Halong Bay, Vietnam travel tips

Where we ate:

  • Holiday View Hotel, Cat Ba Island – See hotel review below. Dinner gets a “yeh” and breakfast a “nah,” which averages out to a: MEH
  • Hoang Y Restaurant, Ca Ba Island – The grilled local fish was a bargain, and other dishes were unremarkable except for their astoundingly massive size. Todd may have picked up food poisoning here, but it’s hard to say for certain: MEH
  • Hoang Y Restaurant lunch, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Vietnam
    Hoang Y Restaurant lunch, Cat Ba Island | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Than Trung, Cat Ba Island – The place next to Hoang Y, we think we have the name right. Inexplicably packed with tourists, the food was gross: NAH
  • Green Mango, Cat Ba Island – It’s a splurge (our share of dinner, plus our two mixed drinks totaled about $30 US), but worth it. Though we were underwhelmed by the fresh spring rolls, the seafood dishes were particularly good, including the fish and chips and the clams in broth: YEH
  • Dinner at Green Mango Restaurant, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Vietnam
    Dinner at Green Mango Restaurant, Cat Ba Island | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Viethouse Lodge – Our last lunch stop, this was the worst meal of our Halong Bay tour. Everything was fried to dryness and we were served what might be the worst spring rolls in all of Vietnam. Lucky for you, unless you’re on a tour like ODC’s, you won’t have to eat there: NAH

Where we stayed:

  • Sea Cruise Boat – The boat company hired by ODC for the cruise part of our Halong Bay tour. Rooms were clean, comfortable and modern, though “big” as ODC describes them is an exaggeration. Considering the cost of the tour, it’s appalling how they gouge you on beer and bottled water purchased on board; ODC claims the prices are determined by and the profits go to Sea Cruise. Though you’re allowed to bring your own water, do like we did and sneak on other drinks to enjoy in your room. The meals on the ship were unremarkable, most dishes were more like bland Chinese stir-fry than Vietnamese food. We’re in Vietnam – can we get some noodles people?: MEH
  • Holiday View Hotel – Besides the incredibly creepy styrofoam Christmas sculptures in the lobby, this tour-group hotel has nothing to offer the independent tourist besides free WiFi, though the signal is only available in the restaurant which plays gnarly, loud muzak, even between meals. The set dinner of our tour was surprisingly varied and tasty, though the included-with-tour breakfast buffet was pathetic: NAH
  • Hu’ong Cang Hotel, Cat Ba Island – The hotels on Cat Ba Island are a miserable lot, though generally very affordable, especially when you bargain, which you should. This hotel was the least terrible of what we saw – we got a spectacular view from our 4th floor balcony and the hot-water bathroom was fully enclosed (rather than walls that don’t quite reach the ceiling found at most Cat Ba hotels). The 80s hot biker chick posters they used to hide machinery in the rooms and hallways was a riot: YEH
  • Tacky Hu'ong Cang Hotel room, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Vietnam
    Tacky Hu’ong Cang Hotel room, Cat Ba Island | Photo by Lauren Girardin

What we saw:

  • Halong Bay tour with ODC – An unexpected result of booking through a company office rather than through our hostel was that we wound up on a tour that mixed ages and interests too much for us to have a blast. But, we avoided a Halong Bay horror story, which is positive Only after our tour did we hear multiple raves (if you’re 20-40 and like to socialize) about cheaper tours booked through Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. Warning: you may be forced to listen to the local music performers on the boat, even if all you want to do is sneak off to the top deck to chill out: MEH
  • Surprising Cave aka Hang Sung Sot – The guided walk through this massive cave is an entertaining enough break from the karsts, especially for the laughs at the tacky pink lighting on the penis rock and the incongruous penguin-shaped garbage cans: YEH
  • Tacky lighting on penis rock - Halong Bay, Vietnam
    Tacky lighting on penis rock, Surprising Cave, Halong Bay | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Sunset Peak on Titop Island (Dao Titop) – It’s a steep schlep, but the views of the sunset, and if you have good timing, moon rise over the panorama of karsts is worth the schvitz: YEH
  • Cat Ba National Park, Cat Ba Island – On our short guided walk through the edge of the park, we stopped at a strangely far inland “fishing village” and unfinished “old houses” which seemed like a desperate stretch to show us something in the park without taking us on a strenuous hike. We would have preferred a hike into the real wilderness: NAH
  • Cat Co 2 Beach – There aren’t many public beaches left on Cat Ba, so you take what you can. This beach was nice enough, you could watch women constantly sweeping up the litter washed in on the waves. Considering the lack of options, it gets a: YEH