Island: exploring on two wheels, swimming, fishing & swinging in hammocks


Beaches & Bays:

The main island is rugged, green and very attractive. Most of the coastline is rocky, but there are two sandy beaches that are very pretty and good for bathing. The first beach (and this is my favourtie spot on the island for swimming and relaxing), is a tiny smile of white sand beneath a fringe of squat coconut palms. In the far west of the island, the beach is very small and often has some clutter on it. But, just next to the beach, a raised wooden platform juts out over the water, strung will hammocks for laying in and gazing over the glassy ocean. This is the perfect place to relax, swim, read, write, play the guitar, sing, or do whatever it is you do when there’s nothing to do. Anytime of day is good, but 4-6pm is glorious. You can stay right by this beach at Minh Luan (see Accommodation for details).

My favourte beach on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamMy favourite place to swim & relax is this small, pretty beach in the far west of Pirate Island


My favourte beach on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThere’s a perfect wooden ‘hammock platform’ on which to relax, watch the sun set & swim off

The second beach, Bãi Bắc, is the main attraction for most visitors to the island. Bai Bac is a long arc of white sand stretching along much of the northern coast. Backed by palms and with shallow, calm, turquoise water, Bai Bac is very picturesque. The Cambodian islands and mainland (around Kep) form a pleasant backdrop to this brochure-worthy tropical beach. But Bai Bac is getting a bit scruffy these days – some litter, flotsam and jetsam, discarded building materials, and minor construction – and water quality can be murky. It’s absolutely fine, but perhaps not quite as good as it looks from afar. There are a couple of seafood shacks, drinks stalls, and chairs and hammocks on the beach. If and when development of the island starts in earnest, Bai Bac is where it will be. There are a couple of places to stay on Bai Bac beach (see Accommodation for details).

Bai Bac beach, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamBai Bac is an attractive white sand beach stretching along much of the north coast of Pirate Island

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Biking & Hiking:

Pirate Island has a limited, very manageable, and scenic road network. One paved lane rings the entire island, following the coast and making a pleasant 5km circuit: rideable in 15 minutes by motorbike, 30 minutes by bicycle, or 2-3 hours on foot. Obviously, factor in more time for stops to swim, swing in a hammock, munch on a snack, chat to some local people, and explore. The two inland roads are short, steep and lush: one runs south to north, connecting the ferry port with Bai Bac beach; the other forks west, past the island’s reservoir, before leading down to the coast. I had my motorbike, which was, as always, great fun. But, in my opinion, walking or cycling is a better option for Pirate Island. It’s one of the few places in Vietnam where life moves slowly and noise pollution is minimal, so travelling on foot is well-suited to the island. What’s more, when you’re on foot, you’re much more likely to meet local people, smell the perfumes of nature, here the wind in the leaves, the wash of the sea, the calls of birds, and just soak up the stillness and silence of the island. Bicycles and motorbikes can be rented from some of the accommodations on Pirate Island, such as Phuong Thao and Minh Nga, among others (see Getting Around and Accommodation for details).

Riding a motorbike around Pirate Island, Dao Hai Tac, VietnamBiking around Pirate Island’s tiny network of pretty, paved lanes is good fun


Coastal road, Pirate Island, Dao Hai Tac, VietnamThere’s no traffic on Pirate Island, making walking a very pleasant way to see the island

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Temples, Shrines & Memorials:

There are two local places of worship on Pirate Island, both on the hill behind Bai Bac beach. Miếu Bà Chúa Hòn is a small shrine dedicated to the island deity, accessed via a short, steep stairway, directly behind the stele commemorating the official ownership of the island, in 1958. Further along the coast road, a paved lane rises to Sơn Hòa Tự, a pleasant, leafy temple erected to honor a famous local pirate who is said to have sailed to Thailand, fell in love with a local woman, and brought her back to the islands, whereupon he gave up the pirate life. It’s a nice, cool, shady, contemplative place with sea views. The road continues up to a lighthouse, but is off limits due to military presence.

Son Hoa Tu temple, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThere are two temples on Pirate Island: one to the island deity, the other honoring a local legend

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Boat Trips & Fishing:

Boats to the outlying islands can be arranged quite easily, usually through your accommodation. A half-day costs between 400,000-600,000vnd and can include visits to hidden coves, beaches, fishing communities, snorkeling, and scavenging for crustaceans. You can also try night squid fishing. (See Getting Around for details).

Take a boat to visit the outlying island, Pirate Archipelago, Hai Tac Island, VietnamBoat trips to the outlying islands can be easily arranged; so too can night squid fishing trips

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Accommodation:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use any of the relevant links below to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

As many travellers will need to spend a night in Ha Tien, on the mainland, before/after catching the ferry to/from Pirate Island, I have included accommodation information for both Ha Tien and Pirate Island below:

Guest rooms at a typical guest house on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamAccommodation on Pirate Island is basic but fine; on the mainland, Ha Tien has lots of good value hotels


Ha Tien Accommodation: Ha Tien is an extremely pleasant town on the banks of the Giang Thanh River as it flows into the Gulf of Thailand. There’s a good range of cheap hotels in Ha Tien where you can stay on the way to/from Pirate Island. Below are just a few options. (See my full Guide to Ha Tien for more details):

• Hai Yen Hotel [MAP]; 15 To Chau Street | tel: 077 3851 580 | 200,000-500,000vnd: Straddling the quiet corner of To Chau and Chi Lang streets, Hai Yen Hotel is in the east of Ha Tien, near the confluence of the Dong Ho Lake and the Giang Thanh River. A white-painted five-storey building, the hotel offers dozens of rooms, all of which have either balconies or windows. Particularly nice (and excellent value for money) are the corner rooms on the higher floors, which have views over the lake, river, town and surrounding hills. All rooms are bright, spacious, clean and comfortable. Rooms for 1-4 people are between 200,000-500,000vnd.

Guest room at Hai Yen Hotel, Ha Tien, VietnamHai Yen Hotel is a very good mini-hotel & one of the best value places to stay in Ha Tien

• Hai Phuong Hotel [MAP]; $10-$20 [BOOK HERE] Between Ha Tien’s main street and the waterfront, Hai Phuong Hotel has long been the town’s go-to backpacker accommodation. And for good reason: rooms (of which there are plenty) are cheap, bright, comfortable, clean, and quiet. If you’re a solo traveller, there’s a good chance of meeting others here to share your travel stories with and perhaps continue on to Pirate Island together. Most rooms have balconies with river views. It’s well-situated for access to the riverfront promenade, markets, and food outlets on Tran Hau Street. Rooms range from $10-$20 [BOOK HERE]

• Long Chau Hotel [MAP]; $1o-$20 [BOOK HERE] One of the best of a large block of budget hotels, Long Chau boasts a waterfront location that’s perfect for people watching and observing the river traffic as it comes and goes throughout the day. Long Chau offers nicely presented, very clean rooms. Try to get a room with a balcony as they have excellent views of the Giang Thanh River flowing out to sea and the To Chau hills to the east. Average prices are $10-$20. [BOOK HERE]

• River Hotel [MAP]; $30-$50 [BOOK HERE] A multi-storey structure of curving glass right on the riverfront, it’s difficult to miss River Hotel, currently Ha Tien’s plushest accommodation. On weekends and public holidays it’s popular with large tour groups, but during the week it can be almost empty. Rooms are spacious, clean, tastefully furnished, and receive lots of natural light thanks to the large windows. The views over the river, hills, and town are fabulous (although there are no balconies). Average rates are from $30-$50 [BOOK HERE]

Hai Phuong Hotel, Ha Tien, VietnamHa Tien has lots of good budget hotels to choose from, like Hai Phuong Hotel (pictured)

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Pirate Island Accommodation: All accommodation on Pirate Island is in the budget price bracket. At the time of writing, accommodation is pretty basic, but in decent supply. There are essentially two kinds of accommodation on Pirate Island: private rooms in bare but clean guest houses (called phòng trọ or nhà nghỉ), or hammocks on open-air platforms under a roof. As a general rule, the former runs from 150,000-400,000vnd (1-6 persons), and the latter from 40,000-80,000vnd. Guest house rooms are basic: a firm mattress on the floor in a clean, featureless, fan-cooled room. Some have a private toilet and shower, others are shared. Power generally cuts out from 11pm-5am, during which time you can use the battery-powered floor fan instead. However, by the time you read this guide, Pirate Island should already have 24-hour electricity, and then, I suppose, many guest houses will provide air-con. Hammocks are a cheap and romantic option: usually strung up in groups by the ocean. However, although these are perfect for a daytime nap, over night there’s no protection from bugs. Camping is also a possibility: if you bring your own tent, you can pay a small fee to set up where the hammocks are. Wild camping might be OK too, but would draw attention (not such a good idea on an island with a military presence). Try to avoid weekends, when places can be full up. As with everything else on the island, the range and type of accommodation will probably change/expand very soon, as a result of being hooked up to the national grid. Below are several options:

• Phuong Thao Homestay [MAP]; Tel: 0919 047 659 | 0944 822 224: On the south coast of the island (easy walking distance from the ferry pier), Phuong Thao is a friendly, basic but clean, fairly large guest house. Bare rooms feature mattresses on the floor, fans, air-con (when the power is on), and private toilets with showers. The property fronts the ocean, where there are hammocks. It’s a rocky beach and too close to the port and settlement to be any good for bathing. Boats to outlying islands and fishing trips can be arranged.

• Minh Nga Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0947 942 414 | 01252 602 135: Next door to Phuong Thao, Minh Nga has similar rooms and amenities. Some rooms are large enough to accommodate 4-6 guests, making it good value for money for small, budget groups. Boats to outlying islands and fishing trips can be arranged.

Mattresses on the floor in guest rooms at Minh Nga, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThe general standard of guest houses on Pirate Island is bare & basic but comfortable (picture: Minh Nga)

• Ly Ly Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 01274 333 377 | 01274 333 288: Just up the hill directly behind the port, Ly Ly is a simple guest house with sparse, clean rooms, hard mattresses on wooden beds, and private toilet and shower. It’s in ‘town’ but within 5 minutes’ walk of Bai Bac Beach to the north, or the ferry pier to the south.

• Perfect Beach Hammocks [MAP]: In the far west of the island, this little wooden platform is raised above the sea in one of the prettiest spots on the island. Hammocks are strung up on wooden beams beneath a roof, but the sides are open to the sea breeze. Come during the day to relax, or stay overnight (but remember to bring bug spray and/or a mosquito coil).

Beach hammocks on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamHammock platforms can be found around Pirate Island’s coast; they can be rented for the night

• Minh Luan Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 01687 608 037 | 0773 855 893: A sprawling, scruffy place occupying a pretty promontory jutting out at the west of the island, Minh Luan has a few simple rooms with shared bathrooms, and lots of activities, such as fishing trips and seafood feasts. It’s all about the location, not the rooms. Sadly, trash is beginning to be a problem here.

• Huynh Duc Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0949 336 447 | 0915 477 411: Up a steep lane from the coast in the north of the island, Huynh Duc has several attractive looking bungalows set on a lush hillside overlooking the sea. Inside, the bungalows are large, musty and damp, with lots of wooden furniture. Although the location is good and the buildings are substantial, prices start at 400,000vnd (even for single occupancy), making Huynh Duc by far the most expensive place to stay on Pirate Island. Access to the beach, however, is excellent and so is the restaurant on the veranda.

Huynh Duc bungalows, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamHuynh Duc Guest House has a great position on the hill above Bai Bac beach, but it’s not value for money

• Ngoc Nhanh Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 098 579 9995: On the coast road in the east of the island, Ngoc Nhanh has large, basic, clean rooms. Popular with visitors, Ngoc Nhanh is often full, so try calling in advance, especially if you’re travelling on a weekend. The main settlement is easy walking distance, but the coast around Ngoc Nhanh is rocky and not suitable for bathing.

• Huong Xua Hammocks [MAP]; Tel: 0382 006 422: On its own little islet, just off the north coast, Huong Xua is best known as a seafood restaurant, but it also rents hammocks, which are arranged in rows on a raised platform above the sea. It’s a pleasant location for a daytime nap, if not overnight. Again, trash is becoming a major concern here. Access to the sea and Bai Bac Beach is good.

Beach hammocks at Huong Xua, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamHammocks on a breezy platform at Huong Xua: perfect for the daytime, and the cheapest option for the night

• Son Hai Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0974 010 007: Right at the centre of the long, white sands of Bai Bac Beach, in the north of the island, Son Hai is a great seafood restaurant, but also has a couple of simple rooms and hammocks available. You can’t get much closer to the sea than this.

• Beach Bungalows (under construction) [MAP]: At the time of writing (October 2019), it looked as though a few fairly substantial beach bungalows were being constructed on Bai Bac, at the western end of the beach.

• Hon Tre Vinh Island Resort [MAP]: The small island of Hon Tre Vinh is just off the west coast of Pirate Island. There’s accommodation here belonging to River Hotel in Ha Tien. Staying overnight usually requires buying into a package, which can be expensive. Contact River Hotel for details (www.riverhotel.info). River Hotel also has resort plans for the large island to the south of Pirate Island.

Hammocks by the sea, looking to Hon Tre Vinh Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamThe range & quality of accommodation on Pirate Island is bound to expand soon, once there’s 24-hour electricity

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Food & Drink:

Being only a little island in a tiny archipelago with a small population, you wouldn’t expect Hai Tac Island to have much of a dining scene. Indeed, food and drink outlets are very limited. But, this being Vietnam (one of the greatest foodie nations on Earth), there are still a handful of places to get a good feed. Seafood, obviously, is the staple of most island residents. But there are also a couple of rice and noodle eateries, and even a local street food scene:

A street food vendor, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamPirate Island is a very small place with a small population, but there’s still some good food around


Eating: There are several informal seafood shacks (quán hải sản) around the island, mostly lining the coast road, in particular by the fishing marina. Locally famous are Son Hai, on Bai Bac beach, Minh Luan, on the western promontory, and Huong Xua, on the islet just to the northeast. At any of these places you’ll find fresh shellfish, fish, crustaceans and cold beer, as well as obliging hosts who will help decipher the day’s menu/catch. Also, your accommodation will either be able to recommend a place or cook some seafood up themselves.

Around the port is where most of the island’s food stalls are located. For breakfast and lunch (7am-9am and 11am-12.30pm) a couple of cơm-phở (rice and noodle) shacks open next to the crossroads, serving rice, pork and egg (cơm sườn trứng), and squid noodle soup (mì mực). Both are fine to fill you up and inexpensive (30,000vnd). A couple of stores line the inland road between the port and Bai Bac beach, particularly opposite the primary school, where shops sell sweets, cakes, crisps and filled baguettes to the kids at break times (this is a good snack option during the day). In the evenings, a little street food scene pops up just behind the port. Here you’ll find grilled fish, barbecued chicken and other such delights. It’s a great atmosphere, with many local families meeting and eating together, and their children playing in the empty street. Because the island and its population are so small and friendly, you might also find you get invited to partake in a meal at someone’s home, or join in the picnic of visitors from the mainland.

Squid noodle soup, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamSeafood is the staple of the island: this is squid noodle soup for breakfast near the port


A typical rice lunch of pork & eggs, Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamA typical rice lunch of pork, eggs & soup at one of several food shacks on Pirate Island

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Drinking: There’s a very limited range of drinking options on Pirate Island. The shops and eateries mentioned above all sell the usual sodas, soft drinks, and local beer. There are a couple of pleasant seaside cafes around, including one opposite the ferry pier, where you can get Vietnamese coffee. The night street stalls serve trà tắc (a popular refreshing drink of iced tea and calamansi juice) and some of the kiosks around the island sell trà sữa, the extremely trendy, flavoured, sweet, milk tea that’s taken the whole of East Asia by storm. But you won’t find anything like an espresso or a cocktail. As with any self-respecting fishing community in Vietnam, there are plenty of beer-swilling get-togethers throughout the day and night. During these informal gatherings on people’s front porches, the locals on Hai Tac Island become even more friendly and open: prepare yourself for a long and jovial evening of alcohol and banter.

A glass of trà tắc (iced calamansi tea) on Pirate Island, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamPirate Island has a few simple cafes & at night trà tắc (iced calamansi tea) is available near the port

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Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation through Baolau.com, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Pirate Island can only be reached be sea from Ha Tien, in the southwestern-most corner of the Mekong Delta. There are several boats in both directions every day. Journey time is 40-90 minutes depending on the vessel and sea conditions. Most boats can also accommodate motorbikes and bicycles. Ticket prices are very reasonable and booking is fairly straightforward. Ha Tien is well connected to other hubs in the Mekong Delta region and there are plenty of comfortable sleeper buses serving Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Once on Pirate Island, you can easily get around on foot or on two wheels. Boats can be hired to visit the outlying islands. See below for details:

Taking the boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamPirate Island can only be reached by boat from Ha Tien, in the southwestern corner of the Mekong Delta


GETTING TO HA TIEN: 

By Air: The nearest airport to Ha Tien is 90km to the east, at Rach Gia. Vietnam Airlines operates one daily flight in each direction between Saigon and Rach Gia. Flights are in the morning ($35/$70 one-way/return). From Rach Gia there are regular buses throughout the day to Ha Tien (2 hours):

  • Search Saigon↔Rach Gia flights on Baolau.com HERE

By Bus & Motorbike: Ha Tien’s bus station has relocated to the south side of the river, not far from the boat piers. The new bus station is relatively well-organized and user-friendly. There are good bus connections from Ha Tien to most major cities in the Mekong Delta and to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Regular buses ply all major regional routes, including Rach Gia, Chau Doc, Long Xuyen, Can Tho, Ben Tre and Ca Mau. I assume that most travellers will be coming from/going to Saigon. This route is served almost hourly throughout the day and night (with a hiatus during lunchtime) by good quality sleeper buses. In particular, Kumho VIP buses and Futa buslines are excellent (the former can also carry your motorbike onboard for 400,000vnd). Passenger ticket prices are reasonable (between 120,000-190,000vnd) and levels of comfort are pretty good these days, with nearly flat relcining bed-chairs. Journey time is 8 hours depending on traffic, but the duration is reduced each time a new Mekong infrastructure project is completed, such as was the case in 2019 with the opening of the Vam Cong bridge, negating the time-consuming and over-used ferry crossing. [You can search Ha Tien bus schedules in the search box below or on Baolau.com HERE]

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses between Ho Chi Minh City & Ha Tien on Baolau.com:


Long distance buses run from Ha Tien to all major Mekong cities & Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)Ha Tien has good bus connections to all major Mekong Delta cities & Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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GETTING TO PIRATE ISLAND:

The only way to get to the Pirate Islands is by boat from Ha Tien. There are generally at least two sailings each day in both directions. The crossing usually takes under an hour, and motorbikes and bicycles can be loaded onto the boats. As a foreign traveller, you do not need a permit to visit the Pirate Islands any longer, but you will need to show your passport to book your boat ticket. See below for details:

The boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamSeveral ferries run daily between Ha Tien & Pirate Island: the crossing takes about an hour


Schedules, Times & Prices:

[*Note: all ferries to Pirate Island are advertised to Tiên Hải or Đảo Hải Tặc]

Although several ferry companies operate boats between Ha Tien and Pirate Island, only Minh Nga seems to reliably run each day. Other companies include Huong Xua (a fast ferry) and Pha An Hai (a small vehicle ferry). However, neither of these were actually operating at the time of writing. My guess is that they run on weekends, public holidays, and during high season months (November to April) only. Minh Nga ferries leave twice a day in both directions: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. However, on weekends and whenever demand is high, this schedule will double. The crossing takes approximately 1 hour. Ticket prices are 50,000vnd per passenger, and 50,000vnd per motorbike (plus a 30,000vnd handling fee at both ports). Sailings to Pirate Island are bound to increase from the end of 2019, once the islands are connected to the national grid and visitor numbers are expected to rise. The boat schedule and ticket prices below are subject to change and depend on weather conditions. (Note that the schedules published on signboards at the ports are almost always inaccurate, but are a good indication of sailing times):

HA TIEN  PIRATE ISLAND (Tiên Hải/Đảo Hải Tặc)

Departures: 8.15am (Minh Nga), 1.00pm (Minh Nga) daily*

Duration: 1 hour

Passenger Ticket: 50,000vnđ

Motorbike Ticket: 50,000vnd + 30,000vnd handling fee at both ports = 110,000vnd total

*At least two sailings daily operated by Minh Nga; extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends, plus other boat operators


PIRATE ISLAND → HA TIEN

Departures: 8.30am (Minh Nga), 2.30pm (Minh Nga) daily*

Duration: 1 hour

Passenger Ticket: 50,000vnđ

Motorbike Ticket: 50,000vnd + 30,000vnd handling fee at both ports = 110,000vnd total

*At least two sailings daily operated by Minh Nga; extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends, plus other boat operators


Loading the boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamLoading up: boats between Ha Tien & Pirate Island leave at least twice daily in both directions

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Ports & Ticket Offices:

[*Note: all ferries to Pirate Island are advertised to Tiên Hải or Đảo Hải Tặc]

Ha Tien port is located across the river from town, on the south bank of the Giang Thanh River. Tickets can be booked at any number of the dozens of kiosks that cluster around the port. Look for signs advertising boats to Tiên Hải or Đảo Hải Tặc (both are alternative names for Pirate Island). However, it’s perhaps easiest to go to the main (new) terminal building, and go to the ticket office on the far left (as you’re looking at the building from the outside) and ask for tàu đi Tiên Hải/Đảo Hải Tặc (boats to Pirate Island). Unless it’s a weekend or public holiday, tickets should be able to be purchased on the day of travel, just 30-45 minutes prior to departure. However, it’s a much better idea to buy your tickets a few hours (or even a day, if possible) in advance. If you don’t want to deal with Ha Tien’s busy port, you can probably buy tickets through your hotel in town: just ask reception to arrange it. You must have your passport to book tickets. (Note that the schedules published on signboards at the ports are almost always inaccurate, but are a good indication of sailing times.) 

Tickets for motorbikes or bicycles are purchased at the pier, before boarding the boat: make sure you get there 30 minutes before departure. When I did it, I wasn’t asked for my motorbike green/blue card or driving license.

In Ha Tien, boats to Pirate Island tend to leave from the older of the two port buildings, known as Pier No.1: this is the one on your left as you’re facing the river.

On Hai Tac Island, tickets are purchased at the café beside the Bien Phong (border control) office, directly opposite the pier where the boats dock, on the south coast.

Sign for Minh Nga boats to Pirate Islands (Dao Hai Tac), Vietnam)Although several companies run ferries to Pirate Island, Minh Nga seems to be the most reliable


Loading a motorbike onto the Ha Tien-Pirate Island ferry, VietnamMotorbikes can be carried on most vessels on the crossing between Ha Tien & Pirate Island

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The Boats & the Voyage:

Although several different companies operate boats to Pirate Island, Minh Nga appears to be the most frequent and the only one that reliably sails each day. Minh Nga operates three very different vessels: a handsome yacht-like ship with a neat Vietnamese-star funnel at the back and plenty of outside deck space; a long and narrow fast boat with coach-style seating; and an old wooden hulk that chugs through he waves, its passengers lying on bare wood-plank floorboards inside, or sat on plastic chairs on the deck at the back. Journey time is anywhere between 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on the vessel and sailing conditions. All boats accept motorbikes. The voyage is very pleasant. Leaving Ha Tien involves sailing under the To Chau Bridge and out of the Giang Thanh estuary. The green hills of Mui Nai Cape provide a scenic backdrop as Ha Tien recedes into the distance. The water colour changes from brown to blue as the river is diluted by the sea. Pirate Islands get steadily closer: going from hazy silhouettes on the horizon to forested nuggets dotting the glass-like waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The boat docks at the ferry pier on the south coast of Pirate Island, surrounded by fishing boats.

NOTE: It’s worth pointing out that there is now an alarming amount of plastic floating in the ocean for the entire length of the voyage. It wasn’t always like this, and one wonders how much more it will take before we all make significant changes to what we consume and how we carry, store and discard the things we use.

The boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamMinh Nga operates a couple of different vessels to Pirate Island: this is the more shapely of them


Seating on the boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamInside, seating is on soft coach-style chairs, but there’s also lots of good open-deck space


The boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamThe second Minh Nga vessel is this old wooden hulk which chugs along through the waves


Seating on the boat from Ha Tien to Pirate Island (Dao Hai Tac), VietnamInside the wooden vessel, seating is on plastic chairs, or lying flat on the wood-plank deck

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GETTING AROUND PIRATE ISLAND:

Pirate Island may be the largest island in the archipelago, but it’s still very small indeed. Getting around the main island is easy, whether on foot, on two wheels, or in an electric buggy. Getting around the archipelago can be done by hired boat:

Getting around Pirate Island by motorbike, Hai Tac Archipelago, VietnamGetting around Pirate Island is easy: choose from a motorbike, bicycle, boat or on foot


By Motorbike, Bicycle & on Foot: Pirate Island has a modest road network, including a paved lane following the entire coastline, and two short and steep inland roads connecting the coasts. You can, of course, bring your own two wheels with you on the boat from the mainland (see Getting to Pirate Island for details), but motorbikes and bicycles can also by rented from many (but certainly not all) of the accommodations on the island. Motor-powered or pedal-powered, the island is easily navigable and pleasant to explore, as the roads are very pretty and traffic minimal. The entire circuit of the island is less than 5km, which means walking is a great option, too. Everywhere on the island is within walking distance and, with the exception of the steep inland roads, very gentle exercise. An electric buggy can be hired for a tour of the island’s roads, beaches, and sights. It tends to run on weekends and holidays, but if you ask at Minh Nga or Phuong Thao I’m sure they’ll be able to arrange it for you. However, the buggy really isn’t necessary: it’s far nicer to amble around the island on foot or two wheels, stopping for swims, snacks, naps in hammocks, photos and chats with local people.

Walking or riding around the island's quiet roads, Pirate Island, Dao Hai Tac, VietnamPirate Island’s deserted & scenic roads are perfect for walking or riding: distances are short

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By Boat: Of the 16 islands in the archipelago, a few are large enough to be permanently inhabited, and a couple have very nice, secluded beaches and bays that can only be reached by boat. From Pirate Island, boats can be hired to any of the islands. You can ask and arrange a boat through your accommodation (try Phuong Thao, Minh Nga and Minh Luan) or you could even try your luck negotiating down at the local fishing marina (but this is best if you speak some Vietnamese). It’s difficult to judge prices, but you can expect to pay anywhere between 100,000-700,000vnd depending on how far and how long you want to go. I’m sure that the boat trips system will become more formalized soon, because, once the islands are hooked up to the national electricity gird, the hope is that tourism will rapidly increase.

Take a boat to visit the outlying island, Pirate Archipelago, Hai Tac Island, VietnamIt’s fairly easy to hire a boat to visit the other islands in the Pirate Archipelago

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Weather:

Like other regions of southern Vietnam, the dry season months (roughly November-May) are the best time to visit the Pirate Islands. During these months, conditions are generally bright, sunny, warm and dry, and the sea is wonderfully calm. The rainy season months (roughly June-October) can see quite rough seas and plenty of tropical downpours. Indeed, it can be very dramatic on the islands during rainy season: watching the cloud cathedrals bubble up over the Cambodian mountains to the north and east, lightning flaring in the evening sky before the rains hit, drumming on the corrugated iron rooftops of the fishermen’s shacks. However, the shoulder months (October and May) are probably the very best times to visit, because the weather is still decent and visitors are few. Note that the heat and humidity on the Pirate Islands can be intense at anytime of year.

The sun sets on the Pirate Islands, Hac Tac Archipelago, VietnamThe sun sets over the Pirate Islands: weather is best from November to April


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this island and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Best Times of Day to Ride In/Out of Saigon & Hanoi by Motorbike http://vietnamcoracle.com/best-times-of-day-to-ride-inout-of-saigon-hanoi-by-motorbike/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/best-times-of-day-to-ride-inout-of-saigon-hanoi-by-motorbike/#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2019 08:04:26 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29958 Riding a motorbike in/out of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) & Hanoi can be congested & polluted, but some times of the day are better than others... Continue reading

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First published October 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Riding by motorbike in and out of Vietnam’s two largest cities, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi, can be a miserable experience. The city centers, suburbs, and surrounding industrial zones are often extremely congested, chaotic, polluted, dangerous, and ugly. Getting in or out of Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike takes about an hour (or even two). What’s more, these horrible, busy, polluted rides usually bookend most travellers’ road trips in Vietnam, thus taking the shine off the beginning and end of an otherwise memorable experience. One way to avoid (or, at least, reduce) the discomfort of entering and exiting Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike is to time it right. Certain times of day (and night) are better for traffic congestion and general road-related stress. On this page, I’ve written about ways to combat the misery of riding in and out of Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike, including the best times of day to exit and enter, and other alternative solutions.

Best Times to Ride in/out of Saigon & Hanoi by MotorbikeExiting & entering Saigon & Hanoi by motorbike is much easier if you choose the right time of day

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BEST TIMES OF DAY TO RIDE IN/OUT OF SAIGON & HANOI


Below is my guide to exiting and entering Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike. I’ve organized this guide into several sections: a general description of what’s it’s like to ride in and out of Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike; a guide to the best times of day to exit and enter the cities; suggestions of other ways to avoid riding through the congested and polluted suburbs; and a map of the extent of the industrial sprawl of Vietnam’s two largest cities. Please note that I have not included specific routes in/out of the cities, because most of my Motorbike Guides feature this on their maps. (For more useful guides like this one, see Related Posts.)

Click an item below for details:

CONTENTS:

Rush hour traffic, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), VietnamAvoid this kind of traffic congestion by exiting/entering Saigon & Hanoi at the best times of day


MAP:

The Urban & Industrial Sprawl of Saigon & Hanoi

This map is a very rough representation of the limits of Saigon and Hanoi’s congested, polluted, bleak and grim-to-ride urban and industrial sprawl. The point is to show a general radius of how far you can expect the grimness to last, and at which point you can expect things to start getting better. Obviously, this is a very subjective map: my idea of where things are ‘bad’ and where they get ‘better’ may be very different from other riders. The point is just to give riders an idea of what to expect. Zoom in on either of the two cities in the map below to see the shaded areas of urban and industrial sprawl:


View in a LARGER MAP


Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), VietnamSagion & Hanoi are quickly becoming mega cities with a huge urban & industrial sprawl

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Why Exiting & Entering Saigon & Hanoi is Horrible:

The following paragraphs are a very subjective account describing my (mostly negative) feelings about the ride in/out of Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike – something which I’ve done on hundreds of occasions over the last decade:

If you’re unfortunate enough to exit or enter Vietnam’s capital or commercial hub during peak hours or via main arteries, you may have a miserable experience and impression of the cities. Indeed, even now that I’ve learned to leave and return at optimal times of the day and on less congested roads, I still struggle to come to terms with how ghastly it can be. Vietnam’s biggest cities have an extraordinary buzz – a pulse and a rhythm and a thirst for everything that urban living has to offer. New York, London, Tokyo don’t come close to matching the frenetic energy and hyperactivity of Saigon and Hanoi, especially during the rush hours. This quality is something that has always appealed to me about living in Saigon or Hanoi: at peak times these cities appear to be so obviously the centre of the world; why would you want to be anywhere else? But there’s another side to all this, which becomes apparent when you have to ride across one of the cities and continue through their sprawling industrial suburbs, in order to reach a modicum of fresh, clean air, natural surroundings, greenery, peace and quiet.

Frenetic streets & traffic at night, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamSaigon & Hanoi have an extraordinary pace, energy & pulse that puts other cities to shame


Dusk skyline, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamSaigon’s impressive new skyline belies the inadequacy of its infrastructure to deal with increased traffic & pollution

The 1-2 hour ride (depending on the route, time of day, and weather conditions) in/out of Saigon or Hanoi lays bare some of the worst aspects of mass urban living and big industry. In the space of an hour or two you’ll witness (among countless other things): litter, pollution, poverty, inequality, chaotic road discipline, noise, dust, and environmental destruction. (Not that any of these problems are unique to Vietnam, of course.) To give just a few examples: I took a photo of my face, my pores blackened with soot, after I had ridden from Hanoi to Hai Phong for the very first time – god knows what my lungs might have looked like (see the image below); Around the industrial zones between Saigon, Bien Hoa, and Vung Tau, where factories (including one owned by the Taiwanese giant, Formosa, who, in 2016, were responsible for dumping toxic industrial waste into the East Sea, thus poisoning the ocean, killing a hundred tonnes of fish, and destroying the livelihood of thousands of fishing families) spew foul-smelling, chemical-laden fumes into the grey sky, the air is barely breathable and all surfaces are covered in a layer of sinister silver dust; And how many dozens of people and animals have I witnessed run-over or caught in collisions with trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes whizzing through the industrial suburbs as if there were no obstacles on the road.

Electricity pylons in the industrial outskirts of Hanoi, VietnamBoth Saigon & Hanoi are surrounded by vast industrial zones & poisonous air


My face covered in black soot after riding through the Hanoi industrial suburbs, VietnamMy face, covered in soot, after riding through Hanoi’s industrial outskirts

It’s true, however, that some riders find the experience exhilarating, or at least interesting. I did, too. For several years when I started riding in Vietnam, I enjoyed the density of life and industry, the tangled traffic and the evidence of a nation on the move, undergoing great transformation, in the midst of its industrial revolution. But those charms are limited and have, over time, worn off for me. These days, it’s a psychological battle just to keep my head down, concentrate on the road and grind it out for an hour or two, not taking myself or my surroundings too seriously, ignoring the rising feeling that homo sapiens is a cancer eating away at the Earth, that industrialization doesn’t have an endgame, and that nothing makes any sense……before, finally, reaching some fresh air and greenery. Then, the road trip can really begin.

Rush hour traffic, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamCongestion in Saigon & Hanoi is getting worse & riding a motorbike through it isn’t very enjoyable


Out of the city & into the open countryside, VietnamThis is what you want & this is why you ride a motorbike in Vietnam

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Best Times to Exit & Enter Saigon & Hanoi:

The answer to the question, ‘What is the best time of day to exit/enter Saigon and Hanoi by motorbike?’, is fairly straightforward, but also needs some explaining. Below are the best times to ride in/out of Saigon and Hanoi on any weekday (with the exception of those that fall on a public holiday). Click a time to read more about it: 

Empty streets at night in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamAt certain times of the day in Saigon & Hanoi the streets are relatively empty & easy to ride

9.00pm→5.00am: By far the best time to ride in or out of the cities and their surrounding industrial sprawl is late at night or early (really early) in the morning. Exiting or entering the cities anytime from 9pm to 5am will massively reduce the congestion, air-pollution, and driving stress of the journey. This is because these times fall outside of the majority of working hours (meaning there’s no commuter traffic and most of the factories aren’t spewing toxic fumes into the air). What’s more, there are fewer trucks on the roads. However, this last point is only true to a certain extent, because many container trucks ride through the night (either by contract or specifically to avoid the busier daytime roads). Given the choice, I would almost always leave/arrive in Saigon and Hanoi late at night or early in the morning. When it comes to traffic and air quality, there’s simply no better time. For example, I often leave Saigon at 4am, and by 5am I’m clear of the industrial suburbs, and by 6am I’m at the beach or in the Mekong Delta. Likewise, I often leave the Mekong Delta or the beach at 9pm and I’m be back in Saigon by 11pm or midnight. 

But there is one drawback to riding at these times. Aside from the obvious effort of either staying up late or waking up early, a major concern for some riders is riding in the dark. Without daylight, it’s harder to see potential hazards on the road, such as potholes, wandering pedestrians, unlit vehicles (not uncommon in Vietnam), or animals. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether you feel confident riding in the dark or not.

Empty streets in the dead of night, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamIf you ride in/out of Saigon & Hanoi during the hours 9pm-5am you’ll likely have empty streets

11.30am→2.00pm: If night riding is not your thing, there is another time period that’s pretty good for exiting/entering Saigon and Hanoi. The middle of the day, roughly between 11.30am to 2.00pm, is an extended lunch break for most Vietnamese workers, including truckers. This means that large vehicles, cars, and commuters on motorbikes, generally stop for a long meal and a nap, leaving the roads relatively quiet. During this time it’s just about possible to sneak in/out of the cities before things get going again. It’s nowhere near as reliable as riding during the night, but it’s a decent window of opportunity, and many riders understandably prefer it.

Truckers stopping by the roadside for lunch, VietnamBetween 11.30am-2.00pm most people (including truckers) take a lunch break, leaving the roads quiet

Other Considerations: Finally, there are a couple of other factors to bear in mind. Remember that it takes between 1-2 hours to clear the city and industrial suburbs. Therefore, allow yourself enough time within the two riding windows listed above to complete to ride. For example, if you’re leaving in the morning from Saigon, make sure you leave before 5.00am, not at 5.00am, otherwise you’re likely to still be in ‘red zone’ at 6.00am, when things start to get busy. Another point worth considering is that the city of Saigon and its industrial sprawl is much bigger than Hanoi. But, on the other hand, road discipline in Hanoi is much worse than in Saigon. So, ultimately, there’s not much to choose between the two. Lastly, these ‘good times’ to exit/enter Saigon and Hanoi don’t necessarily apply to weekends and public holidays. During these days ‘leisure traffic’ increases dramatically, as millions of people from the cities hit the road for a short break; however, there should also be fewer trucks on the roads, because the truckers too (if they’re lucky) will also be on holiday.

Dawn heralds the beginning of traffic in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) & Hanoi, VietnamMake sure you leave before dawn, because once the sun rises the traffic starts

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Other Good Alternative Solutions:

In addition to entering or exiting Saigon and Hanoi at the best times of day, there are other ways to avoid the horrible crawl through the industrial suburbs:

Bike-on-the-Train: By far the best, safest, most convenient way to leave or enter the capital or the commercial hub, is to bypass the suburbs altogether by putting yourself and your motorbike on one of several excellent bike-on-the-train options. There are a handful of train routes in/out of Saigon and Hanoi that allow passengers to travel with their motorbike on the same train. These include:

All of these train services operate at least once daily in both directions. By taking your motorbike with you on these train routes you cut out the congested, polluted crawl through the industrial suburbs altogether, and you get to experience a great train journey. Personally, I utilize these bike-on-the-train options whenever I can: they are a fantastic resource for riders in Vietnam. (I’ve written detailed guides to many of these train routes HERE.)

Put you motorbike on the train & avoid riding in/out of the big cities, VietnamAvoid the industrial suburbs completely by taking your bike on one of several convenient train routes

Choose your Route Carefully: Another major component of reducing the stress of exiting and entering Saigon and Hanoi is to choose your route in/out carefully. There’s no such thing as a route that completely avoids busy roads, dangerous highways, or polluted suburbs, but some routes are better than others. In most cases, the more direct the route is, the more congested and polluted it will be. Therefore, oftentimes the best routes involve minor detours (away from the main arteries) and are longer in distance, but not necessarily in time. The rewards are: less traffic, less dust, and less stress. In general, the maps in my Motorbike Guides feature alternative, less congested routes in/out of Saigon and Hanoi.

Choose your route in/out of the big cities carefullyBy choosing your route in/out of the city carefully you can avoid some of the worse urban & industrial areas

Choose a Different Origin/Destination City: Finally, and most obvious of all, start or end your road trip at somewhere other than Saigon and Hanoi. Potential alternative origin/destination cities include: Danang, Hue, Phong Nha, Ha Giang, Cao Bang, Sapa, Dalat, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and many others. Although some of these places are also big cities, they’re nothing like as busy, chaotic, dangerous and polluted as Saigon and Hanoi. Most of the motorbike rental companies that I recommend on this page either have multiple pick-up/drop-off offices throughout Vietnam or can arrange pick-up/drop-off in multiple cities nationwide.

View of Danang from Son Tra Peninsular, VietnamCut out Saigon & Hanoi altogether by starting/ending you road trip somewhere else, like Danang

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Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I think knowing when to ride in/out of Saigon & Hanoi is important & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay http://vietnamcoracle.com/escalade-resort-cam-ranh-bay/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/escalade-resort-cam-ranh-bay/#respond Thu, 26 Sep 2019 06:03:28 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=30273 A small-scale, affordable mid-range resort with dazzling sea views over one of the prettiest bays in Vietnam, Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh is tasteful, good value for money & great place to unwind.... Continue reading

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First published September 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Thatched-roof bungalows raised on stilts above large boulders looking over treetops to a white sand beach and a bright blue bay, Escalade Resort is the newest place to stay in one of my favourite coastal regions of Vietnam. On the east side of Cam Lap Promontory, jutting out into Cam Ranh Bay, Escalade Resort is a small, tasteful, mid-range property. Escalade Resort’s main strengths are its cosy, neatly arranged rooms with lots of natural building materials, its beautiful location, and the excellent views across Cam Ranh Bay, one of the prettiest stretches of coast in the country. Escalade Resort is quiet, secluded, and just about the right price for the quality of accommodation, service, facilities and location. I stayed at Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh, for a week with my parents and we were very happy. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Escalade Resort please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: All my reviews are independently researched & financed. I never receive freebies of any sort in exchange for positive reviews or listings. If you use the links on this page to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade, Cam Ranh Bay is a good mid-range resort in one of my favourite beach destinations

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REVIEW: ESCALADE RESORT, CAM RANH


Address: Binh Lap Village, Cam Lap Commune, Cam Ranh City, Khanh Hoa Province [MAP]

Average Rates: $40-$60 | Email: reservations@escalade.com.vn

[Click the image below or BOOK HERE]


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


Cam Ranh Bay, roughly equidistant from Nha Trang (to the north) and Phan Rang (to the south), is known as one of the best natural harbours in Southeast Asia. Cam Lap Promontory is a finger of land sticking out into the bay, characterized by boulder-strewn hills, white sand beaches, calm turquoise water, and a local hamlet, called Binh Lap. There’s always been a handful of places to stay here, but Escalade Resort is the newest and most tasteful to date. With only around a dozen rooms, Escalade is a small but well-planned and well-located resort. About a third of the rooms have wonderful sea views from their wooden-deck and bamboo-railed balconies. The other rooms (all designed in a similar style with a similar square-footage) look out over trees, fields and boulders towards the bay, but only have partial sea views. Naturally, the sea view rooms are the more expensive: average rates are between $35-$55 per night, double occupancy.

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade is the newest of a handful of places to stay on Cam Lap Promontory, a quiet beach destination


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamSome of Escalade’s rooms have balconies with brilliant views over the sparkling bay

Escalade is built on a rugged mound of large, smooth boulders rising up from a good sandy beach, known as ‘Lobster Bay’ on account of the intensive farming of the eponymous crustacean just offshore. The water quality is generally very good and the sea is usually very calm, because the bay is sheltered by two curving headlands. Swimming is good and quite safe. But bear in mind that this is a working beach, which means there’s a fair amount of fishing-related activity (such as wooden boats and coracles in the bay and lobster cages on the sand) and debris (such as discarded fishing nets, ropes and, sadly, plastic bags floating in the water). However, it’s still far cleaner and clearer than most beaches in Vietnam these days, and, when the sun is out, the colours are extraordinarily vibrant.

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamThe beach at Escalade is pretty & good to swim, but it’s also a working beach with fishing-related detritus


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamLobster farming occupies much of the bay & lobster cages occupy much of the sandy beach

Escalade’s rooms are quite small, but they’re nicely furnished and thought-out. Much of the furniture and building materials are made of wood, including bamboo shower cubicles and rails, bamboo-slat blinds operated by pulley, woven ceilings below a thatched roof, and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors onto the balcony. Best of all, these doors also have a mosquito mesh, which means you can sleep with the doors open and listen to the sound of the waves during the night (a simple feature, but one that is rarely used in resorts, hotels or private homes in Vietnam). The bathrooms are neatly organized with nice little touches, such as decorative blue and white ceramic sink basins, floral tile walls in the showers, and tiny woven handicrafts. The beds are good, firm and comfortable; the balconies feature stylish bamboo chairs and a wooden deck on which to sit and admire the view; and all rooms have satellite TV and air-con. The overall style is simple but tasteful and well-organized. Strangely, all of Escalade’s rooms lack a bedside table and bedside lamp, but this could easily be addressed.

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade’s rooms feature lots of natural materials, such as bamboo-railed balconies & a wooden deck


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade’s rooms are cosy, tasteful & well-arranged, but a bit small for the price


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade’s rooms are all similar in style & square footage, built on stilts over rocks with thatched roofs



Escalade has an attractive little bar on the rocks with tables and chairs on a patio under a the shade of a vine with views over the bay. The bar sells beer (including Hoegaarden, but none of the local craft beers that have boomed in Vietnam in recent years), some wine, a couple of cocktails, juices and several bar snacks. For meals, Escalade shares the beach restaurant with its neighbour, Dao Hoa Vang, a pleasant budget property with a variety of good, cheap rooms. Known as ‘Lobster Bay Restaurant’, the menu includes plenty of fresh seafood, such as clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and lobster which are farmed in the bay fronting the restaurant. Quality is good and prices are very reasonable considering the location and freshness of the food. For example, a whole lobster costs between 400-600,000vnd (around $25), which is a lot cheaper than anywhere else in Vietnam. Breakfast, which is included in the room price at Escalade, is also served at Lobster Bay Restaurant. You can choose one dish and one drink from a short but tasty menu, including bread and eggs, stir-fried seafood noodles, Vietnamese coffee and fruit juice. (*At the time of writing, the restaurant was expanding and undergoing renovations, so expect some changes in the coming months).

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade shares the beach restaurant with Dao Hoa Vang, a cheaper accommodation next door


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamFood is very good & quite reasonably priced, including lots of Vietnamese staples


Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamSeafood is very fresh & cheap, including oysters, fish & whole lobsters from the bay

As for activities and things to do, Escalade is mostly about relaxation and seclusion. There are loungers, deck chairs and parasols on the beach and, as mentioned above, the sea here is good for swimming, although swimmers should be careful of fishing nets, lobster cages, and boats. The beach and sea aren’t as clean as they used to be (a familiar story across the country), but they’re still very attractive and a lot cleaner than the more popular beaches in Vietnam. There’s some coral offshore in the bay, which staff can direct you to for snorkeling. It’s also possible to hire a boat to some of the outlying islands and hidden coves. Hiking is a rewarding way to see the local area: there are several quiet, paved lanes as well as pathways leading to local hamlets, harbours, beaches, and through orchards of cashew and mango trees. (See my Guide to Cam Lap Promontory for more information.) Another, longer excursion, is to rent a motorbike and ride the stunning coast road to Vinh Hy and Phan Rang. (See my Nui Chua Coast Road Guide for details.)  

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade is a great place to unwind; other things to do include snorkeling & walking

Escalade Resort can be accessed from the north by way of Nha Trang or from the south via Phan Rang and the spectacular Nui Chua Coast Road. Escalade is especially easy to reach for independent travellers with their own two wheels. But for those without their own transportation, Escalade Resort can arrange pick-up/drop-off transfers for a reasonable price to/from Nha Trang or Phan Rang train stations, or Cam Ranh airport and bus station. You can search transportation options to/from any of these destinations on Baolau.com. *NOTE: Currently, the car bridge connecting Cam Lap Promontory with the coast road is under repair: motorbikes can pass but cars cannot. Escalade will arrange a car to meet you on the other side of the temporary bridge. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Escalade Resort please BOOK HERE]

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamEscalade Resort can be reached from Nha Trang, Cam Ranh or Phan Rang

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: All my reviews are independently researched & financed. I never receive freebies of any sort in exchange for positive reviews or listings. If you use the links on this page to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Escalade Resort, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamPlease support Vietnam Coracle by making your booking for Escalade Resort HERE


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this resort & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/cat-ba-island-halong-bay-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/cat-ba-island-halong-bay-travel-guide/#respond Fri, 30 Aug 2019 04:06:58 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29270 An island of dramatic coastlines & jungle-clad limestone pillars, Cat Ba is one of Vietnam's star natural attractions & part of world-famous Halong Bay.... Continue reading

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First published August 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Cat Ba Island, lying in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the northeast coast of Vietnam, is a favourite travel destination for foreign and domestic tourists alike. Roughly equidistant from two of northern Vietnam’s largest industrial cities – Hai Phong (to the west) and Ha Long (to the north) – Cat Ba Island is, nonetheless, one of the country’s star natural attractions, and part of the world-famous Halong Bay. A large, green and rugged island (most of which belongs to a national park), Cat Ba’s interior is a forest of limestone karsts, whose pointed peaks are overlaid with thick jungle, echoing to the sounds of insects and animals; while its dramatic coastline is indented with myriad bays, coves, and cliffs. Cat Ba is a beautiful island and there’s lots to see and do here, but it’s also one of Vietnam’s major tourist hot spots. Cat Ba’s population is around 16,000, but each year the island receives some 2.5 million tourists. With this popularity comes some familiar problems: crowds during peak times, over-development in concentrated areas, pollution, noise, threats to the natural environment. However, Cat Ba is still a great place to explore as an independent traveller, and you can avoid the crowds and tourist paraphernalia if you choose. Below is my full travel guide to Cat Ba Island.

Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Travel Guide, VietnamA large green & rugged island off the northeast coast, Cat Ba is one of Vietnam’s star natural attractions

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GUIDE: CAT BA ISLAND


Below is my full guide to Cat Ba Island, including a detailed map. I’ve divided this guide into several categories, and then sub-sections within each category to make it easier to navigate. The best time of year to visit Cat Ba Island is generally from April to October, when there’s plenty of sunshine and warmth (but also plenty of rain and humidity). Between November and March it can be misty and sometimes surprisingly cold. It’s also advisable to visit on a weekday, and avoid weekends and public holidays, during which the island can get very crowded with tourists, and prices are inflated. Plan to spend between 2-5 days on Cat Ba Island.

Click a category in the contents below for more details:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Cat Ba Island, Hai Phong Province


View in a LARGER MAP

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Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of Cat Ba Island and a little bit of history and background, followed by some information about the current state of the natural environment:

Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba is a beautiful, rugged & green island, characterized by looming limestone karsts


Orientation, Topography & History:

The name ‘Cat Ba’ apparently comes from – as with so many place names in Vietnam – a local legend. During the Tran Dynasty, three women were killed and their bodies washed up one by one on the beaches of the island. Each body was discovered on a different beach (beaches Cat Co 1, 2, 3 today). ‘Cat Ba’ probably means something along the lines of ‘All the Women’. Legend aside, humans have being living on the island for at least 6,000 years; the earliest archaeological evidence being in the southeast, not far from where the main settlement is today. Cat Ba had a sizable Chinese population, but most fled in 1979 during the brief but violent and bitter Sino-Viet War. In the other wars of the 20th century, Cat Ba was strategically important as a look-out point, protecting the north’s main port of Hai Phong. As an island of limestone karsts, Cat Ba’s many caves have long provided shelter and concealment. Hospital Cave, among others, is one such place that visitors can still see today.

*Please note: Historical information in this article is based on my reading of various sources & conversations with people: I am not an historian.

Jungles & limestone karsts, Cat Ba Island National Park, VietnamCat Ba’s jungles, hills & caverns have provided for & sheltered humans for many millennia

An amorphous island (owing to the thousands of tiny islets and rocky outcrops scattered close to its shores), Cat Ba is situated just east of the port of Hai Phong, and, indeed, is part of the municipality of the same name. Geographically, though, Cat Ba is essentially the southernmost extent of the string of limestone islands stretching all the way from the Chinese border near Mong Cai down through Halong Bay. Although Cat Ba is one of the largest islands in Vietnam, because the terrain is so rugged, its population is only around 16,000. However, each year some 2.5 million foreign and domestic tourists descend on the island. This means, of course, that tourism is a big deal on Cat Ba. However, much of the island and surrounding waters are part of the national park and UNESCO Biosphere. This has largely saved Cat Ba (so far) from over-development for tourism and industry. With the exception of Cat Ba town and the surrounding beaches at the southern tip of the island, most of Cat Ba is fairly pristine.

Beach & limestone karst, Cat Ba Island, VietnamDespite its popularity with tourists, much of Cat Ba Island is a national park & relatively pristine

There’s a huge difference in character between the south of the island and the north. As a general rule, the south is developed, touristy, and often busy, while the north is quiet, beautiful, undeveloped and, from my point of view, far more pleasant. Because it’s such a rugged, mountainous island, not much can be grown on Cat Ba. But, on some of the gentler hillsides and the few flat patches of land, fruit trees are planted, providing fresh produce for the markets and vendors. Lychee, banana, papaya, pineapple, passion fruit and mango can all be seen growing around the island and for sale in its markets.

Northern Cat Ba Island is pristine, green & sereneAs a general rule: the south of the island is developed & touristy; the north is quiet & gorgeous

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Environment & Pollution:

As mentioned above, much of Cat Ba Island is part of the national park and UNESCO Biosphere. Although this does seem to have curbed reckless development and industry, there are some very worrying statistics concerning the natural environment. Endemic to the island, the Golden-headed Langur (or Cat Ba Langur) is one of the rarest primates in the world. Once numbering in the thousands, it’s now estimated that the langur population on Cat Ba is lower than 50. Because the langur is a cute and cuddly animal, efforts to raise awareness of the dwindling numbers and garner support for conservation have been fairly successful. But it could well turn out to be all in vain. Think of the last of the rare Javan Rhinos in Cat Tien National Park, poached to death in 2011, despite efforts to prevent it. There are some enormous resort and residential projects underway on the island, many of which call themselves ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’, but, at the construction sites, they look to be anything but. Cat Ba is in a precarious position, in the middle of an industrial triangle: Hai Phong, to the west, is an enormous industrial port, and Cat Hai Island, directly adjacent to Cat Ba, is on the cusp of becoming a major industrial zone thanks to VinFast (Vietnam’s first car manufacturer) opening their factory there; and to the north are the coal mines of Quang Ninh Province.

The industrial lands of Cat Hai Island & Hai Phong, seen from Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Island is in a precarious position: surrounded by large industrial zones & subject to big developments

Generally, litter on land and in the sea appears – to the naked eye, at least – to be relatively under control, especially when compared to other such islands in Vietnam that have seen tourism booms in recent years. There’s still a crust of trash in the harbours, on the beaches, and at some of the more popular tourist sites, but it’s nothing like as bad as I had feared it would be. Large green trash cans are positioned in the main town and hamlets on the island, and there are government signs everywhere urging locals and visitors alike to dispose of trash responsibly and the treat the island well. Cat Ba town, the main hub for hotels, bars, and restaurants, is a sprawl of high-rise concrete, overcrowded streets, and traffic jams of tourist coaches. If Cat Ba town is a model of development for the rest of the island, it’ll be a disaster.

Construction work on Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Island already has its share of problems; it’s unclear how things will develop as tourism continues to grow


Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Town, the largest settlement on the island, is not a pretty place, despite its very pretty location

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Things to See & Do:

Cat Ba Island is all about the natural scenery, and there are several ways to see, enjoy and experience it. Motorbiking, hiking, climbing, kayaking and boat tours are all very rewarding ways to get closer to the wonderful landscapes and seascapes of Cat Ba. Click an item below to read more about it:

Exploring Cat Ba Island on two wheelsCat Ba Island is all about the scenery: you can see it on two wheels, on foot, by boat, kayak, or climbing


Beaches & Bays:

Despite being an island, Cat Ba doesn’t have many sandy beaches. To make matters worse, what few beaches there are, are currently being gobbled up by massive construction projects (even though it appears that coastal erosion will soon render the beaches lost anyway). The problem with many of the beaches on Cat Ba Island, especially the ones on the west coast, is that the water is often brown. This is because Cat Ba is directly opposite the mouth of several large rivers. The alluvial runoff turns the water viscous and tea-coloured: fairly uninviting for swimming. In general, the beaches on the island are better to look at than the bathe in. The best beaches for swimming are on the small outlying islands, particularly to the east of Cat Ba, which can be reached by boat from Ben Beo Port. The following beaches are listed in geographical order, from the south of the island to the north:

Double Crescent Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamDespite being an island, good beaches are few on Cat Ba: they’re often very scenic but not great water quality


Cat Co Beaches (1, 2, 3) [MAP]: At the time of writing (August 2019), these three beaches, all just south of Ca Ba Town, separated from each other by limestone bluffs, were in a depressing state of transformation. Traditionally the go-to beaches on the island for visitors, particularly weekending domestic tourists, each one of the coves is now being developed by huge, high-end resorts. At the time of research, access to all three bays was quite restricted: either entered on foot via the building sites, or off limits altogether. The most tragic of all was Cat Co 1, the middle of the three beaches (somewhat illogically). Here, the construction of a multi-storey resort was so close to the water that the building site had to be protected from flooding by a wall of sandbags. Such is the erosion of the beach that the entire project looks in danger of being washed away before it’s even finished. Still, in what I perceived as a rather tragic sight, hundreds of tourists sunbathed, swam, and took boat rides just a couple of feet away from the ongoing construction – squeezing into the last inches of available sand. It was a sad scene (even though, it must be said, everyone appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves), and not one which I wanted to partake in. Soon, I suppose, the resorts will open. But how they are going to prevent the beach erosion, I don’t know. All three of the Cat Co beaches are very scenically positioned, but they are now all stamped with large, fairly expensive resorts. Cat Co 3 is the best of the beaches: a wide wedge of sand bookended by limestone crags. But one big resort is already on it and another is under construction. Plus, because it’s so easily accessible from town, it’s often very crowded indeed.

Cat Co Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe Cat Co Beaches, near Cat Ba Town, are in a state of transformation due to big construction projects


Cat Co Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamDespite ongoing major construction, the Cat Co Beaches continue to be popular with domestic visitors

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Storland Beach [MAP]: One bay north of Cat Co 2 is the so-called Storland Beach. Reached via a steep and muddy trail through dense foliage, this is the only undeveloped beach in the south of Cat Ba Island. Although usually completely empty and very picturesque, the water quality is pretty murky and, because it hasn’t been developed, there’s a fair amount of trash around – left on the beach by previous visitors or washed up on the tide. It’s worth coming here for the peace and quiet, and the trek through the jungle, which also affords some good views on side paths. But the swimming isn’t great.

Storland Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamAccessed via a steep & jungled pathway, Storland Beach is quiet & scenic but there’s some trash around

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Tung Thu Beach [MAP]: A new road, blasted through the limestone immediately north of Cat Ba Town’s harboufront, creates easy access to Tung Thu Beach. A wide portion of yellow sand between limestone cliffs, Tung Thu Beach is very scenic. But it’s also very exposed and suffers from muddy waters. However, it’s still a pleasant place to be and there’s a backpacker community growing here. There’s accommodation, including dorms and camping (see Accommodation for details), and water activities, such as kayaking and a giant inflatable obstacle course out in the bay.

Tung Thu Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamJust north of Cat Ba Town, Tung Thu Beach is very attractive & attracts a young, backpacker crowd


Tung Thu Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamTung Thu Beach has a couple of beach bars, hostels & a floating bouncy castle in the bay

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Woodstock Beach [MAP]: I’ve named this beach because of its proximity to the wildly popular Woodstock Beach Camp (see Accommodation for details). The camp’s bar and beach activities take place on the sand nearest to the road, but the beach stretches far beyond this if you’re looking for some solitude. It’s a wide, long, curving bay with excellent views out to sea and limestone karsts dotting the horizon. The water quality is just about good enough for bathing, but, like so many of Cat Ba’s west coast beaches, it’s more for looking at. Backpackers enjoy hanging out here: lazing in the hammocks, propping up Mr Wilson’s Beach Bar (‘Wilson’ as in Tom Hank’s volleyball companion in the movie ‘Castaway’), playing football, cards, smoking and generally having a fine old time.

Woodstock Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamA long, pretty, arcing bay, Woodstock Beach is home to one of the most popular & social hostels on the island

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Double Crescent Beach [MAP]: This amazing location looks like something out of the movie ‘The Beach’. At least, it would, if there weren’t a half-built, possibly abandoned, resort on it. Easily accessed via a side-route from the coastal road, limestone outcrops form a ring around two sandy coves, where the Bayview Resort has started to build its bungalows. The bays are still used by locals to moor little, woven fishing skiffs, and, in the late afternoons, local children come to bathe. The sun sets over the ocean, perfectly framed by the limestone bluffs. Water quality is OK – a bit brown and murky – and the sand is a little messy. But the location is superb. When I visited, it looked as though construction of the resort had stalled (I even considered camping on the resort-to-be’s grounds). But perhaps it was just a lull in the project. Either way, it’s definitely worth stopping by in the late afternoon to check it out.

Double Crescent Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamBy far my favourite beach on the island, Double Crescent Bay is a stunning spot, but in the midst of development


Double Crescent Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe sun sets between the limestone karsts of Double Crescent Beach: see it now before it’s built on

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Buddha Beach [MAP]: This is an attractive looking beach on the coast road a few kilometres south of Cai Vieng Port. Wedged between a bend in the road, this sandy cove is lined with tall casuarina trees. It’s pretty, quiet, and undeveloped, but the water is usually quite muddy. There’s a little Buddhist shrine on the opposite side of the road, hence the name.

Buddha Beach, Cat Ba Island, VietnamAn appealing looking wedge of sand, Buddha Beach is pretty but the water quality isn’t that good

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Motorbiking & Biking:

The road network on Cat Ba has greatly improved in recent years, and riding a motorbike for a day or two is a fantastic way to explore the island. Motorbikes are available to rent from most hotels and travel agencies (75,000-150,000vnd per day). But the general quality of the bikes is rather bad: ancient, poorly maintained Yamaha Nouvos. However, as the distances are short, they’re adequate to get you around the island. But ride cautiously: there are many blind corners, steep ascents, gravel on the road (treacherous), and dangerously lackadaisical island riding.

Riding a motorbike around Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe road network on Cat Ba has improved a lot, making much of the coast & interior accessible by bike

There are two ‘main’ roads on the island: Duong Xuyen Dao Cat Ba runs inland from south to north, connecting Cat Ba Town and Gia Luan Port (22km); Duong DT356 runs along the entire west coast, linking Cat Ba Town and Cai Vieng Port (24km). Both roads are extraordinarily scenic to ride, and neither of them take more than an hour to complete. But, because there are lots of opportunities for photographs and places to stop, see, and do along the way, riding these two roads can take a whole day, if not more. There are also several smaller – but no less beautiful – roads linking the inland route with the coastal route. In particular, the paved back road between the National Park HQ and Buddha Beach is especially nice, and so is the dead-end paved lane leading up to Butterfly Valley (Lien Minh). *For information about bike rental and road safety, see Getting Around Cat Ba Island.

Bicycles are also available to rent on Cat Ba, and are a pleasant way to see the island. But bear in mind that the roads (including dirt-tracks) can be quite challenging, especially in the punishing heat and humidity that Cat Ba is famous for.

Cat Ba Island's roads are now mostly very goodAlmost all of the roads on Cat Ba Island are very scenic; twisting between jungled limestone karsts


Riding a motorbike around Cat Ba Island, VietnamSeveral paved back-roads & dirt paths are also fun to explore by motorbike or bicycle

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Hiking, Climbing & View Points:

Because most of Cat Ba Island is a national park, there are quite a lot of opportunities for hiking. Also, as the terrain is so rugged and punctuated by limestone cliffs, outcrops and karsts, climbing is a popular activity on Cat Ba. Even if you’re not a serious climber, there are several wonderful viewing points on Cat Ba, accessed via lanes and steps, offering sweeping vistas over the island’s exotic and mysterious topography. Click an item below for more details:

Walking, hiking, wandering & exploring Cat Ba Island, VietnamHiking & climbing are excellent on Cat Ba Island, and many trails lead to magnificent viewing points


National Park Trails [MAP]: There are two main treks (one long, one short) from the National Park HQ, both of which can be done independently. But be aware that the terrain is quite tough, and, in wet conditions, can be treacherous. Bring water, bug spray, decent footwear (flip-flops aren’t a good idea), and a cell phone. For the ‘google maps generation’, many of whom have lost their sense of direction, don’t forget to take note of your surroundings: it’s surprisingly easy to lose your bearings in the forest of limestone karsts, and you probably won’t get a phone signal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time (or suitable weather conditions) to complete the longer trek (15km; 6 hours) from National Park HQ across the island to Viet Hai hamlet and on to its port for the return boat (around 300,000vnd) back to Ben Beo Port, near Cat Ba Town. But, in good weather, I’m certain it would be a great, if fairly challenging, day’s hike. Instead, I walked the shorter trail (2km return) from National Park HQ up to Dinh Ngu Lam view point, where a concrete gazebo sits just below the peak (another 10-minute climb), with incredible panoramic views of the limestone outcrops all around the island. Including stops for photos, talking to other walkers, and rests, the round trip from HQ to the peak and back takes between 90 minutes and two hours. This largely depends on your fitness and weather conditions. Some sections are very steep, and the humidity can be extremely punishing. Nonetheless, for most people in good health it’s very doable. But be careful on the rocks: they’re jagged, sharp, and can become very slippery when wet. Refreshments are available at the trailhead and the National Park HQ. The park entrance fee is 80,000vnd, paid at the kiosk at HQ. There’s also accommodation here in the form of Ho Lake Homestay (see Accommodation for details).

View from Ngu Lam Peak, Cat Ba Island National Park, VietnamCat Ba National Park has several good hiking trails, ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days


View from Ngu Lam Peak, Cat Ba Island National Park, VietnamThe hike up to Ngu Lam Peak is steep but relatively short, and the views are terrific

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Hidden Valley [MAP]: Accessed through the back-streets of Cat Ba Town (which in itself is quite interesting), the Hidden Valley is located at the end of a series of progressively small, steep and slippery paths through the jungle. After 5-10 minutes of walking, the foliage clears to reveal a craterous valley, hemmed in by jagged limestone cliffs, edged with exotic flora. There’s rock climbing here up the limestone crags (get your permit and ask for more information at either Cat Ba Climbing (Mr Zoom Hostel), Langur’s Adventures, or Cat Ba Ventures). But, unless you’re a climber, the Hidden Valley is just a nice (and humid) walk.

Hidden Valley, Cat Ba Island, VietnamHidden Valley is just behind Cat Ba Town; it’s a densely jungled ravine with climbing opportunities


Bird of prey, Hidden Valley, Cat Ba Island, VietnamHidden Valley is lush, rugged, damp, humid & hot; birds of prey circle the limestone crags

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Butterfly Valley [MAP]: Northwest of Cat Ba Town, a steep, paved lane leads deep into the interior of the island. Rising through fruit orchards, eucalyptus plantations and pine trees the lane climbs through a couple of tiny hamlets all the way to Lien Minh. A small settlement at the end of the road, Lien Minh has some old farm houses dotted about gardens of tropical fruit. The peaceful hamlet is on the edge of a wide, grassy valley, bounded on two sides by sheer limestone cliffs. Known as Butterfly Valley, this is a good climbing spot (get your permit and more information at either Cat Ba Climbing (Mr Zoom Hostel), Langur’s Adventures, or Cat Ba Ventures). Even if you don’t climb, it’s a very pretty place to wander for an hour. Bring a picnic, or get food at the parking shack. There’s also a good homestay (see Accommodation for details).

Rock climbing in Butterfly Valley, Cat Ba Island, VietnamButterfly Valley, deep in the island’s interior, is very pretty & one of the best spots for climbing


View of Butterfly Valley, Cat Ba Island, VietnamButterfly Valley is densely forested, peaceful & highly scenic: worth the trip even if you’re not a climber

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Cat Ba War Memorial [MAP]: Accessed via a steep set of stairs at the end of a narrow lane behind Cat Ba Town, this war memorial is best-known for its panoramic views: looking down over the high-rise town, across the harbour – dotted with fishing boats – and out to the limestone islands in the bay. It’s fairly hard to find the access road: if you can’t locate it from my map, try asking the staff at your accommodation in Cat Ba Town.

View of Cat Ba Town from the War Memorial, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe War Memorial behind Cat Ba Town is a good place for panoramic views of the town & harbour

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Cannon Fort [MAP]: Located up a very steep road behind Cat Ba Town, Cannon Fort is a French colonial-era gun placement which is known today for its stupendous views over Cat Ba Town and the maze of limestone islets surrounding it. Unfortunately, due to ongoing construction of three giant resort towers on the Cat Co beaches, Cannon Fort was closed when I visited in August 2019, and shows no sign of opening soon (nor did anyone I asked, including the construction staff, have any idea when it would reopen). However, I’m told that it will eventually reopen, and when it does I’m sure the views will be every bit as good as they were before.

View from Cannon Fort, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCannon Fort boasts some of the best views on Cat Ba Island, but it’s been temporarily closed for months

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Bayside Temple [MAP]: In the far north of the island, the Bayside Temple is a diminutive Buddhist shrine nestled beneath a limestone cliff as it meets the placid waters of a beautiful inlet. Most of the fun is in getting there: the shrine is accessed via a long wooden and concrete walkway, raised above the water, hugging the rock face. It’s particularly lovely in the mornings and late afternoons.

Bayside temple, Gia Luan Hamlet, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe diminutive bayside temple near Gia Luan, in the north of the island, is accessed via a wooden bridge

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Caves & Caverns:

The limestone karst landscape of Cat Ba Island is riddled with cave systems, where, over millions of years of erosion, rain and sea water have carved out hollow chambers in the hills and cliffs. Some of these caverns have a human history as well as a natural history:

Entrance to Trung Trang Cave, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Island is full of caverns, some of which have a human history as well as a geological one


Hospital Cave [MAP]: A few kilometres north of Cat Ba Town on the inland road, Hospital Cave is a fascinating, sobering, and slightly haunting reminder of Vietnam’s great military struggles of the 20th century. That time, thank goodness, is now passed, and I, like much of the rest of the nation, think less and less about the wars which came to define Vietnam for a generation of Westerners (and, of course, Vietnamese). Accessed via a steep set of stairs, Hospital Cave is essentially a concrete military bunker built into a natural cave system. The cave was used during the 1960s and 70s as a hospital and hideout for the North Vietnamese. The jungle-covered limestone karst, into which the cave leads, is a beautiful piece of nature. But, inside, it’s a mixture of man-made antechambers – from communications and meeting rooms, to weapons piles and medical wards – and natural caverns, dripping with stalactites. Some of the rooms feature painted mannequins of soldiers and nurses: glimpsed from the corner of your eye, there’s a brief shock and a disturbing line back to how it might have felt to be in this cave during the war years. I found the juxtaposition of natural wonder and human terror quite rattling. The cave has, presumably, sheltered many people over many millennia. Thousands of years ago, I suppose, the Cai Beo people, who used to inhabit Cat Ba Island, might have sheltered here at night, listening, scared stiff, to the prowling animals outside, feeling the damp chill of the cave in their bones. Just as, some 50 years ago, Vietnamese army personnel and nurses would have stiffened at the sound of crunching leaves – possibly footsteps from outside – and the sound of bombs falling and artillery firing. The chambers, too, must have echoed horribly with the pain of the wounded, carried in on stretchers and operated on inside the cave. The air quality is extraordinarily cool and damp, compared to the heat outside. I enjoyed a deep gulp of fresh air (and freedom) when I exited. (Entrance: 40,000vnd)

Hospital Cave, Cat Ba Island, VietnamHospital Cave was used during the 1960s & 70s as a medical treatment centre & military bunker


Hospital Cave, Cat Ba Island, VietnamIn some rooms in Hospital Cave, mannequins bring history to life

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Trung Trang Cave [MAP]: Just a few minutes further up the road from Hospital Cave, Trung Trang Cave features a labyrinthine walkway through a warren of tight caverns and an obstacle course of stalactites. Accessed through a forest, screaming with midday cicadas, the cave entrance is up a steep flight of stairs. The walk through the cave is a loop, exiting a couple hundred metres back down the road at Trung Trang Resort (see Accommodation for details), where there are refreshments available. The walk only takes 10-15 minutes, but some of the caverns are a tight squeeze. It’s definitely worth stopping for. (Entrance: 80,000vnd) 

Entrance to Trung Trang Cave, Cat Ba Island, VietnamTrung Trang Cave is an impressive cavern full of stalactites & surrounded by lush limestone hills

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Hoa Cuong Cave [MAP]: Near the northern tip of the inland road, just after passing through Gia Luan hamlet, this cavern was locked when I visited; nor was there anyone at the ticket kiosk to open it for me. However, it’s worth taking a look if you’re in the area anyway.

Cat Ba Island, outside Hospital Cave, VietnamHoa Cuong Cave was closed when I visited, but it’s worth checking out if you have the time

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Towns, Villages & Hamlets:

There’s only really one significant settlement on the island: Cat Ba Town. Other communities are little more than hamlets scattered about the island, often near bays:

Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba is by far the biggest settlement on the island, but there are several other hamlets & ports


Cat Ba Town [MAP]: Although the setting could hardly be any better – in a perfect natural harbour, surrounded by steep limestone crags – Cat Ba Town is, to be blunt, a touristy dump. On weekends, especially, Cat Ba Town is a busy, gaudy, unappealing mass of hotels, restaurants, bars, brothels, and karaoke clubs. There is relief in the main market, where local life, food, and produce breath life into the otherwise tourist-oriented town. The waterfront road, promenade and park is a beautiful setting, but overshadowed – quite literally – by dozens upon dozens of multi-storey hotels. Throughout the day, Cat Ba Town echoes to sound of hammers and drills. But, of course, you will find everything you ‘need’ here: decent coffee, a variety of restaurants (think pizzas, burgers, bad value Vietnamese food, and impatient, grumpy service), cocktails, beer, happy hours, tons of accommodation options, and tour agents. It’s not a nice town, but most travellers will end up using it as their base – for sleeping, organizing tours, motorbike rental, onward transportation, and for Western ‘comforts’. However, don’t waste too much time lingering in Cat Ba Town: spend the majority of it out of town, around the island, in the green jungles and along the jagged coastline. That, after all, is why you’re here in the first place. One thing Cat Ba Town does offer is great views from its hotel balconies (at least, at some hotels). Note: sadly, during my visit, there were signs of increasing tension between Vietnamese and Western tourists, fueled (on both sides) by too much alcohol.

Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Town’s scenic location belies its rather ugly, seedy & touristy reality


Cat Ba Town, Cat Ba Island, VietnamA tourism-fueled building boom has turned Cat Ba Town into a series of concrete hotels & restaurants

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Ben Beo Port [MAP]: On the eastern side of the southern tip of Cat Ba Island, Ben Beo village is the main port for boats to the outlying islands, including Lan Ha Bay. Although an essential transit point if you’re planning on seeing the smaller islands, Ben Beo is a crowded and disorganized little place, with a lot of hassling, haggling, overcharging and bad tempers. [For more about boat tours, see Getting Around].

Ben Beo Port, Cat Ba Island, VietnamBen Beo is a scruffy hamlet that’s home to the main port for boat tours to Lan Ha Bay

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Gia Luan Hamlet [MAP]: Not much more than a collection of family homes near the northern port, Gia Luan has a few shops and simple snack joints by the roadside, and a decent guest house, which is convenient if you’re catching the early ferry to Tuan Chau the next morning (see Getting There & Around for details).

Gia Lam hamlet & port, Cat Ba Island, VietnamGia Luan, in the north of the island, is a small hamlet & a scenic port from where the ferry to Ha Long leaves

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Xuan Dam Hamlet [MAP]: On a very pretty stretch of the west coast, Xuan Dam is another small hamlet with a couple of gracefully decaying old homes. The setting is lovely: just off the coast road, on the cusp of a wide, flat agricultural plain, with buffalo wading in the mud and women working the fields, all in the shadow of limestone hills. There’s something about this quiet corner of the island, but development is on the way. For now, the area can be enjoyed at several good, budget accommodations, including the excellent Cat Ba Eco-Lodge.

Buffaloes in Xuan Dam Hamlet, Cat Ba Island, VietnamXuan Dam is one of the prettiest parts of the island, especially inland where there’re farms & fields

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Viet Hai Hamlet [MAP]: Inland in the east on Cat Ba Island, Viet Hai is a remote and isolated hamlet. Used primarily as an overnight stop for trekkers from the National Park or visitors on boat tours, Viet Hai have several good homestays at which to soak up the peace and isolation of this part of the island.

Boats in Viet Hai Hamlet, Cat Ba Island, VietnamViet Hai is a small & remote hamlet in the east of Cat Ba Island, typically visited on boat & trekking tours

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Boat Tours:

Most boat tours of the outlying islands (particularly Lan Ha Bay, due southeast of Cat Ba Island) depart from Ben Beo Port. It’s possible to organize and pay for a tour at the port, but it can be fairly chaotic there, so most travellers arrange their boat tours through travel agents in Cat Ba Town. Most boat tours offer 1 day excursions, including cruising through the limestone karsts of Lan Ha Bay, stopping for some kayaking, landing of a couple of sandy beaches, and some food and drink. Another option is to overnight – either on-board the boat or at one of the mini-resorts on the outlying islands. All this usually comes as a (reasonably priced) package. There are lots of operators and agents to choose from. You can start by checking out Langur’s Adventures and Cat Ba Ventures, both of which have offices in Cat Ba Town and websites.

Boat tours from Cat Ba Island, VietnamBoat tours of the outlying islands, including Lan Ha Bay, leave from Ben Beo Port, near Cat Ba Town

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Accommodation:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use any of the relevant links below to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

If possible, avoid weekends and public holidays, when many of the hotels charge ridiculous rates and don’t offer value for money. Although most of the accommodation on the island is in Cat Ba Town, I would suggest staying anywhere but the town (with the exception of a few good hotels with good balconies and good harbour views). This is because, although Cat Ba Town is great for necessities, such as cafes, stores, restaurants – it’s not a particularly nice place to spend your time. There are several other little clusters of accommodation around Cat Ba Island, all of which will give you a much better impression of the island (and its people) than staying in Cat Ba Town itself. Even just a bit out of town, in Ha Sen, is much quieter, prettier, cleaner, and better value for money than in town. If you do stay in town then try to get a sea view room at one of the places I recommend below:

View from the balcony of a hotel in Cat Ba Town, VietnamAccommodation is spread around the island, but most is in Cat Ba Town: some hotels have good harbour views


Cat Ba Town: The glut of hotels in Cat Ba Town is such that you never really need to book in advance, even on weekends and public holidays (unless, of course, you’re set on a particular place). The general standard is OK for the asking prices, but not great. What you really want is a harbour view, which many of the hotels have, but often charge a premium for. That said, competition drives prices down to reasonable levels, and there’s a good range in both the budget and mid-range price categories. Down the back-streets, particularly Nui Ngoc Street, which curls around behind the harbourfront, is where you’ll find the cheapest digs. The majority of hotels in all price categories are tall, narrow structures, maximizing their room numbers by building up, while keeping the cost of land down. The hostels and hotels listed below are but a tiny selection of the hundreds available. The following are ones I viewed and liked, but there are lots more in Cat Ba Town, many of which you can browse on this page:

• Secret Garden Hostel [MAP]; $7-$10: [BOOK HERE] A classic, chilled out, well-run backpacker hostel in the quieter back-streets of Cat Ba Town. Perks include a social vibe, good dorms, and interesting homemade food, including tasty vegan options.

• Mr Zoom Hostel [MAP]; $5-$10: [BOOK HERE] Nothing special, but rooms are cheap and fine. The main reason to stay here is for Mr Zoom’s island advice, information and tours, including climbing, kayaking and boat trips (but you don’t need to stay here to get that: just pop in and use it as a travel agent).

• Cat Ba Central Hostel [MAP]; $4-$20: [BOOK HERE] As the name suggests, this hostel is centrally located along the main harbourfront strip, and offers very cheap, clean dorms, and decent value private rooms. There are even glimpses of harbour views. It’s also worth checking out Cat Ba Pod Hostel nearby.

• Le Pont Bungalow Hostel [MAP]; $6-$30: [BOOK HERE] Just out of town (which is a good thing) on a rocky bluff to the south of Cat Ba harbour, Le Pont has very cheap dorms and reasonably priced private bungalows. The position is excellent, with 180 degree views of the harbour and bay. There’s a breezy bar, too.

Secret Garden Hostel, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Town has plenty of good value hostels: pictured above is Secret Garden, one of the best

• Quang Tung Hotel [MAP]; $25-$50: [BOOK HERE] With a harbourfront location and front rooms with balconies and good views, Quang Tung is one of the better mid-range hotels along the seafront in Cat Ba Town. Clean, tidy and tasteful but by no means luxurious, Quang Tung is about right for the price.

• Cat Ba Central Hotel 2 [MAP]; $20-$30: [BOOK HERE] With a lakeside position, away from the business and tourist razzmatazz of the main harbourfront, Cat Ba Central 2 is well-priced and well-positioned, with tidy, smart and spacious rooms.

• Tung Thu Beach Bungalow [MAP]; $15-$30: [BOOK HERE] On the scenic, sandy beach just north of central Cat Ba Town, Tung Thu Beach Bungalow is one of a couple of budget-oriented places to stay here. Dorms and private rooms are both fine, but it’s the location that most people stay here for.

• Hai Long Hotel [MAP]; $25-$40: [BOOK HERE] Despite its rather drab and dated interior and exterior, Hai Long Hotel is comfortable and clean with sea views. Although it lacks character, it’s centrally located on the seafront road and just about represents value for money.

Quang Tung Hotel, Cat Ba Hotel, VietnamMid-range hotels in Cat Ba Town are pretty decent value, especially if you get a room with a harbour view

• Cat Ba Dream Hotel [MAP]; $10-$25: [BOOK HERE] On the corner of Nui Ngoc Street and the seafront road, Cat Ba Dream is right in the middle of town, surrounded by restaurants, bars and other hotels. Considering its location, and the fact that many of the rooms have harbour views, Cat Ba Dream is very good value for money. Rooms are clean, bright and cosy, but sparsely furnished.

• Hung Long Harbour Hotel [MAP]; $35-$70: [BOOK HERE] An old-style ‘smart’ hotel, Hung Long feels quite dated, but it’s difficult to argue with its position – on the seafront at the southern end of Cat Ba harbour – and the excellent, sweeping sea views from its balconies. When rates are low, its good value for money, but when they go up, it’s far from it.

• Cat Ba Island Resort [MAP]; $65-$100: [BOOK HERE] A large resort aimed at package tourists, with swimming pools, slides, and spacious rooms located on Cat Co 1 Beach, not far from Cat Ba Town. There are currently other high-end resorts under construction on the Cat Co beaches, which will probably be open by the time you read this guide.

Hung Long Harbour Hotel, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThe higher-end hotels in & around Cat Ba Town are fine but not particularly good value for money

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Ha Sen (outer Cat Ba): Just north of Cat Ba Town (not 5 minutes by road), a cluster of good accommodation options centre around a peaceful lake on Ha Sen Street, in the shadow of a limestone karst. It’s much more peaceful here than in Cat Ba Town. There are also a couple of other places to stay nearby at the junction at Hung Son:

• Corner Cat Ba Homestay [MAP]; $30: [BOOK HERE] It’s difficult to fault the simple, tasteful, cosy and bright lakeside bungalows at Corner Cat Ba Homestay. A very relaxing, comfortable, satisfying place to base yourself, and good value for money.

• Central Backpackers Hostel [MAP]; $5-$20: [BOOK HERE] OSimple, social, clean, fun and well-organized, Central Backpackers is one of the go-to hostels on Cat Ba Island. There’s a range of accommodation, from cheap dorms to cosy private rooms and wooden bungalows. There’s a pool, garden, BBQs, games, drinks and more.

• Captain Jack’s Hostel [MAP]; $5-$15: [BOOK HERE] Breezy, spacious, cheap and clean, Captain Jack’s is an easy-going backpacker hostel for budget travellers. Dorms and private rooms are available.

• Cat Ba Mountain View [MAP]; $10-$25: [BOOK HERE] With a handful of wood, thatch and brick huts over several levels on a steep limestone crag, Cat Ba Mountain View has a friendly, communal vibe and good views of the surrounding area. There’s a range of sleeping options available.

• Sweet Potato Homestay [MAP]; $5-$15: [BOOK HERE] A homey atmosphere with cheap and clean but unremarkable rooms, Sweet Potato is best-known for its tasty food and drink, rather than its accommodation. But it’s still a pleasant place to stay.

Good budget accommodation clusters around Ha Sen lake, Cat Ba Island, VietnamHa Sen, just outside of Cat Ba Town, is centered around an attractive lake, with several excellent budget hostels

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Xuan Dam Hamlet: Scattered about the countryside and seafront on the west coast, several good accommodation options around Xuan Dam Hamlet offer a peaceful and relaxing environment in a good location, within easy reach of both Cat Ba Town and the National Park.

• Cat Ba Eco-Lodge [MAP]; $30-$50: [BOOK HERE] In many ways this is one of the best and most atmospheric lodgings on the island. Cat Ba Eco-Lodge is reached via a series of dirt and paved lanes leading through lovely countryside. Sheltered in a beautiful, verdant valley, the Eco-Lodge has dorms in wooden houses raised above the ground on wooden stilts, or private bungalows in wooden cabins under the canopy. There’s a bar, pool table, swimming pool, a friendly vibe, and plenty of outdoor space in which to wallow in the rural tranquility. At night, lanterns line the porches, hanging from the wooden beams.

• Woodstock Beach Camp [MAP]; $5-$20: [BOOK HERE] As the name suggests, this is a sprawling, hippy-inspired, backpacker hang out. Very successful, and very cool in a laid-back, not-trying-too-hard way, Woodstock feels like your university dorms has been transported to a tropical island beach. In other words, it’s very good at what it does. Access to the beach and beach bar is across the road, and that’s the only problem: as Cat Ba gets more and more popular, the coastal road is getting busier with coaches and trucks. This slightly ruins to chill-out vibe, particularly on weekends. Nevertheless, the dorms, tents, and private rooms are all good value for money and it’s a very sociable place to stay.

• Green Valley Camp [MAP]; $5-$25: [BOOK HERE] In a beautiful location, a kilometre or so inland, surrounded by pines and limestone crags, Green Valley Camp is a large and neat campground and activity site. It would be a great place to pitch a tent for a quiet night or two, but when I visited it was closed. It’s worth checking out.

Cat Ba Eco-Lodge, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba Eco-Lodge is one of the best, most atmospheric & peaceful places to stay on the island


Woodstock Beach Camp, Cat Ba Island, VietnamWoodstock Beach Camp is a quintessential backpacker hostel on the beach, with a social, fun vibe

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Tran Chau & Lien Minh Hamlets: As the coast road veers inland some way northwest of Cat Ba Town, several quiet back-roads lead into the lush interior of the island. Here, there are a few, generally quiet, places to stay:

• De Dita Hostel [MAP]; $10-$30: [BOOK HERE] A big, multi-storey hostel on the coast road, with a swimming pool, bar, cafe and lots of crisp-looking rooms, De Dita is good value but oddly positioned: right on the increasingly busy road without direct access to beach or forest. It’s popular with Vietnamese phượt backpackers and families.

• Butterfly Valley Homestay [MAP]; tel: 0983 221 369: On the cusp of a peaceful valley, Butterfly Homestay (also called Lien Minh B&B) is a very good little place if you want to stay in an isolated and beautiful spot, or for climbers who want to get to work on the wall early in the day. Rooms are in an attractive, alpine-style chalet.

• Love House Homestay & Hostel [MAP]; $5-$20: [BOOK HERE] A strange assortment of converted container-style rooms and dorms, as well as brick cabins and nice gardens, Love House Homestay & Hostel is cheap and cheerful. Positioned in a valley near the coast road, it’s a pretty peaceful and intimate place to stay.

Cat Ba de Dita Hostel, Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba de Vita is a large, well-equipped hostel but in a strange location

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National Park, Viet Hai & Gia Luan Hamlets: There are a few places to stay near the National Park HQ and even inside the park. Also, the isolated hamlet of Viet Hai, in the remote east of the island, has several homestay-style accommodations:

• Trung Trang Eco Resort [MAP]; $10-$20: [BOOK HERE] Near the exit of Trung Trang Cave, this lush and simple backpacker resort is set among trees beneath a limestone hill. Outdoor seating under the canopy, dorm rooms in colourfully painted, thatch-roof shacks, a decent bar and restaurant, and reasonable prices, all make Trung Trang Eco Resort quite a good option, especially if you’re planning to start a long trek from the National Park HQ early the next morning.

• Hoi Lake Farmstay [MAP]; $5-$30: [BOOK HERE] More of a mini-resort than a farmstay, Hoi Lake is a large property with attractive, simply furnished, thatched bungalows around an artificial lake inside the National Park boundaries. At the trailhead for both of the park’s main hikes, Hoi Lake is a pleasant enough place to stay and a comfortable base from which to explore the national park. The bar, including cocktails, and lakeside restaurant are particularly inviting after a long day’s trekking in the park.

• Whisper Nature Bungalow: [MAP]; $10-$30: [BOOK HERE] Over in the remote, eastern hamlet of Viet Hai, Whisper Nature Bungalow is one of several accommodations. Here, brick and thatch huts offer comfortable, private lodgings, but there are dorms available too. Over in Gia Lam Hamlet, near the northern tip of Cat Ba Island, there’s a decent little motel that’s convenient if you’re catching an early ferry to Tuan Chau the next morning.

Hoi Lake Farmstay, Cat Ba National Park, VietnamHoi Lake Farmstay is located inside the national park, with attractive bamboo-and-thatch bungalows

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Food & Drink:

Although Cat Ba Town is the main centre for food and drink on the island, most accommodations outside of town have their own restaurant and bar, serving decent food and drink for their guests. Personally, I didn’t find the food scene on Cat Ba Island particularly rewarding compared to the high standards of the rest of Vietnam. However, seafood is often very good and there are some interesting places to sample street food. But, along the touristy seafront in Cat Ba Town, it’s mostly pizzas, burgers, beer and sub-standard Vietnamese food. I’m sure there’s much more to Cat Ba’s food scene that I was able to experience. Try asking locals for their recommendations:

A typical rice lunch, Cat Ba Island, VietnamMost of the island’s food outlets are in Cat Ba Town: seafood, street food & western restaurants


Food: Unsurprisingly, seafood is big on Cat Ba Island. The floating seafood restaurants at the southern end of Cat Ba harbour are a popular place to sample some of Cat Ba’s famous seafood. However, for a more local atmosphere (and more local prices), head to the seafood joints (quán hải sản) across the lake at the northern end of the harbourfront.

On Cat Ba town’s seafront road, most restaurants are fairly overpriced considering the very average quality. However, Phuong Anh is a classic, local-style noodle soup shop, serving up good bowls of phở (beef or chicken noodle soup) in the mornings and evenings. Otherwise, the seafront is mostly burgers and pizzas. For Vietnamese cuisine, try the back-streets, although, even there, I was underwhelmed by what was on offer. Once you get away from the touristy streets, you’ll find some good, cheap, local cơm bình dân (rice eateries) and, in the evenings, thịt nướng (barbecued meat) stalls. Perhaps the best (nay, only) significant concentration of Vietnamese street is in Cat Ba’s central market. Here you’ll find all the dishes and all the local atmosphere that Vietnamese street food is justly famous for (a real relief after the poor food on the seafront).

Buddha Belly is a cute little vegetarian restaurant near the lake at the north end of Cat Ba town. Next to a pretty Buddhist shrine, Buddha Belly serves various vegetarian dishes, including set menus (with English translations) which change each day. Secret Garden has some interesting homemade dishes on a changing menu, such as hummus, guacamole, and vegan friendly options. Green Mango is a favourite for Western dishes: breakfast here is pretty good.

Buddha Belly vegetarian restaurant, Cat Ba Island, VietnamBuddha Belly is a cute vegetarian restaurant near a Buddhist shrine by the lake in Cat Ba Town


A bowl of pho noodle soup at Phuong Anh, Cat Ba Island, VietnamA beautiful bowl of traditional phở gà (chicken noodle soup) at Phuong Anh, on the seafront road in Cat Ba Town

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Drink: Ca Ba Town has plenty of cafes on the harbourfront road where you can get decent espressos and other such Italian-style coffee, as well as Vietnamese-style iced coffee. My Way Cafe and Like Cafe have good coffee and good prices, as well as juices and smoothies – I ordered mine to take out and sat on a bench on the seafront or drank it with a bowl of noodles in the market. Oasis Bar has a long list of drinks – from cocktails to coffees to juices to smoothies – and a good location in the southern corner of Cat Ba seafront. I was told their Happy ‘Hour’ is from 12noon to 8pm. The Big Man Bar & Restaurant is a popular place for an evening tipple on the harbourfront road, watching the world go by. It has a backpacker-expat vibe and all the drinks deals which are required to please that clientele. Hair of the Dog Beach Bar, north of Cat Ba town, on Tung Thu Beach, is a popular backpacker hangout for shots, music and late nights. Secret Garden is a good place for a chilled coffee or juice during the day, or cocktails in the evenings. Green Mango also draws a crowd for drinks at night. And Mr Wilson beach bar, at Woodstock Beach Camp, is a really sociable place to drink.

Big Man Bar, Cat Ba Island, VietnamPouring the drinks at Big Man Bar, one of several popular night spots on the seafront in Cat Ba Town

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Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Cat Ba Island through Baolau.com, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

There are many different ways to get to Cat Ba Island, all of which require a scenic ferry journey (although a cable car is due to open soon, so you won’t technically have to take a ferry). Cat Ba can be reached from the north (via Tuan Chau Island, near Ha Long City) or from the west (via Hai Phong City or Cat Hai Island). From the north, there is only one route to one port; from the west, there are several different routes to several different ports. All of the routes are well-served by regular ferries and onward connections to other destinations. However, approaching from the west is by far the quickest and most efficient of the two. Most travellers arrive/depart Cat Ba on one of the frequent, affordable, and convenient through-tickets, combining multiple transportations to/from major mainland destinations. Examples include: Hanoi→Cat Ba, Ninh Binh→Cat Ba, Sapa→Cat Ba, all of which can be purchased through travel agents in those places or on Baolau.com. On Cat Ba, there’s a limited bus network, and motorbikes/bicycles can be rented to get around the island:

The car ferry to Cat Ba Island, VietnamThere are many ways to reach Cat Ba Island: each one requires a scenic ferry ride


HAI PHONG/CAT HAI ISLAND→CAT BA ISLAND: 

The city of Hai Phong and the nearby island of Cat Hai are the main gateways to Cat Ba Island. Hai Phong has good transportation connections with the rest of Vietnam and direct fast boats to Cat Ba Town. Cat Hai Island is now linked to Hai Phong via a new and impressive causeway, making road travel very fast and convenient. From Cat Hai Island it’s just a short hop on a regular car ferry to Cat Ba, and soon they’ll also be the option to take the cable car over:

The car ferry to Cat Ba Island, VietnamBus-boat combos from Hai Phong City or Cat Hai Island to Cat Ba are the most common ways to arrive


Getting to Hai Phong: Vietnam’s third largest city has good transport connections:

By air: Daily flights serve Hai Phong’s Cat Bi Airport from multiple domestic destinations (including Saigon, Danang, Quy Nhon) and a few international ones, too. [Check flights on Baolau.com]

By bus: There are lots of daily services to most major destinations in the country. [Check bus times on Baolau.com]

By train: There’s a four times daily connection with Hanoi that’s especially convenient for travellers with motorbikes, because you can take your bike on the train with you, thus avoiding the horrible highways in/out of Hanoi. [For details see this guide].

Bus-Boat-Bus Combo: Through tickets on a bus-boat-bus combination between Hanoi-Hai Phong-Cat Ba are operated by several companies and only take 3-4 hours. [Check schedules on Baolau.com].

The Hanoi-Hai Phong train, VietnamHai Phong has good transport connections with the rest of Vietnam, including a regular train to Hanoi

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Hai Phong→Cat Ba Island by Ferry [MAP]: There are direct fast boats between Hai Phong’s Ben Binh Pier (Pha Binh Port) to Cat Ba Pier, in the centre of town, several times a day. The journey only takes 1 hour and ticket prices are a reasonable 220,000vnd ($10). For schedules, times, prices and bookings check Baolau.com or use the search box below:

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for boats between Hai Phong’s Ben Binh Port & Cat Ba Island:


The Hai Phong-Cat Ba Island fast ferry, VietnamFast boats between Hai Phong’s Ben Binh Pier & Cat Ba Town operate several times daily, taking just 1 hour

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Cat Hai Island→Cat Ba Island by Ferry [MAP]: Most bus-boat combinations now use the Cat Hai ferry crossing, at Ben Got Pier, to get to Cat Ba Island. This is because a long, new causeway was recently completed, linking Hai Phong with Cat Hai Island. The ferry from Ben Got Pier runs regularly all day, and can accommodate cars, trucks, coaches, motorbikes, bicycles and passengers. The crossing from Ben Got, at the eastern tip of Cat Hai Island, to Cai Vieng Port, at the northwestern tip of Cat Ba Island, only takes 10 minutes. Ticket prices ranges from 12,000vnd (passenger) to 45,000vnd (motorbike) and upwards depending on the size of the vehicle and the number of passengers travelling. There’s no need to book in advance. Note that Ben Got is also where the new cable car to Cat Ba with be once it’s completed (probably by the time you read this).

The Cat Hai-Cat Ba Island ferry, VietnamCat Hai Island is linked with Hai Phong via a long causeway, and with Cat Ba Island via a regular car ferry

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HA LONG/TUAN CHAU ISLAND→CAT BA ISLAND:

Although Ha Long City is the main gateway for cruises on Ha Long Bay, it’s the secondary gateway for Cat Ba Island, after Hai Phong. The city has decent transport connections with Hanoi, and the daily ferry service from Tuan Chau Port to Cat Ba is one of the most scenic public ferries anywhere in Vietnam:

The Tuan Chau-Cat Ba Island ferry, VietnamThere’s only one public sea route between Ha Long & Cat Ba Island, but it’s an extremely scenic one


Getting to Ha Long: A large city to the north of Cat Ba Island, Ha Long has good transport connections to Hanoi and other northern cities:

By air: Recently opened, Van Don Airport is 50km east of Ha Long City, with daily flights to/from major Vietnamese cities, including Saigon, and some international routes, too. [Check flights on Baolau.com]

By bus: There are lots of daily services to many major destinations in the country, including services throughout the day to Hanoi. [Check bus times on Baolau.com]

By train: There’s a daily train connection with Hanoi that’s especially convenient for travellers with motorbikes, because you can take your bike on the train with you, thus avoiding the horrible highways in/out of Hanoi. However, it’s a very slow service [Check train times on Baolau.com or ask direct at the station].

The Hanoi-Ha Long City train, VietnamThere are lots of transportation options to get to Ha Long City, including the daily slow train to Hanoi

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Tuan Chau→Cat Ba Island by Ferry [MAP]: Probably the most scenic public ferry voyage anywhere in Vietnam, a car ferry plies between Tuan Chau Island (essentially a suburb of Ha Long City) and Cat Ba Island’s northern port, Gia Luan, several times daily. Journey time is roughly 1 hour, and there are 3-5 sailings every day (low/high season). There’s plenty of room for cars, buses and motorbikes, as well as passengers. It’s a simple ferry with lots of open deck space, a toilet, and a rustic on-board ‘snack-shack’. But it’s all about the scenery on the voyage, most of which involves gliding between limestone karsts covered in jungle, poking through the mist as they rise vertically from the calm sea. People pay hundreds of dollars for this sort of experience on smart cruise ships: on the Tuan Chau ferry, it’s only a few dollars (passenger: 80,000vnd | motorbike: 100,000vnd | car: 480,000vnd). Check the schedule at either Tuan Chau or Gia Luan ports for current information, but at the time of writing (August 2019) the sailing times were:

TUAN CHAU PORT (HA LONG)  GIA LUAN POST (CAT BA)

Departures: 7.30am, 9.00am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.00pm (daily*)


GIA LUAN PORT (CAT BA) → TUAN CHAU PORT (HA LONG)

Departures: 9.00am, 11.30am, 13.00pm, 3.00pm, 4.00pm (daily*)

*These are high season sailings (April-September). During low season (October-March) there are only three sailings a day in each direction. It’s best to check current times at the ports.

The Tuan Chau-Cat Ba Island ferry, VietnamThe public ferry between Tuan Chau Island & Cat Ba Island runs several times daily & is very scenic indeed

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GETTING AROUND CAT BA ISLAND:

Cat Ba is a large island – the second biggest in Vietnam, as far as I know – and exceptionally rugged. Because of the difficult topography, the road network is limited, but it’s still possible to go by road from south to north through the interior of the island and along the entire west coast – both of which are beautiful drives. Hiking in the national park is excellent, and walking around Cat Ba Town is fine, too. Bicycles, motorbikes, taxis, electric carts, and local buses are all effective ways of getting around the island. Also, boats can get you to more remote parts of Cat Ba, where roads don’t yet lead:

Coast road on Cat Ba Island, VietnamCat Ba’s road network has got a lot better in recent years, making getting around the island much easier


By Motorbike & Bicycle: 

Motorbiking around Cat Ba Island is a great experience and a good way to see the countryside and visit the island’s attractions. Motorbikes are available to rent from most hotels and tour agencies. They’re very inexpensive: 50,000-150,000vnd per day. But the general quality of the bikes is rather bad: ancient, poorly maintained Yamaha Nouvos. However, as the distances are short, they’re adequate to get you around.

Ride cautiously: there are many blind corners, steep ascents, gravel on the road (treacherous), and dangerously lackadaisical local driving. I also saw dozens of foreign riders driving too fast, not wearing helmets, and openly drinking and driving. Don’t be an idiot: you will get injured (I met plenty for travellers who had hurt themselves on bikes on the island), and the police will stop you, especially in Cat Ba Town, where they are out in force. Far too many foreign riders zip around without helmets. Aside from safety, it’s a catalyst for deteriorating foreign-Vietnamese relations. Many Vietnamese people I meet, especially of the younger generation, are sick of seeing foreign visitors and expats behaving as if the rules don’t apply to them, or at least getting away with things that locals can’t. And they’re right: if this was Germany, and in Germany the law stated you must wear your helmet while riding a motorbike (as it does in Vietnam), would foreign visitors abide by that law? Of course they would. Don’t confirm the increasingly negative image of foreigners in Vietnam: wear your helmet and ride responsibly.

Bicycles can also be rented from some places, and are a pleasant way to see the island. But bear in mind that the roads are quite challenging, especially in the heat and humidity that Cat Ba is famous for. [For route and road advice see Motorbiking & Biking].

Riding a motorbike around Cat Ba Island, VietnamMotorbikes & bicycles can be rented & are a great way to explore the island: but ride carefully

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By Taxi & Bus: 

Taxis meet the ferries from the mainland at the ports on Cat Ba Island, or you can ask the staff at your hotel to arrange one for you. Taxis are generally inexpensive (especially when shared) and can to take you to many of the sights around the island. There are also electric buggies (mini-buses, really) that ply short distances between Cat Ba Town, Cannon Fort, and the three Cat Co Beaches. Electric buggies are 10,000vnd per ride, but are generally used for transporting large groups of domestic tourists to and from the above mentioned places.

A convenient public bus system operates on the island, linking Cat Ba Town with Cai Vieng Port and Gia Luan Port via the National Park HQ. Ask the tourist information office at Cat Ba Pier or your hotel staff for times and schedules.

Electric buggies, Cat Ba Island, VietnamThere are plenty of taxis on Cat Ba Island as well as these electric buggies around town

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On Foot:

Cat Ba Town is small enough to manage on foot. Strolling up and down the seafront road is very pleasant. But, in town proper, the streets get very steep and are often clogged with tourist traffic. Elsewhere on the island, there’s good trekking in the National Park (see Hiking, Climbing & View Points for details) and you can even strike out on your own on several jungle tracks that you’ll see winding into the countryside off the island roads. But, obviously, if you choose to do this, you must be very careful.

Walking trails on Cat Ba Island, VietnamWalking on Cat Ba Island can be very rewarding, either on the trails in the national park or along Cat Ba seafront

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By Boat: Boat tours of Cat Ba’s coastline and the outlying islands can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Most boats leave from Ben Beo Port, not far from Cat Ba Town (see Boat Tours for more details).

Boat tours from Cat Ba Island, VietnamBoats can be hired (usually from Ben Beo Port) to get around the island or to outlying islets & beaches

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Weather:

Damp and hot: these are the two adjectives I’d use to describe my experience of Cat Ba Island’s weather. Humidity is a characteristic of Cat Ba, whether in the hot summer months, between April and August, or the cooler (sometimes chilly) autumn and winter months, between September and February. I’ve only ever experienced Cat Ba in the summer months, when the weather is fine: sunny, hot and humid, with tropical downpours and occasional sea mists in the mornings and evenings. According to locals I spoke with, the best time of year is September/October and and March/April. Either way, because Cat Ba is a large island in a big bay with land masses to the north and west, and open sea to the south and east, weather can be very changeable and unpredictable.

Weather over the sea from Cat Ba Island, VietnamWeather is often hot, humid & damp on Cat Ba Island: best times to visit are from April to October


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this island and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Northeast by Motorbike: 5 Routes & Loops http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-northeast-by-motorbike-5-routes-loops/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-northeast-by-motorbike-5-routes-loops/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2019 06:31:58 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29299 A bucolic corner of Vietnam, the Northeast is a garden of rice fields, forests, lakes & rivers ambling through limestone corridors. This guide focuses on 5 motorbike loops on meandering back-roads & freshly-sealed highways through three provinces: Cao Bang, Lang Son & Bac Kan... Continue reading

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Last updated August 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

In my opinion, the three northeastern provinces of Cao Bang, Lang Son and Bac Kan currently offer the best on-road motorbiking opportunities anywhere in Vietnam. Why? Because all three northeastern provinces are utterly beautiful – characterized by limestone karsts, unbroken forests, misty mountains, blue rivers, farms, craft villages – and are crisscrossed by a growing network of increasingly good-quality paved back-roads and national highways; tourists are few, traffic is generally very light (with the exception of container trucks plying between remote Chinese border crossings), people are friendly, food is rustic and hearty, opportunities for getting off the beaten path are many, and there’s a real sense of adventure. This guide focuses on five different routes and loops within the three northeastern provinces. Each loop can be ridden separately or stitched together to form a ‘Great Northeast Loop’. Base yourself in Cao Bang, Lang Son, Bac Kan or Ba Be Lake and spend at least a few days exploring these routes by motorbike. The northeast is a great alternative to, or extension of, the Ha Giang Loop, which is now so popular it’s lost some of its magic.

The Northeast by Motorbike: 5 Routes & Loops, VietnamIn my opinion, the northeast currently offers the best on-road motorbiking opportunities in Vietnam

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THE NORTHEAST: 5 ROUTES & LOOPS


In this guide, I’ve mapped, described and illustrated five motorbike loops in the northeastern provinces of Cao Bang, Lang Son and Bac Kan. On the main map, I’ve plotted all five routes in different colours. However, each of the five routes also has its own separate map, which has much more detail, including road conditions, places to stay, see, eat, and drink. Any of these five routes can be mixed and matched and stitched together as and how you like, in order to create longer or shorter loops. All the northeast loops are highly scenic and great fun to ride: I’d recommend spending at least a few days riding them. Weather is best from March to October; it can get cold from November to February. There’s plenty of accommodation in the main northeastern cities and several good homestay areas scattered around (see each separate route map for specific suggestions). For bike rental, QT Motorbikes has a shop in Cao Bang. *[See Related Posts for links to my other motorbike guides in the region]

Click on an item below for more details:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Northeast by Motorbike: 5 Routes & Loops

Route 1: 165/190km | Route 2: 315km | Route 3: 190km | Route 4: 455kmRoute 5: 285km


View in a LARGER MAP

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ROUTE 1: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: Cao Bang→Ban Gioc Falls→Nguom Ngao Caves (optional return route)
  • Distance: 165/190km
  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Scenery: limestone karsts, minority villages, majestic waterfalls, caves, remote borders
  • Road Conditions: good surface, light traffic (some trucks), rough return route (optional)

ROUTE MAP: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop (165/190km: blue/red route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: Spreading east of Cao Bang City towards the Chinese border and the spectacular Ban Gioc Waterfall, this loop is the most popular of all the northeast routes. Manageable as a (reasonably long) return day-trip from Cao Bang, the Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop is full of wonderful scenery and good riding roads. However, because of ongoing construction and damaged roads caused by juggernauts plying remote routes to isolated Chinese borders, the lower (southerly) half of the Ban Gioc Loop (the red line) is currently in pretty bad repair, and shouldn’t be attempted unless you have a suitable bike or enough riding experience to tackle some tricky off-road, muddy sections. But, this needn’t concern other riders without a suitable bike or off-road experience, because the ride out to Ban Gioc Falls on the on-road route (the blue line) is so good that you won’t mind retracing your tracks back the same way. Or, even better, break the journey by staying a night at one of the atmospheric homestay areas on the route, such as Dam Thuy or Phia Thap, before returning to Cao Bang the next day.

Heading east out of Cao Bang on road QL3, the route passes through lush valleys before ascending the formidable Ma Phuc Pass, which zig-zags up a to a junction where there are marvellous views down over the karst-studded valley. Onward to Quang Uyen, QL3 ploughs through picturesque farmland, where luminous rice paddies fill the flat spaces between limestone pinnacles. Several of the small hamlets specialize in crafts on one kind or another, most noticeably knives, which you’ll see displayed by the roadside. A homestay initiative here, at Phia Thap Village, is worth considering for a night with a local family in a wooden stilt home (try Mr Kim’s Homestay for hospitable hosts, wonderful food, and local knowledge). Quang Uyen, a decent sized town with food and refreshments and a few hotels, is the point at which the route veers north on road DT206, heralding the start of one of the most scenic and enjoyable rides anywhere in Vietnam. All the way between Quang Uyen and Ban Gioc Falls, via the dusty market town of Trung Khanh, the landscape is exceptionally beautiful. Characterized by jagged karst mountains – rising like Daliesque columns from rice paddies and corn fields – and jade-blue rivers flowing past bucolic scenes of wading buffalo, bamboo waterwheels, conical-hatted farmers, stone cottages and wooden cowsheds, the landscape around road DT206 is worthy of any great ink-and-wash Chinese landscape paintings. The road is smooth, easy to ride, and quiet. However, due to soaring trade with China, the peace can be spoiled somewhat by incongruous container trucks struggling up the hairpin bends and squeezing through the tight corners. (A new expressway is currently under construction to address this issue.) It’s also possible to cross the river to the north of DT206 and explore some dusty back-roads.

And then, of course, the star of the show: Ban Gioc Waterfall, one of Vietnam’s greatest natural wonders. It appears suddenly in the corner of your eye, then fills your entire vision. Crashing over multiple levels, filling a wide gap in the tropical foliage, the falls tumble down in white-crested layers, like an iced wedding cake. Framed by stands of giant bamboo and jungle-clad limestone karsts, Ban Gioc Waterfall is a genuinely breathtaking sight to behold. The falls lie right on the Chinese border, and there’s also an impressive cave system nearby, Nguom Ngao, with an illuminated trail through it. The Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort offers mid-range accommodation near the falls, and there’s excellent budget beds in the homestays at Dam Thuy Village (try May Linh and Minh Khanh homestays). Providing you have a suitable motorbike and riding experience, you can continue due south from Ban Gioc Falls on roads DT206/DT207 (the red line) along the Chinese border (at times, literally a stone’s throw away) towards Ha Lang (where there’s a guest house, if you should need it) and all the way back to Quang Uyen. This is the real boonies, and well worth the effort if you have the right wheels. If not, return to Cao Bang on the blue route, which, let’s face it, merits a second ride anyway. *[For much more about the waterfall see my Guide to Ban Gioc Falls].


IMAGES: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop

The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamThe scenery on the Ban Gioc Loop is excellent: this is the Quay Son River through a limestone gorge


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAround Ban Gioc Falls there are opportunities to get off the main route & explore some back roads


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamLooking down the valley from a hairpin bend on the Ma Phuc Pass, halfway between Cao Bang & Ban Gioc


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamBan Gioc Waterfall, seen from above via a steep, treacherous path from the bottom of the falls


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamSituated right on the Chinese border, Ban Gioc Falls are a breathtaking sight, especially in the sunshine


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamCao Bang City, a likable place on the banks of the Bang Giang River, is a perfect base to explore the northeast


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamBamboo waterwheels grace the banks of the Quay Son River, just upstream from Ban Gioc Falls


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamOn a good day, you could spend hours gazing & photographing Ban Gioc Falls from different perspectives


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAfter the waterfall, Road DT206 follows the Chinese border, burrowing beneath a limestone karst


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamThe alternative route (the red line) is scenic & off the beaten path, but road conditions can be rough


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAt times, the road on the red route deteriorates into a muddy track – difficult unless you have a suitable bike


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAlso close by Ban Gioc Falls, Nguom Ngao Cave is a haunting, mesmerizing sight

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ROUTE 2: Ba Be Lake Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: Cao Bang→Ba Be Lake→Bac Kan on back roads & highways
  • Distance: 315km
  • Time: 2-3 days
  • Scenery: jungles, lakes, mountains, river valleys, minority villages, homestays
  • Road Conditions: paved highways & back roads, very mountainous, rough patches

ROUTE MAP: Ba Be Lake Loop (315km: blue route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: A big, green, mountainous and highly scenic route southwest of Cao Bang, the Ba Be Lake Loop combines snaking national highways with narrow back-roads to create a hugely rewarding ride through jungles, rivers, lakes, and highlands. At 315km, this is a long loop which requires at least one night and two days to complete. However, you can choose to shorten the loop by taking either of the shortcuts (the red lines), effectively cutting the loop in half, and thus making it manageable as a one-day return trip from Cao Bang. But, to really get the most out of this loop, you should spend at least one night at a homestay on the shores of Ba Be Lake, not to mention taking a boat out on the placid water, visiting the caves and sights, and trekking in the countryside. The loop is generally fairly easy to follow and navigate, and road conditions are mostly very good. Two significant exceptions to this are: Road 254 around the eastern and southern shores of Ba Be Lake, and patches of the road leading south from Ba Be Lake to Ban Lanh, both of which have badly potholed sections and suffer from mud after heavy rains.

There are several places to stay on the loop, including guest houses in Cho Ra village, and mini-hotels in Bac Kan, the largest town on the route (try Green Hotel, a reliable budget option). However, the homestays on Ba Be Lake are by far the most atmospheric, good value, and rewarding accommodation in the area. Mostly run by local ethnic minority families, these homestays are usually concrete-and-brick or wood-and-thatch structures on stilts by the water’s edge, with easy access to the lake for swimming, kayaking, boat trips, and hiking in the national park. Thus, these homestays are the main hub for activities and sightseeing on the Ba Be Lake Loop. Mr Linh’s and Hoa Son homestays are good options, but there are dozens of others. *[For more information see my Guide to Ba Be Lake Homestays].

The most scenic sections of the loop are, well, they’re all fantastically scenic: Road QL34 west of Cao Bang to Tinh Tuc mining town is a serpentine ribbon of asphalt burrowing deep into the northern mountains; Road DT212 soars over cold, windy passes beneath the slopes of one of the highest mountains in the region, Pia Oac, before plunging due south past a high-end tea plantation, Kolia, and abandoned, century-old, French colonial-era villas to Cho Ra; all the roads to, from, and around Ba Be Lake are dripping with tropical foliage, rivers oozing out of the jungles from the high peaks of limestone mountains, the entire area heavy with an earthy dampness and a strong, mysterious presence as the landscapes wax and wane behind curtains of mist and rain; and Road QL3 back to Cao Bang is a long and dizzying ride through sublime scenery on a smooth surfaced national highway – one of the best riding roads in Vietnam. The riding is good, the scenery stunning, tourists are few, traffic is light: go now and make the most of it.


IMAGES: Ba Be Lake Loop

The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamThe twisting roads on the Ba Be Lake Loop lead deep into the green mountains of Bac Kan Province


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamDespite the difficult terrain, road conditions are generally pretty good on the Ba Be Lake Loop


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamBa Be Lake is perfect for swimming, relaxing, kayaking, boat rides, and homestays with local families


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamOvernighting at a homestay on the edge of Ba Be Lake is a highlight of the loop: there’re many to choose from


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamBa Ba Lake is an exceptionally scenic area: explore it on two wheels, on foot, or by boat


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamRoad 254 around the lake is rough is places & several narrow suspension bridges lead across the water


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamFood in Bac Kan Province is good, especially the meals served up at the Ba Be Lake homestays


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamIf the weather is cloudy & rainy, simply spend the day on your balcony watching life unfold on the lake


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamThe Ba Be Lake Loop is particularly lush: around August-September the colour of the ripe rice is fantastic


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamTake a longboat ride on Ba Be Lake to visit some of the more remote corners of the national park


The Northeast by Motorbike: Ba Be Lake Loop, Bac Kan, VietnamRoad QL3 between Bac Kan & Cao Bang is a long & windy stretch of tarmac through marvellous mountains

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ROUTE 3: Mau Son MountainBac Son Valley Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: Lang Son→Mau Son Mountain→Dong Dang border→Bac Son Valley
  • Distance: 190km
  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Scenery: misty mountains, limestone karsts, rivers, minority villages, homestays
  • Road Conditions: good, paved surfaces, some rough patches, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: Mau Son Mountain↔Bac Son Valley Loop (190km: blue red route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: Two scenic, mountainous loops connected by a smooth ride along a picturesque river valley, the Mau Son Mountain↔Bac Son Valley Loop is relatively short, fairly easy to navigate, and generally on good, well-made roads. However, there are a couple of rough road sections, which I’ve marked on my map with red lines and roadworks icons. Even these sections should be OK to ride in dry weather, but if wet they can become quite difficult. Start from Lang Son, a city that’s prospered on the back of increased trade with China. A small and friendly place with a pleasant buzz on its streets, Lang Son has lots of food, hotels, several sights and great markets selling all sorts of goods from across the border (see my map for suggestions of all the above).

Head east of the city on Road QL4B, leading through a pleasant valley, to the turnoff for DT237B, which climbs all the way to the summit of Mau Son. The road is narrow and paved, but bumpy, twisting through jungle and pines, high into the clouds. At the top, a collection of restored and faux French colonial villas are all that’s left of an unlikely former hill station. It’s a bizarre and romantic sight. Several of the buildings offer accommodation, food, and drink, including the famous local liquor (ruọu), made special, supposedly, by the purity of the mountain spring water. If the weather is clear, the views are mind-blowing. But, Mau Son is almost permanently wrapped in cloud and mist, giving it an eerie, haunted, ethereal character. Either way, it’s well worth the journey. Just don’t come on a weekend or public holiday, when the crowds are insane; during the week, there’s hardly anyone here. The government intend to turn Mau Son into a tourist attraction on the grand, kitsch scale of Ba Na Hills, near Danang. So if that’s not your thing (it isn’t mine), visit now. From just below the summit it’s possible to loop back to Lang Son via a small mountain road (the red line), heading north to Hai Yen, then connecting with Road DT235. However, parts of this route were still unpaved at the time of research (August 2019). If you don’t feel up to it, retrace your route back to Lang Son: the distance isn’t far and the road is so scenic it’s worth riding again anyway.

Pass back through Lang Son and start heading due west. There are two choices for this: take the smooth but busy Highway QL1A north towards Dong Dang then connect with QL1B heading due south and west (the blue line); or take the more direct but potholed and muddy route (the red line) on Road DT235C west of Lang Son before joining QL1B. Either way, it’s not long before you’re gliding through a pretty valley on QL1B, a fantastic riding road: smooth, clear, scenic and fast, brushing by a clear-flowing river, fragrant rice fields and limestone peaks. In season, the air here is scented with Star Anise, an aromatic spice that’s one of the ‘secret’ ingredients of phở. After Binh Gia village, the road climbs steadily, slicing through a cluster of forested limestone karsts, affording fabulous views down into the valley, where smoke rises from little hamlets of wood-and-tile houses. Bac Son lies at the bottom of the pass, a flat, rice-growing valley enclosed by a cradle of limestone karsts. The town itself is small and unassuming, but on its eastern periphery, where the rice fields are so brightly coloured it’s as if each blade has been charged with an electric current, there’s a homestay initiative, at Quynh Son hamlet. Staying in the wooden stilt houses here with a local ethnic minority family is a rewarding experience. Expect to pay around 200,000vnd for a night in a wooden house, including delicious home-cooked food.

However, before bedding down for the night in a homestay, ride the bucolic loop around Bac Son Valley, by combining roads QL1B with DT241 (note that the latter suffers from potholes). This 60km scenic ride wiggles between limestone pinnacles that break up oceans of rice paddy, bisected by a wide river. If you get hungry, look out for roadside vendors near Nga Hai selling tasty sides of crispy roast pork. Finally, save some energy for the steep climb through thick jungle to the Bac Son View Point, atop a limestone crag behind the town, for stunning views of the entire valley. After a night in a homestay, retrace your route back along the valley on QL1B to Lang Son to complete the double loop. However, it’s worth stopping in the intriguing border town of Dong Dang on the way for an hour, to soak up the strange atmosphere. Dong Dang train station is a fascinating building with an exhibition of Kim Jong-un’s visit in early 2019; Dong Dang Market has lots of Chinese goods; Dong Dang temple is a colourful, multi-storey pagoda; and the Friendship Border Gate is a busy trading post, choked with container trucks.


IMAGES: Mau Son Mountain↔Bac Son Valley Loop

The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamTwo connecting loops in Lang Son Province provide lush scenery, limestone karsts, misty mountains & homestays


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamLang Son, a city thriving from cross-border trade with China, is a good place to base yourself for the loop


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamRoad DT237B climbs steeply, clinging to the side of the valley, all the way up to Mau Son Peak


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamMau Son, an abandoned former French colonial hill station, still has some crumbling villas in the mist


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamBac Son valley is a stunning, almost martian, landscape dotted with limestone karsts


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamIn Bac Son valley, the local homestays in Quynh Son village are a highlight of the loop


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamBrace yourself for a steep but short hike up to the Bac Son View Point, where there are stunning vistas


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamHungry? Look out for delicious spit-roasted pork by the roadside – it’s a local speciality


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamThe roads on the Mau Son Mountain↔Bac Son Valley Loop are mostly in pretty good condition


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamTake the time to stop by at Dong Dang, a border town with a fascinating train station


The Northeast by Motorbike: Mau Son Mountain-Bac Son Valley Loop, Lang Son, VietnamThe landscape on the Mau Son Mountain↔Bac Son Valley Loop is often scented with star anise

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ROUTE 4: Bac Kan Back Roads CrissCross Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: Cao Bang→Bac Kan→Lang Son via a criss-cross of rural back roads
  • Distance: 455km
  • Time: 2-3 days
  • Scenery: deep forests, mountains, sparsely populated river valleys, minority villages
  • Road Conditions: good surfaces, back roads & national highways, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop (455km: blue route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: A long, densely forested and sparsely populated route through landscape, and on roads, that most travellers don’t see, the Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop connects the three main northeastern cities (Cao Bang, Lang Son, and Bac Kan) via a series of overlapping back roads, offering a chance to get way off the beaten path while sticking to good, sealed roads. With the exception of Road QL4A between Cao Bang and Lang Son, which forms the eastern flank of this route, the Bac Kan Criss-Cross Loop utilizes several excellent, seldom used back roads that have all recently been resurfaced, providing easy riding and plugging you into isolated areas of thick jungles, rivers, and seemingly endless mountains. Start/end in either Cao Bang or Lang Son (it doesn’t matter which) and take your time eating up the miles on the ‘criss-cross’ of back-roads, meandering through one of the least populated provinces in Vietnam, past countryside rich in revolutionary history. This is the heart of the Việt Bắc region, historically a revolutionary stronghold, not least in the mid-twentieth century, when Ho Chi Minh and his entourage avoided detection from French authorities by taking cover in the tangle of steep valleys and forests. The riding is fabulous, the traffic is light, the scenery pristine, and the distances long but easily manageable in a couple of days, with an overnight stop in Bac Kan (try Green Hotel for a reliable budget option) or one of the local guest houses (nhà nghỉ) in the small villages on the back roads.

To the east of this loop is a long stretch on Highway QL4A. An ambitious, wide, smooth road, facilitating trade with China, QL4A is fun to ride as it curls over passes, along steep valleys, and through pretty farmland punctuated by limestone karsts. However, it’s marred by container trucks plying between Chinese border posts; the juggernauts often stalling as they crawl painfully up the passes. Indeed, a new expressway is under construction to address this issue, but won’t be completed for some time. Nonetheless, it’s still a decent and fast ride, linking two of the northeast’s major cities: Cao Bang and Lang Son. Stop in at Dong Dang, the main Chinese border town, for a look at its market and impressive train station. This is where Kim Jong-un entered Vietnam for his summit with President Trump in February 2019. The station features an exhibition of photographs commemorating the event. There’s also an interesting temple, and it’s worth riding up to the border to have a look at the imposing gates and hundreds of waiting freight vehicles.

Almost exactly in the middle of QL4A, the town of That Khe is the turnoff point for the ‘criss-cross’ of back roads. You can ride the ‘criss-cross’ in any direction, it really doesn’t matter. This is the point where the roads melt into the jungle: a network of connecting back roads twisting and turning through an incredibly lush, fecund, fertile landscape of rivers, jungles, mountains and karsts. All the back roads are now paved, although their condition deteriorates at certain points and, because the terrain is so mountainous, the roads are liable to suffer from landslides after heavy rain. But, in good weather, all riders on all bikes should be able to relax and enjoy these highly scenic, rural back roads. Gas stations are few, but each village has at least one. The same goes for food and accommodation: one or two local guest houses (nhà nghỉ) can be found in the villages marked with a red pin on my map, but it’s best to save your overnight stop for Bac Kan, where there are plenty of small hotels, including Green Hotel & Coffee. Settle into the ride and become pleasantly disorientated in the tropical foliage of Bac Kan Province.


IMAGES: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop

The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamBac Kan is one of the least populated & least visited provinces in Vietnam, yet it is green, forested & beautiful


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamA series of good quality, narrow, paved back roads criss-cross through Bac Kan’s countryside


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamA buffalo bathes in a mountain stream: Bac Kan is riddled with rivers & valleys


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamMost of Bac Kan Province is densely forested: often, the narrow roads are the only sign of human activity


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamAlthough sparsely populated, most of the villages serve refreshments at mealtimes


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamExploring Bac Kan Province on back roads takes you way off the beaten path, but still on good quality roads


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamMost of Bac Kan’s back roads are single-lane, meandering across the lush countryside


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamTraffic is very light, giving you plenty of opportunities to pull over, stop & admire the wide views


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamA daily train runs between Lang Son station & Hanoi, allowing you to take your motorbike on board


The Northeast by Motorbike: Bac Kan Back Roads Criss-Cross Loop, VietnamStop by Dong Dang, on the Chinese border, to soak up the strange atmosphere of this old market town

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ROUTE 5: China Border Crawl Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: Cao Bang→Bao Lac→Pac Bo Cave→Ma Phuc Pass via border back roads
  • Distance: 285km
  • Time: 2-3 days
  • Scenery: mountains, incredible passes, remote borders, rivers, villages, historic sites
  • Road Conditions: decent back roads, bad patches, susceptible to landslides, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: China Border Crawl Loop (285km: blue route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: The most northerly of the five northeast routes, the China Border Crawl Loop is a mountainous circuit from Cao Bang, utilizing remote and extraordinarily steep and twisted roads, often clinging to an isolated section of the Chinese border. Although the China Border Crawl Loop is long and winding, it is possible to ride the entire loop in a long day on the road, providing you leave early and have good weather. However, it’s more enjoyable to take your time, breaking the journey at one of the mini-hotels in Bao Lac for a night. Alternatively, you can cut the loop in half by taking either of the two shortcuts (the red lines) back to Cao Bang. The scenery is fantastic, the roads are astonishing, and the sense of adventure is real and raw.

Heading west from Cao Bang, Road QL34 is a wonderfully knotted ribbon of tarmac, corkscrewing up green mountains of terraced rice fields, soaring over cold, high passes, and plummeting into tight valleys all the way to Bao Lac. A small town at the confluence of several rivers, Bao Lac is a good place to grab refreshments or a bed for a night (I’ve marked several hotels on my map), before riding due east on what is one of the most astonishing roads in the country. Following the Gam River east of Bao Lac, this as yet unnamed road is currently the talk of many riders in Vietnam. Hugging the Chinese border for much of its length, the road passes through some extremely remote landscapes. As if the fabulous scenery weren’t enough, the road itself is quite a sight. The narrow asphalt lane is full of contortions and knots; constantly switching back on itself as it negotiates the difficult terrain. To look at it on the map it’s as if the road were alive: an agitated dragon, shifting violently from left to right, trying to shrug an assailant off its back. One pass, in particular, is breathtaking: Ascending what is essentially a vertical wall of rock, the road passes 14 (by my count) consecutive switchbacks. I’ve taken to calling this the ‘Dragon’s Stairway’ or ‘Roller Coaster Pass’ (I’ve never been able to decide between the two). However, Google Maps has recently named it đèo Mẻ Pia.

At times gravelly and potholed, this border road runs all the way east through Can Yen village until it hits the Ho Chi Minh Road (DT208), just south of Pac Bo Cave. Definitely worth the short detour, Pac Bo is a significant historical site in a highly scenic location. This is where Uncle Ho re-entered Vietnam in 1941, after 30 years of absence, to begin his struggle for an independent nation. (See my Guide to Pac Bo Cave for details.) To continue on the loop, turn east on DT210, a seldom used back road climbing sharply up limestone cliffs and shadowing the Chinese border to Tra Linh. Cutting a huge white gash in the landscape, the narrow road twists through a forest of chalky limestone karsts, passing through remote villages that appear to be stuck in time. Homes are made of packed mud and straw with baked-tile roofs; oxen, buffalo, and horses transport crops, farm equipment, and people from field to village; stone walls divide fields of rice, corn, and soy beans; hay is stacked by children into 20-foot-high pylons, echoing the shape of the limestone hills; and a rocky creek ekes through the valley, providing animals and farmers with a bath after a hard day’s work on the land. At Tra Linh, turn due south onto Road DT205 (perhaps stopping at Thang Hen Lake on the way) and connect up with QL3 at the Ma Phuc Pass, heading all the way back to Cao Bang.


IMAGES: China Border Crawl Loop

The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamHeading west of Cao Bang to Bao Lac, Road QL34 passes Tinh Tuc mining village & vast karst landscapes


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAlong the road to Bao Lac rice terraces are carved into steep hillsides above the gushing Gam River


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamBao Lac sits at the confluence of several rivers, a pleasant location for a remote little town


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamBao Lac market is a good place to fill up as there are few dining options on the rest of the loop


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamThe Dragon’s Staircase is an extraordinary pass: this photo doesn’t do it justice – but, trust me, it’s spectacular


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamMake time to stop at Pac Bo Cave, an important historical site in a highly scenic location, abutting China


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamThe northernmost extent of the Ho Chi Minh Road gives you the option of cutting this loop in half


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamEast of Pac Bo Cave, Road DT210 climbs into the karst mountains, shadowing the Chinese border


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamTra Linh is a remote outpost near a border crossing into China: it will probably grow in the coming years


The Northeast by Motorbike: China Border Crawl Loop, Cao Bang, VietnamAlong Road QL3 back to Cao Bang City, there’s most gorgeous scenery on the home stretch


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these routes and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Phong Nha by Motorbike: Routes & Loops http://vietnamcoracle.com/phong-nha-by-motorbike-routes-loops/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/phong-nha-by-motorbike-routes-loops/#comments Thu, 25 Jul 2019 17:25:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29227 Phong Nha has some of the most sublime landscape in Vietnam. These motorbike routes & loops explore all corners of the area's extraordinary natural beauty.... Continue reading

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First published July 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The landscape around Phong Nha, in Central Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province, is some of the most sublime in the country. The limestone karsts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, whose jagged, jungled peaks extend all the way to the Lao border, provide a quintessentially exotic backdrop to oceans of rice paddies that spread between languid, blue rivers around the village of Phong Nha, on the plains. Over the last few years, the road network through this incredible landscape has improved markedly. Dirt roads have been paved, back-roads widened, old roads upgraded, highways extended, and new roads constructed. It’s ideal for a motorbike road trip. And yet, outside of public holidays and peak times, traffic is still very light, and, although visitor numbers to the area are increasing, most people tend to stick to an established route, leaving the greater Phong Nha area practically deserted and ripe for independent exploration. In this guide, I’ve mapped and described five different routes and loops in the Phong Nha region. Each loop can be ridden separately or stitched together to form a ‘Great Phong Nha Loop’. Providing you have good weather, I don’t see how it’s possible not to fall in love with Phong Nha if you spend a few days riding around on two wheels. I’ve been coming here for 10 years: every time it leaves me breathless.

*My thanks to all the people in Phong Nha who helped me research these routes – too many to mention, but you know who you are.

Phong Nha by Motorbike: 5 Routes & Loops

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PHONG NHA: 5 ROUTES & LOOPS


In this guide, I’ve mapped, described and illustrated five motorbike routes and loops in the Phong Nha area. On the main map, I’ve plotted all five routes in different colours. However, each of the five routes also has its own separate map, which has much more detail, including road conditions, places to see, eat, and drink. Any of these five routes can be mixed and matched and stitched together as and how you like, in order to create longer or shorter loops. Find suitable accommodation in Phong Nha and make it your base for at least a few days while exploring the wider region by motorbike (or bicycle). Ideally, I’d recommend riding all the routes and loops in this guide. What’s more, I’d suggest riding them in the order in which they’re written: starting with Routes 1, 2, and 3, which are gentler rides covering many of the main attractions in Phong Nha, and finishing with Routes 4 and 5, which are longer, wider loops, taking you more off the beaten path. The best time to visit Phong Nha is March to September, when the weather is generally good. October to February can be quite bleak.

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Phong Nha by Motorbike: 5 Routes & Loops

Route 1: 50/90km | Route 2: 40km | Route 3: 15km| Route 4: 290km | Route 5: 190/220km


View in a LARGER MAP

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ROUTE 1: Caves & Country Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: a classic loop of the national park’s main attractions, plus an optional side route 
  • Distance: 50/90km
  • Time: half-day or full-day
  • Scenery: blue rivers, spectacular caves, forest walks, waterfalls, jungle, limestone karsts
  • Road Conditions: good, smooth-surface roads, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: Caves & Country Loop (50/90km: blue/red route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: This is the classic Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park loop: an easy-to-ride, easy-to-navigate, and highly scenic route on good quality roads around many of the main sights, caves, and activities on offer in the area. One day is enough to complete the loop, although if you want to visit and explore all the sights, you might need two days. You can ride the Caves & Country Loop in either direction, but I prefer going clockwise: starting from Phong Nha village and heading due south on Road DT20. The main loop (the blue line) is only 50km, and it’s easy to follow, fun to ride, and packed with things to see and do. I’ve marked many of the sights and activities on my route map. These include: hiking around Nui Doi semi-wild enclosure; scrambling through the jungles and waterfalls of the Botanic Gardens; kayaking and walking the treetops at Ozo Park; exploring the gigantic, cathedral-like subterranean world of Dong Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave; taking the zip-line and swimming in the astonishingly blue water at Nuoc Mooc springs; getting muddy at Hang Toi (Dark) Cave; and settling down to a delicious, local, barbecue dinner at Quan Binh Hoa, before returning to Phong Nha village for rooftop cocktails at Momma D’s.

In addition to the classic loop around the park, I’ve included an optional side route on Road DT562 (the red line), heading due south, deep into the national park, towards a remote Lao border. On this fully paved side route, which ploughs through extraordinarily dense jungle and wonderful scenery, there are a couple of stops, including the Eight Lady Cave (Hang Tam Co) war memorial, Tra Ang Cave, and the isolated minority village of Arem. Even if you don’t stop at any of the possible attractions on the Caves & Country Loop, the riding and the scenery are sublime. *[Check out my guide to Where to Stay in Phong Nha]


IMAGES: Caves & Country Loop

Riding Route DT20, Phong Nha, Vietnam Caves & Country Loop: enjoying the views of jungle & limestone karsts on Road DT20


Waterfall at Botanic Gardens, Phong Nha Ke Bang National ParkCaves & Country Loop: stopping for a refreshing dip in a waterfall in the Botanic Gardens


The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, Phong Nha, VietnamCaves & Country Loop: excellent riding & fabulous scenery on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road (QL15)


Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Ke Bang National ParkCaves & Country Loop: the breathtaking, otherworldly shapes & formations in Paradise Cave


The road to Arem Village & the Lao border, Phong NhaCaves & Country Loop: the lonely road to remote Arem minority village, near the Lao border


Warning sign for unexploded bombs, Arem Village, Phong Nha, VietnamCaves & Country Loop: a sign outside Arem village warns of unexploded ordnance


Phong Nha village, VietnamCaves & Country Loop: looking across to Phong Nha village at dusk, from the bridge on Road QL16


BBQ dinner at Quan Binh Hoa, Phong Nha, VietnamCaves & Country Loop: stopping at Quan Binh Hoa for a delicious BBQ dinner on the way home


Limestone karsts, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, VietnamCaves & Country Loop: the sun sets behind the limestone karsts of Phong Nha

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ROUTE 2: Bridges & BackRoads Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: an inner Phong Nha loop on back-roads along the river, local villages & farms
  • Distance: 40km
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Scenery: bucolic agricultural river valleys, limestone karsts & local villages
  • Road Conditions: decent paved back-roads, some rough patches, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: Bridges & Back-Roads Loop (40km: blue red route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: A quiet, delightfully scenic circuit on mostly paved back-roads and small lanes with a few rough patches, this loop is a rural, local, and laid-back figure of ‘8’ that can easily be completed in just a couple of hours. However, because there are several good swimming spots, food and drink options, chances to meet local people, and lots of lovely vistas across classic Vietnamese agricultural plains, you could easily fill half a day. The Bridges & Back-Roads route features two connecting loops: one around the river east of Phong Nha village; the other around the river west of Phong Nha village. The figure of ‘8’ can be ridden in either direction: clockwise or anticlockwise, it really doesn’t matter. The distances are short, but the loop focuses mostly on small roads, so riding can be quite slow. Also, navigation can sometimes be tricky, so keep checking the route map. This loop is all about farmland, local hamlets, communities, and local life. It’s the most intimate and personal of all the Phong Nha routes in this guide. The scenery is very pretty, but it’s not on a grand scale. Rather, this route is about slowing down, getting off the beaten path, meeting local people, and seeing behind the scenes.

The Bridges & Back-Roads Loop focuses on the agricultural land on the plains surrounding the river, which is crossed on six separate occasions, including a pontoon bridge, a wooden canoe ferry, and three suspension bridges. The character and road conditions change quite dramatically from one side of the river to the other. South of the river, roads are smooth, wide and paved, and the agricultural landscape is dotted with homestays, bars, cafes, and casual dining. In short, this is part of the travellers’ circuit around Phong Nha. By contrast, north of the river, the roads are sprinkled with potholes, dirt sections, and earthen dykes between rice paddies. It’s a very local area without any tourist infrastructure – no hotels, no boutique cafes, no noodle joints with English menus. This, of course, is the whole point, and the slightly rougher edge north of the river can be a relief if you’ve spent too much time on the touristy main drag in Phong Nha village. Local people (many of whom are Catholic, hence the presence of several large and ostentatious churches) are exceptionally friendly: children, men and women all smile and wave you by. In the villages, some of the homes are beautiful wood-and-brick structures. Cattle linger by the road or tethered to bamboo posts in the fields, and it’s fascinating to observe the agricultural work on the land and in the homes. The river, a beautiful seam of clear, vivid-blue water that bisects this loop, is a constant presence. The idea is to linger on this loop, stopping regularly to soak it up. I’ve marked several places – such as, swimming spots, food and drink options, scenic areas, churches – where you might want to stop. Ideally, aim to end this loop at dusk on the river at Bomb Crater Bar, with a cocktail and some tubing on the water as the sun goes down, making silhouettes of the wooden fishing sampans and the karst mountains behind.

Notes: if you take the very short, boggy, off-road section (the red line), then you don’t have to join QL15 at the west of this loop. But if you don’t have an appropriate motorbike or experience, stick to the main route (the blue line) instead. Also note that the ferry and pontoon crossings on this loop require a small fee. *[Check out my guide to Where to Stay in Phong Nha]


IMAGES: Bridges & Back-Roads Loop

Riding across a suspension bridge, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: this loop features several of these fun, narrow suspension bridges


Fishing sampans on the river, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: picturesque scenes of wooden sampans harvesting reeds on the river


Wooden vehicle ferry across the river, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: this optional ferry crossing is a lot of fun


Beautiful blue river, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: vivid blue rivers are perfect for swimming


Pontoon bridge over the river, Phong NhaBridges & Back-Roads Loop: the pontoon toll bridge across the river


Riding along the river bank, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: riding along the south bank of the river is easy, scenic & quiet


Dirt path through the fields, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: a short optional dirt-road section is fine in dry weather, but muddy if wet


Riding over a suspension bridge, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: one of the many wooden suspension bridges on a scenic back-road


Corn drying on a doorstep, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: corn laid out on a farm porch to dry in the sun


Cattle on the road, Phong Nha, VietnamBridges & Back-Roads Loop: cattle tethered to a wooden stake by the roadside at dusk

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ROUTE 3: Bong Lai Valley Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: a short but activity-filled loop of the scenic Bong Lai river valley
  • Distance: 15km
  • Time: 2 hours to half a day
  • Scenery: mountains, rivers, local cafes, farms, food, walks & community based activities
  • Road Conditions: decent paved lanes & dirt roads, some muddy patches, no traffic

ROUTE MAP: Bong Lai Valley Loop (15km: blue route)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: A scenic and short route leading up and down a lush river valley just east of Phong Nha village, this ride is perfect for a relaxing half-day excursion on two wheels. The Bong Lai Valley lies about 7km east of Phong Nha village. Accessed to the south of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, small roads run along both sides of the valley, connected by the Bong Lai suspension bridge, about 2.5km upstream. This creates a lovely, short loop peppered with great stops for food, drink, sightseeing, swimming, tubing, hiking and even farming, among other community based activities. The distances are short, but the things to see, do and eat are many: take your time, soak it up, and fall head over heels for Vietnam’s agricultural, rural charms. You can ride the loop in either direction, but I prefer going anticlockwise, starting on the west bank of the river, on a dirt lane going upstream, and returning on the east bank along a paved lane going back downstream to the main road. This is because it’s best to do the dirt road in the morning, before the afternoon showers, which, if and when they come, can make road conditions slippery.

The scenery is gentle, green, and gorgeous. Unlike the jagged limestone karsts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, here in the Bong Lai Valley there are rolling hills, fruit trees, crop fields, plantations, and long mountain ridges receding into the distance. The river is clear and good for swimming: join the buffaloes wallowing in the cool water, or rent a tube from the Pub With Cold Beer or Rattan House and float downstream. Take the ride slowly and stop regularly along the way at places like: the Duck Stop, where you can be a farmer for a couple of hours as well as enjoying their bánh xèo (savoury, sizzling pancakes); or the Rattan House, with fine views and a breezy wooden gazebo; or test your nerve (and snap your Instagram photos) on the swings at Nature Farm, which hurl you out over the river valley; or swim in the cool water at O O Lake Silence, among many other potential stopping points. All this should work up a good appetite, which is gloriously satisfied at Moi Moi with a flame-grilled whole chicken, lemongrass pork cooked in a length of bamboo, and bánh lọc – little tapioca dumplings with peanuts steamed in banana leaf. There are also plenty of opportunities for coffee, beer, cocktails, and smoothies: check out the views at East Hill Coffee, or drop into Pepper House Homestay or Lake House Resort for a sundowner. It’s all a lot of fun and the scenery is beautiful. But don’t expect to have it all to yourself: the Bong Lai Valley Loop is a fairly popular and established day-trip for Phong Nha backpackers these days. *[Check out my guide to Where to Stay in Phong Nha]


IMAGES: Bong Lai Valley Loop

River view, the Duck Stop, Bong Lai Valley, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: gazing out over the river from the hills behind the Duck Stop


Bong Lai Valley, Phong Nha, VietnamBong Lai Valley Loop: looking upriver towards the Bong Lai bridge & church


Suspension bridge, Bong Lai Valley, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: crossing the metal suspension bridge from west bank to east bank


Hammock with river view, Bong Lai Vally, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: a hammock with a view looking downriver to forests & mountains


The Pub with Cold Beer, Bong Lai Valley, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: entering the Pub with Cold Beer, where there’s great food, drink, views & tubing


Farmland, Bong Lai Valley, Phong Nha, VietnamBong Lai Valley Loop: farmland, including cassava, bananas, jackfruit, elephant grass & lemongrass


Nature Swing, Bong Lai Vally, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: a swing with a view at Swing Nature Farm, the southern end of the loop


Cooking a chicken feast at Moi Moi, Bong Lai Valley, Phong NhaBong Lai Valley Loop: preparing the fire for cooking a delicious grilled chicken at Moi Moi

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ROUTE 4: Ho Chi Minh West is Best Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: a dramatic loop south of Phong Nha on the Western & Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road
  • Distance: 290km
  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Scenery: jungles, mountains, amazing limestone karsts, minority hamlets, blue rivers
  • Road Conditions: good, very mountainous, paved roads, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: Ho Chi Minh West is Best Loop (290km: blue, purplered routes)


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular roads in the country, leads south of Phong Nha village through sublime scenery near the Lao border. Of all the sections along the 2,000km length of the Ho Chi Minh Road, the west is best. Soaring over limestone peaks, darting in and out of thick jungle, skirting the edges of blue rivers, and with enough hairpin bends to make you dizzy, the Western Ho Chi Minh Road is a real stunner. And yet, there’s hardly anyone on it.

This loop covers roughly 130km of the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, heading south from Phong Nha all the way to Tang Ky junction. The ride along the Western Ho Chi Minh Road is so good that, if you had no choice but to ride back to Phong Nha on exactly the same route, you’d have no complaints at all. However, in the last few years, the three east-west roads (DT563, DT10, and DT16 – the purple lines) linking the Western (the blue line) and Eastern (the red line) branches of the Ho Chi Minh Road, have been upgraded and fully sealed. This means you can now create a loop (or figure of ‘6’, or figure of ‘8’ – whatever takes your fancy) by utilizing any of these scenic, smooth-surfaced east-west roads and connecting them with the Western and Eastern branches of the Ho Chi Minh Road. I’ve marked all of these roads on my route map, but you can mix and match them however you like, in order to create whichever loop you want from Phong Nha and back. But remember: west is best – it’s all about trying to spend as much time as possible on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road between Phong Nha and Tang Ky.

Although the distances on this loop are quite large, if you start early it is still possible to ride a loop from Phong Nha and back in one (very long) day. However, it’s much more rewarding to spend two days riding this loop, by breaking the journey at the only hotel on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, Duc Tuan Guest House (read more about that here). Also, bear in mind that gas stations are irregular: there’s only really one on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, located in Long Son village. For other gas stations and other guest houses, you’ll need to head down to the Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road. Make sure you start the day with a full tank; bring your camera, bring your swim stuff, and prepare to be well and truly awed by the Western Ho Chi Minh Road. On my route map, I’ve marked several of my favourite swimming spots, and some of the most scenic areas. [*Check out my full Ho Chi Minh Road Guide]


IMAGES: Ho Chi Minh West is Best Loop

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: the long, weaving, paved route into the jungles south of Phong Nha


Suspension bridge on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: a high suspension bridge over a river near Long Son


The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: threading between two limestone pinnacles


Scenery on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: staring out over the vast jungles & mountains


The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: tropical foliage grows profusely around the road


Scenery on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: the brilliant-blue Long Dai River snaking through the mountains


Scenery on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: looking down the valley to Long Son village & the Duc Tuan Hotel


The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: through the majestic landscape of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park


Riding the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamHo Chi Minh West is Best Loop: excellent riding, extraordinary scenery & hardly any people or traffic

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ROUTE 5: King Kong Loop

DETAILS:

  • Route: a big loop north of Phong Nha on roads less travelled, with dirt-road options
  • Distance: 190km/220km
  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Scenery: rivers, jungle, limestone karsts, King Kong filming locations, beach option
  • Road Conditions: paved back-roads & highways, optional dirt-road sections, light traffic

ROUTE MAP: King Kong Loop (220/190km: blue/red routes) *[red=dirt-roads]


View in a LARGER MAP


DESCRIPTION: A large circuit north of Phong Nha, the King Kong Loop utilizes some small and spectacular back-roads through jaw-dropping karst scenery, as well as some good highways, with several potential detours and optional dirt-road sections. Certain scenes from the Hollywood blockbuster, Kong: Skull Island, were shot in the landscape to the west of this loop. Although the loop can be ridden in either direction, I’d recommend going anti-clockwise, because this leaves the long, smooth section of the Ho Chi Minh Road (QL15) back to Phong Nha for last: an easy homecoming after a long day’s ride. The King Kong Loop covers a lot of ground with a great variety of landscapes – lush river valleys, desolate beaches, isolated local villages, dense jungle, and limestone pinnacles – but the distances are nonetheless doable in one day, as long as you start at a decent time in the morning. There are two optional dirt-road sections on this loop (the red lines), both of which should be perfectly manageable in dry conditions. But, if the weather has been wet (and especially if you’re not used to riding on unpaved surfaces), these dirt-roads should probably be avoided in favour of the on-road route (the blue lines). The dirt-road loop is marginally shorter in distance (190km) than the on-road route (220km). But, in terms of duration, they’re about the same. A potential side-route is to continue north up Highway QL1A along the coast to Canh Duong (the green line), where there’s an interesting mural village and a decent, local beach. This extension is good if you’re in need of some surf, but not an essential part of the loop.

I’ve annotated the King Kong route map with scenic areas, swimming spots, good riding sections, and some other sights and activities. Highlights of the loop are: the lovely river valley just northeast of Phong Nha, including Thanh Thuy Catholic Church, where the old bell (in the gardens on the north side of the church) is fashioned from a salvaged bomb shell; the excellent scenery along both DT559B and QL12A, including some good swimming spots; and the last 50km on the Ho Chi Minh Road (QL15) back to Phong Nha, which is a glorious ride through terrific scenery, including the steep and spectacular Da Deo Pass. But, best of all, is the ‘mini loop within a loop‘, close to the Tu Lan cave system and the Oxalis Tours drop-off site. Reached via paved roads from the west or dirt roads from the east, this mini-loop winds through an otherworldly landscapes of limestone karsts rising from the floodplains of a river valley. This is where a couple of scenes from 2017 movie, Kong: Skull Island, were shot on-location. In particular, an interrogation scene between the characters played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, sitting on a wall that is located opposite the Oxalis building. There are a couple of decent cơm-phở (rice and noodle) refreshment shacks nearby this spot. However, bear in mind that, during the wettest months of the year (usually September to November), the entire area can be inaccessible due to flooding. Indeed, households in this valley have two homes: one structure with foundations rooted to the ground; the other lashed to barrels in order to float during the floods. You’ll see the latter waiting patiently in the gardens for the rains to come; at which time the family will move from their home on land to their home on water. *[Check out my guide to Where to Stay in Phong Nha]


IMAGES: King Kong Loop

River & limestone karsts, Road QL12A, VietnamKing Kong Loop: stunning scenery seen from a bridge on Road QL12A


Riding the back-roads, Quang Binh, VietnamKing Kong Loop: a paved country lane – part of the ‘mini-loop within a loop


Riding through a river, Phong Nha, VietnamKing Kong Loop: riding through the river at the point where the road ends & the dirt begins


Riding the back-roads, Quang Binh, VietnamKing Kong Loop: the back-roads on the ‘loop within a loop‘ are remarkably scenic, empty & quiet


Pontoon bridge, Phong Nha, VietnamKing Kong Loop: this wooden pontoon bridge is rickety & fun to ride across


Off-road track, Quang Binh, VietnamKing Kong Loop: the optional dirt-road section is isolated & fun to ride if you’ve got an appropriate bike


River & limestone karsts, Road QL12A, VietnamKing Kong Loop: roads is this region are getting better & pass through superb landscapes (QL12A)


River view, Phong Nha, VietnamKing Kong Loop: passing along the picturesque river valley, just north of Phong Nha


Floating homes with barrels, Quang Binh, VietnamKing Kong Loop: a house for the dry season (left), a house for the wet season (right)


Jade blue river, Ho Chi Minh Road, Quang Binh, VietnamKing Kong Loop: gorgeous blue rivers & perfect natural swimming pools along the Ho Chi Minh Road


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these routes and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Hanoi to Hai Phong by Train: Passengers & Motorbikes http://vietnamcoracle.com/hanoi-to-hai-phong-by-train-passengers-motorbikes/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/hanoi-to-hai-phong-by-train-passengers-motorbikes/#comments Fri, 12 Jul 2019 15:06:03 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29262 The Hanoi↔Hai Phong train is a brilliant option for travellers with motorbikes looking to get from the capital city to Cat Ba Island (or vice-versa), without having to negotiate the horrible highways.... Continue reading

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First published July 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The four times daily train between Hanoi and Haiphong is a brilliant option for travellers with motorbikes looking to get from the capital city to Cat Ba Island (or vice-versa), without having to negotiate the horrible highways. This is because the Hanoi↔Haiphong train service allows passengers to take their motorbikes with them on the same train, thus providing a direct, hassle-free route in/out of the busy capital, bypassing the horrendous industrial sprawl along the highways of the Red River Delta, and straight into the heart of Haiphong, from where there’s easy access, by road and ferry, to Cat Ba Island. Haiphong, Vietnam’s third largest city and one of its most important ports, is best known to travellers as the gateway to Cat Ba Island, whose rugged terrain and jungle-clad limestone pinnacles rise up from the Gulf of Tonkin. Although only 120km east of Hanoi, the ride to Haiphong by motorbike involves a dull, traffic-clogged crawl through endless industrial zones. By taking your motorbike on the train, you bypass all the grim factory towns, traffic jams, and carcinogenic air that you would otherwise have to contend with if going by road.

Hanoi to Haiphong by Train: Passengers & MotorbikesThe Hanoi↔Haiphong train is an excellent option for motorbikers bound for Cat Ba Island

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GUIDE: HANOIHAI PHONG BY TRAIN


This is a full guide to taking the Hanoi↔Hai Phong train, for passengers and motorbikes. I’ve written and organized all the information into separate sections below, and plotted the rail route (and connecting road and ferry routes to Cat Ba Island) on my map. As mentioned in the introduction, the Hanoi↔Hai Phong train is an especially convenient option for travellers with motorbikes bound for Cat Ba Island. For travellers without motorbikes, there’s no particular reason to take the train (bus connections between Hanoi, Haiphong, and Cat Ba Island are fast, frequent, and cheap), other than for the pleasure of riding the rails between two of the prettiest French colonial-era train stations in Vietnam. Personally, I’d always choose the train over the bus, because the train is a more rewarding travel experience.

Click an item below to read more:

ROUTE MAP:

Hanoi↔Hai Phong by Train

View in a LARGER MAP


SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Onward Travel to Cat Ba Island:

For many travellers taking the Hanoi↔Hai Phong train, the main purpose will be to continue on to Cat Ba Island, whether going straight through or after a day spent exploring Hai Phong (which is very rewarding, if you have the time). If travelling on foot, take a taxi from Hai Phong Station to Ben Binh Port, from where fast boats leave several times a day to Cat Ba town, in the south of Cat Ba Island. Alternatively, if you’re travelling with your motorbike on the train, ride east out of Hai Phong toward the new Tan Vu-Lach Huyen Causeway, an impressive piece of engineering spanning 5km of open water at the mouth of the Bach Dang River, connecting Hai Phong with Cat Hai Island. Continue on the highway across Cat Hai Island, past the new VinFast car and motorbike factory, to Ben Pha Got ferry pier, at the eastern tip of the island. From here, regular car ferries cross the channel to Cai Vieng Port, on Cat Ba Island. Once on the island, it’s a beautiful 30-minute ride south along the coast road to Cat Ba town. (*For much more information see my complete Cat Ba Island Guide.)

The fast boat between Haiphong & Cat Ba Island, VietnamFrom Haiphong, travellers on foot can take the fast boat direct to Cat Ba Island from Ben Binh pier


The car ferry between Haiphong & Cat Ba Island, VietnamFrom Hai Phong, motorbikers can ride the new bridge to Cat Hai & then take the car ferry to Cat Ba Island

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Train Operators & Contacts:

The Hanoi↔Hai Phong rail service is operated by state-run Vietnam Railways. It’s one of several northern spur lines which fan out from Hanoi, not connected to the main north-south Hanoi-Saigon line, known as the Reunification Express. Apart from the information on this page, more details about times, tickets, prices and availability can be found on the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn) and on Baolau.com.

The train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamThe Hanoi↔Hai Phong train is a spur line operated by state-run Vietnam Railways


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Train Times & Schedules:

There are 4 trains in both directions every day between Hanoi and Hai Phong. The general schedule is two trains in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening (see below). Journey time is between 2.00-2.45 hours. There are a few stops along the way, including Hai Duong, an industrial city almost exactly midway. But for most travellers the important stations to note are the three different stops in Hanoi itself. These are: Hanoi Central (on Le Duan Street), Long Bien (on the west bank of the Red River, by the famous bridge of the same name), and Gia Lam (east of the river and the city centre). All three Hanoi stations aren’t much more than a 10-minute taxi ride from most popular areas of the capital, such as the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, and West Lake (Ho Tay). [See Stations for details]

*IMPORTANT NOTE: On weekdays, Hanoi Central Station is only served by the first train of the day (6.00am) to Hai Phong, and the last train of the day (18.40pm) from Hai Phong. All other services arrive/depart from Hanoi’s Long Bien and Gia Lam stations only. However, on weekends and public holidays, all trains do serve Hanoi Central Station. This may seem a bit convoluted, but it works out fine, and if you’re confused just go to Long Bien or Gia Lam stations, where all services, no matter what time or day it is, arrive and depart. However, for travellers with motorbikes, the only station to load and unload your motorbike is Gia Lam (see Sending your Motorbike for details).

The schedule below is accurate at the time of writing (July 2019), but is subject to change. All Hanoi times given below are for Hanoi Central Station: for Long Bien and Gia Lam stations add a few minutes to the times. For example, if the train departs Hanoi Central at 6.00am, it will leave Long Bien at 6.07am and Gia Lam at 6.14am, and so on. For current times you can pick up a copy of the timetable from any of the stations, or check Baolau.com or the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn):

HANOI→HAI PHONG:

  • Train HP1: Depart: 6.00amArrive: 8.25am (daily)
  • Train LP3: Depart: 9.17amArrive: 12.00noon (daily)
  • Train LP5: Depart: 3.20pmArrive: 6.00pm (daily)
  • Train LP7: Depart: 6.15pmArrive: 8.55pm (daily)

HAI PHONG→HANOI:

  • Train LP2: Depart: 6.10amArrive: 8.46am (daily) 
  • Train LP6: Depart: 9.05amArrive: 11.40am (daily) 
  • Train LP8: Depart: 3.00pmArrive: 5.38pm (daily) 
  • Train HP2: Depart: 6.40pmArrive: 9.06pm (daily)

The train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamThe Hanoi↔Hai Phong train runs four times daily in both directions: journey time is 2.00-2.45 hours


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Ticket Prices & Booking:

The Hanoi↔Haiphong train is very good value for money. Ticket prices for passengers and motorbikes are reasonable and booking is easy. There are two classes available: air-conditioned soft-seat carriages or fan-cooled hard-seat (wooden bench) carriages. Booking at the stations, at least 30 minutes before departure (preferably more, to avoid travel anxiety), is a straightforward process. Bookings are made at the tickets counters at any of the stations. Staff are very helpful so you shouldn’t have any trouble. If you need orientation, look for the words Phòng Vé (Ticket Office). Alternatively, you can buy tickets online on the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn) or Baolau.com. However, if you’re taking your motorbike, you must buy your ticket in person at the station of departure (see Sending your Motorbike for details). The prices below are accurate at the time of writing (July 2019), but are subject to change:

  • Hard seat: 65,000vnd
  • Soft seat: 70,000vnd 
  • Motorbike: 75,000vnd (+25,000vnd handling fee) = 95,000vnd [read this]

Ticket office at Hai Phong train station, VietnamBooking tickets at Hai Phong Train Station is easy & straightforward


Ticket office at Gia Lam train station, Hanoi, VietnamTickets can be booked at any of the three Hanoi stations: Central, Long Bien & Gia Lam (pictured above)


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Sending your Motorbike:

General Information: The Hanoi↔Haiphong train is one of the few rail services in Vietnam which allows passengers to carry their motorbike on the same train (two other significant routes being Hanoi↔Lao Cai and Saigon↔Phan Thiet). This is very convenient, especially for riders heading between Hanoi and Cat Ba Island, which is a popular route but involves negotiating horrendous, traffic-clogged and smog-choked highways to Hai Phong, before continuing by road and ferry to Cat Ba. By travelling with your motorbike on the Hanoi↔Haiphong train, you cut out this horrible road journey, leaving you ready and refreshed to wheel your bike off the train at Hai Phong Station and make your way to the exotic landscapes and seascapes of Cat Ba Island.

The one (minor) drawback to taking your motorbike on the Hanoi↔Hai Phong train is that motorbikes can only be loaded and unloaded at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Station, which is just across the Long Bien Bridge, on the east side of the Red River. But this is hardly a big deal (especially when you’re on a motorbike), because downtown Hanoi is only a 10-minute ride away, across the river.

Ticket Prices: The ticket price for most standard motorbikes is 75,000vnd, plus a 25,000vnd handling fee (larger motorbikes will cost more). Unlike sending your motorbike on north-south trains, you don’t need to empty the gas from your fuel tank. The whole process should be relatively easy to do and generally OK up to half an hour before departure time. However, on weekends and public holidays, try to book your tickets at least an hour in advance.

At Gia Lam Station: To load your motorbike at Gia Lam Station, go to the counter on the left (as your enter the station building) to purchase your passenger and motorbike tickets. Then, 20 minutes before departure, take your motorbike to the North Gate (Cửa Phía Bắc), about 50m further west of the main station building. Ride your bike onto the platform, show your ticket to the staff, wait for the train to arrive, and watch them load it on board.

At Hai Phong Station: To load your motorbike at Hai Phong Station, go to counter No.1 to purchase your passenger and motorbike tickets. Then, ride your motorbike to the right of the station entrance (as you’re facing it from the outside). There’s a sign saying ‘Nơi nhận vận chuyển hành lý, xe đạp, xe máy. Ride along the platform to the freight car at the back of the waiting train. Here, staff will check your ticket and load your motorbike.

Sending a motorbike on the train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamMotorbikes travel on the same train as passengers: it’s cheap, easy & very convenient


Sending a motorbike on the train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamAfter buying your motorbike ticket, ride onto the station platform & wait for staff to load it onto the train


Sending a motorbike on the train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamIn Hanoi, Gia Lam is the only station that allows passengers to load & unload motorbikes

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Departure & Arrival Stations:

There are four stations that travellers need to know in order to take the Hanoi↔Hai Phong train. These are: Hai Phong Station, Hanoi Central, Hanoi Long Bien, and Hanoi Gia Lam. All four are very attractive stations, mostly dating from French colonial times. As for which of the three Hanoi stations you need to go to, that depends on the service, day of the week, time of day, and whether or not you’re travelling with your motorbike (see Train Times & Schedules and Sending your Motorbike for details):

Haiphong Railway Station, VietnamThere are four stations travellers need to know: Hai Phong, Hanoi Central, Long Bien & Gia Lam


Hanoi Stations: You can board/alight at three different stations in Hanoi depending on which train you’re on and whether you’re taking your motorbike with you. Hanoi Central Station is located on Le Duan Street in downtown. At almost 120 years old, it’s the capital’s main station: a large, grand, French colonial building with an incongruous grey concrete box in the middle, like a growth, essentially filling-in the gap where the station was bombed during the war. The station is easy to navigate, there are plenty of ticket offices (Phòng Vé), staff are helpful, and there are refreshments and toilets. Long Bien Station is a lovely, cute little stop, just north of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It stands near the beginning of the famous Long Bien Bridge across the Red River, constructed at the turn of the 20th century. The cosy and cramped station – in fact, the diesel locomotives dwarf the station building – is walking distance from the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. Gia Lam Station (for motorbikes), is located down a side road across the Red River, east of Hanoi’s city centre. An interesting building with Art Decor flourishes and a calm, arched waiting hall, Gia Lam is only a 10-minute ride away from downtown Hanoi.

Gia Lam Railway Station, Hanoi, VietnamThe train serves three different Hanoi Stations: Central, Long Bien & Gia Lam (pictured above)

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Hai Phong Station: A handsome, century-old, French colonial structure right in the centre of the city, Hai Phong Station is exactly the kind of place you want to start/end a good rail journey. The staff are polite and efficient, and the tiled-floor waiting hall and wood-paneled ticket kiosks are atmospheric. Tickets and information are easily obtainable from the helpful staff behind the wooden counters. There are some refreshments available at a kiosk in the waiting hall.

Hai Phong Railway Station, VietnamHai Phong Station is a handsome, grand, century-old, French colonial-era structure in the city centre


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Trains:

The trains on the Hanoi↔Haiphong service are 6-8 carriages in length (much shorter than the trains that ply the north-south line) and the level of comfort is really rather good. Large windows let lots of natural light in and are great for watching the landscape (or ‘industrialscape’) glide by. There are plenty of toilets and sinks, and the general condition and cleanliness is absolutely fine. The air-conditioned soft-seat carriages are comfy and spacious, the seats are reclinable, and there are some electrical sockets for charging your various gadgets. In the fan-cooled, hard-seat compartment, the carriages are filled with wooden benches, which are actually quite attractive: it feels a bit like how I’d imagine a 19th century steamer crossing the American prairies would – the oak-furnished interiors bathed in an orange glow from the low, dry light of the vast grasslands. Some drinks and snacks are wheeled down the aisle throughout the journey, including steamed dumplings wrapped in banana leaf (would you ever get that on a train in Europe?). There’s really not much to complain about.

The train between Hanoi & Hai Phong, VietnamThe Hanoi↔Hai Phong train is 6-8 carriages long; the journey takes between 2-3 hours


Soft seat class, Hanoi-Haiphong train, VietnamSoft seat class is comfortable, clean & good value for money


Hard seat class, Hanoi-Haiphong train, VietnamHard seat class is fine for such a short journey, and the wooden benches look like an antique carriage


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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The Journey:

In terms of scenery, the Hanoi↔Haiphong service isn’t one of Vietnam’s great rail journeys. But it’s still an interesting ride for the 2-3 hours it takes to roll between the capital city and the north’s major port. It’s also a surprisingly bumpy ride. (In fact, swinging and bumping seem to be characteristic of railway journeys in northern Vietnam: the overnight Hanoi↔Lai Cao Express is a similar experience. I can’t think why this would be, except, perhaps, as they’re both spur lines, they’re not as well maintained as the main north-south line.) There’s quite a bit of rattling and squeaking, and the train rides at a pleasant pace of around 40-50km per hour. There are several stops en route at Red River Delta towns, mostly part of the vast industrial belt stretching from Hanoi and Hai Phong. However, between these soot-filled stops, there are acres and acres of rice fields, bisected regularly by earthen dykes and irrigation channels. Stooped farmers – usually women – tend to the rice: harvesting, sowing, spraying, burning. Most of the journey is a play of flat agricultural landscapes disappearing into concrete towns and factories. Rivers and canals are a constant feature, with barges ploughing the thick brown waters. Plantations and allotments grow fruit trees, flowers and vegetables – kumquat, bananas, sweet potatoes, lotus and much more.

Soft seat class on the Hanoi-Haiphong train, VietnamThe journey is comfortable (although a bit bumpy) and interesting, but not particularly scenic


The train between Hanoi & Haiphong, VietnamMuch of the rail journey is through industrial zones, bisected by Red River tributaries & towns


Gia Lam train station, Hanoi, VietnamPulling into Gia Lam railway station in Hanoi after a relaxing 2-hour journey, avoiding riding the horrible highways


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this train route and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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