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23 April, 2011

Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in Halong Bay


Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in Halong Bay is your gateway to the famous UNESCO world heritage site in Vietnam. It is here that you will embark on your amazing Halong Bay Cruise and this article shares with you the details that I experienced while I explored this stunning place in 2010. As I had a good nine days to spend in Northern Vietnam, I decided to fully utilize my time here at Ha Long. I landed in Hanoi (as most flights would) and then caught a public bus to Halong City. Usually if you book your tour through your hotel or tour agent in Hanoi, they would shuttle you via a tour van where the journey takes about three and a half hours. 

Instead of doing the normal, I really wanted to experience how the locals do it so I opted for a public bus instead. The journey here took me about five hours with an ear deafening experience I will never forget. I got off at the junction of Tuan Chau Island which is just before Halong City as I was putting up at the Holiday Villa Halong Bay for two nights.

Bai Chay Tourist Wharf and Jetty

On arrival at the wharf, you will see a huge archway with the name in Vietnamese and English. The place is quite huge but there are two entrances. This one in the picture above is by the main road. Getting here, you will most likely pass through Halong City along the coastal road. Once you arrive here, you will see a prominent landmark which will be the Halong Bay Casino of your right. After that is the wharf on your left. A number of local shops line the road on the opposite site selling local coffee and food.

Halong Tourist Information Center

Once you arrive here, you will most likely be approached by the freelance vendors who will try to sell you tickets to Halong Bay. A tourist information center is on your right as you enter so if you need more information here, please feel free to use the services. Signboards are seen around the main building and in English. (What a save). However, only if you have not bought your tickets, then you should ask carefully about the type of cruise you plan to book as they offer many types of boats rated in stars. 

Boat information

Visitor guide

There are generally two types of Halong Bay Cruises which is the day cruise where you pay about VND30000-40000 for a 4-5 hour cruise and the famous Halong Bay Overnight Cruise which is anywhere from US$25 - US250 depending on the type of junk boat and service you require. The day cruise departs hourly and the last junk is scheduled to leave at about 1pm. However on weekends, this may differ so please check first. The boats make their way back to the city by about 5-6 pm.

Ticket Counter in the main building

As for me, I wanted to take the day cruise so I got in about 1pm only to find out that the boat was filled fast and left earlier than scheduled. It was a weekday too. Asking around, I realised that there were no more junk boats for the day but the lady that I talked too suggested that I rent the entire junk boat as it costs only VND600,000. Immediately I thought she was mad! There were only three of us and to rent the entire boat? I brushed her off and went to have some Vietnamese Coffee across the road. Discussing with the others, it came to our senses that 600,000 VND was actually about US30.00 and not $300 as we thought. Was I out of my mind? 30 bucks for an entire junk boat to ourselves? Immediately we finished out coffee and rushed back to the jetty to look for this lady.

Ticket to Halong Bay

Finally after re-negotiating with this lady and her friend, we managed to knock the price down to VND500,000 for an entire Vietnamese Junk Boat! That was $25 each for the three of us but then again, I was a little skeptical about this whole thing. So I kept asking her if it was one of those big junk boats as I did see some very small junk boats. After the third time, she pointed out one of those larger boats that can seat about 40 people. She said 'Same same that boat' which was among the hundreds of junks parked around the wharf. Seriously, I never seen so many junk boats in one area and remembering how the postcards of Halong Bay looked like, this was not what I had in mind. On top of that, we were required to buy the VND40,000 Bay and Cave ticket for the each of us. So in total we spent a good 620,000 VND.

She also told me that it would take about thirty minutes for our boat to arrive at the wharf and she asked us all to just hang out. You can also read my guest post on WildJunket about 5 Essential things to do around Halong Bay while waiting it out if you arrive early there.

Various stalls sell food, drinks and souvenirs at the wharf

A stall selling possibly everything you need

For those heading out to do the overnight cruise here, I would recommend you buy your snacks and drinks ahead before boarding the junks. Prices on board are double of what they are on the main land. It's a tourist industry so those who enjoy snacking and drinking should prepare for this. The stalls around the wharf sell just about everything and anything. Sunblock, straw hats, toys, swimsuits and the list goes on if you forgot something for your trip.

Vietnamese Junk Boats lined up at the wharf

Passengers waiting to board their junk boats

A junk approaches and gets everyone excited

Travelers getting on board systematically

One thing I should note is that Bai Chay Tourist Wharf is swarmed with travelers from all corners of the world. You get to see the backpackers, flashpackers, luxury travelers and even the local Vietnamese people here going for the Halong Bay Cruise. With the crowds swelling here, you should be careful on which is your junk boat. Usually when you follow an agent, they will be with you and ask you to gather in one group so when your boat arrives, everyone boards safely. If you are buying the day cruise, you should ask the person that you bought your boat ticket from and they would tell you where to wait.

The security here is also quite strict as they practice the 'no ticket, no entry'. They man the main gate that leads you into the boarding area here. If you leave the tickets in the hands of your agent, please keep an eye out for him or her as you would not want to miss your boat. Boarding the boats are also very simple and basic. There is no railed walkway like proper jetties. Here, you simple step onto the boat as it docks by the wharf. The main journey out to Halong Bay will take about 20-30 minutes and this also depends on the type of junk you get. Some are faster than others while some just cruise casually with no urgency.

Locals moving around the junks at the wharf

Video of Bai Chay Wharf in Halong Bay


Public Buses to Halong Bay from Hanoi
  • Long Bien or Gia Lam Station (other side of Red River, 2km from Hoan Kiem Lake)
  • Luong Yen station to Bai Chay (Halong City)
  • Buses depart every 30 minutes from 6AM to 6PM and cost 50,000 dong/person each way
  • There is also a tourist bus from Travel Agencies near the Hoan Kiem Lake which cost US$8 per person one way. 
  • Journey takes about 4-6 hours depending on traffic
  • Bring an iPod or MP3 player, trust me, you WILL need it.
What to prepare for your overnight cruise;
  • Bring drinks and snacks
  • Insect repellent
  • Swimsuit or trunks
    My day cruise was indeed a memorable one with all the excitement and drama in missing the initial main boat and resulted in a bonus where I had the entire boat to myself. If it worth it going on this cruise you may ask? Personally I would say yes. Every penny for the experience here. If you have the time, take both cruises as they go on different paths around the bay and visit different caves. The day cruise took me to see the Thien Cung Cave at Halong Bay and all general boats depart from the Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in Halong Bay.
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    8 comments:

    robin said... 24 April 2011 04:09

    The new template looks great but the sharing widget thingy is over the text and photos. it might be something to do with the fact that I'm using a netbook but I thought I'd let you know

    Scott - Ordinary Traveler said... 24 April 2011 09:36

    Really awesome that you got that price for a whole boat to yourself. We had to pay alot more beacuase it ended up being a holiday. Good score! Yea, I see what Robin is talking about the share buttons and the boarder on the right are both overlapping the article. I'm on Firefox on OS X.

    jade said... 25 April 2011 08:41

    We really wanted to take a junk tour in Hong Kong, but didn't get around to it. I'd love to do one in Halong Bay.

    Fascinating said... 25 April 2011 14:48

    Thanks for sharing. What a pity I visited Halong without doing the 5 most interesting things you mentioned. This summer I'll come back to Halong and I will not miss them for sure. The most impressive thing to me is to spend the night on Halong bay junk, listening to the wave moving in and out. fantastic :)

    TravelEater said... 26 April 2011 01:11

    Watch out for scams. On our 2 night trip, everyone on board paid a different price and was promised different things, but we all got the same. Passports were held hostage until we paid extra. We were all so untrusting of the crew, one of the 12 passengers sat with the bags at all times, worried about theft.

    David Jr said... 26 April 2011 01:35

    Thanks Robin, I think I fixed it this evening. If it happens again, let me know please.

    Scott - Thanks and yes, it was a DEAL I will never forget. Oh and I fixed the overlapping too.

    Jade, that's one I need to try too in HK.

    TravelEater - Thanks for your tips and I did hear about some of these Scams in Halong Bay. Good point to ask before going.

    admin said... 27 April 2011 16:26

    why you didn't charter a junk in Hong Kong? Just missed the most interesting things to do in Summer Hong Kong. But it maybe a big pricy if you only have a few people on board. The more you have the less you pay.

    Maybe next time!

    David Jr said... 27 April 2011 19:54

    Thanks. When I was in Hong Kong, the weather was terrible so I didn't really go for the boat trip. On my next trip I promise :)

    Item Reviewed: Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in Halong Bay Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: David Jr
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