Keep reading as I will provide you with the guide to experience Halong Bay on a shoestring budget:
Bai Tho mountain is a huge limestone that stands at the beginning of the bay just in the middle of Halong Bay city. If you’re somehow like me, a person who loves to experience beautiful places, but doesn’t want to be around a hundred tourists in small boat tour, then this article is for you! I was wondering if there is any way to have Halong Bay only for myself. If you add a small budget to that equation, it seems like an impossible thing, but better, believe me, I found a way and it’s called Bai Tho mountain!
Hanoi to Halong Bay by Bus
The ride on the normal bus (referring to the bus that is not a sleeper bus) is very tough and uncomfortable. Usually, it’s a bit overcrowded and people are sitting on the way between the seats. Another thing is that these buses smell really bad and the drivers will just drop you off in the middle of nowhere where taxi drivers will wait.
There are so many tours and agencies that are specialized in the tours from Hanoi to Halong Bay. In my opinion, taking a tour isn’t very expensive and it will cost you around 200,000 dongs (around $10), but if you want to go on the budget, then the bus is the better option. The buses from My Dinh bus station to Halong Bay bus station costs a bit lower than 100,000 dongs. It won’t be that significantly cheaper and I guess the value isn’t near these private shuttles, but at least, you can have food for a day in Halong Bay for that money!
Learn more: Cultural shocks you will experience in Vietnam (and other SEAn countries!)
If you’re located somewhere outside the Old Quarter in Hanoi, the best way to go around is by taking a local bus that costs 7,000 dongs in one direction. Alternatively, I was using Grab so much which is very convenient and cheap compared to regular taxis (Uber in Vietnam). So, if you choose to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi by bus, then I recommend you to check out their official bus schedule and site Vexere for details.
It seems there is a bus line every three hours to Halong Bay, so you’re quite flexible. The bus ride will take around 4 – 5 hours with one stop where you could take a snack or beer to refresh yourself.
Also, don’t forget to check our complete public transport guide about Vietnam. There are some golden tips that can save you time and money while traveling around the country.
A local beer from Ha Noi is always a good choice to refresh yourself on the bus stops!
Note: The bus isn’t the most comfortable one and it smells pretty bad, but at least you’ll get an authentic experience and a few bucks saved! 🙂
Note 2: Don’t get scammed by a bus driver who will tell you to get outside the bus before the station. They will leave you in the middle of nowhere on the main road and that place will be overcrowded by taxi drivers. That’s a nice way to make some money! But again, it’s very easy to bargain!
Never ever accept the first price, especially from taxi drivers as they will usually change their mind pretty fast! When I was traveling back to Hanoi, I took another bus which was kind of VIP with one stop on the market. The bus was very nice and comfortable with only a few passengers and the trip lasted around 4 hours. The price was 100,000 dongs and pay attention to the type of the bus (look for VIP buses).
Best Time to Climb Bai Tho Mountain
You can experience temperatures around 20 – 25C in March which is completely fine if you ask me. I just wanted to add the fact that a visit to Halong Bay was just a few days after I left cold and snowy Croatia!
We climbed Bai Tho mountain twice, to watch a sunset and sunrise. Sunset was a bit misty and foggy which makes a trail a bit slippery, so be careful! When it comes to sunrise, it’s extremely clear without many clouds and you can see thousands of limestones in the bay! When it comes to food, drinks, and accommodation, I was astonished by our hostel price that was only 300,000 dongs (around $13) per night.
The hostel was located on the main street and we had the luck to be on the fifth floor overlooking an infinite number of limestones! Food was a bit pricier than in Hanoi and the portions weren’t so significant. I mainly ate their Banh Mi and Pho. For a can of beer in the town, expect to pay around 30,000 dongs (around $1.3). Anyway, during the stay, I can’t say anything was overpriced or I experienced hordes of tourists, but I noticed slightly higher prices compared to Hanoi which shouldn’t hurt your wallet that much.
How to Find and Climb Bai Tho Mountain
Well, before I did any planning, I was told by so many people to take a boat tour and that would be the best way to experience Halong Bay. At first, I was thinking of getting on a tour, but after some research, I find out that it’s usually overcrowded and you don’t get the value for the money you pay.
The last thing I wanted was sharing the boat with hundreds of tourists!
Luckily, on my arrival in Hanoi, I met an amazing guy Bryan from the Philippines and we shared a similar opinion when it comes to the way of traveling – we were looking for memorable experiences. We headed to Halong Bay absolutely not having an idea what to do and see. We only knew that we were heading to a breathtaking natural wonder. Before we arrived, Bryan stumbled upon a post on Instagram from one upcoming travel blogger with the alternative view on Halong Bay. We instantly agreed that we’re going there! The place is called Bai Tho Mountain (the view really gives you much inspiration!).
See on the map below how to find the mountain:
It’s amazing that this mountain is located in the residual area, but it’s not a very known place as there is no signs or nothing that could tell you where and how to climb it!
Here comes the most interesting part…
You need to navigate the doors of the local house and you basically walk through their house (very warm people) to set your feet on the hiking trail that will lead you to the top. If you thought you would pass through someone’s house for free, you’d be very wrong! We’re in Vietnam baby!
The funny thing is that when these locals show you the way to their backyard, they will start to wave with 50,000 dongs which mean “Give me 50k to climb!”.
Note: Later, we found out that there is a house on the left and the owners will let you through for 25k! 🙂
We went there twice to catch the sunset and sunrise. The sunrise absolutely blew away our minds and the most interesting thing is that only four people in total were there catching the sunrise. It means a whole Halong Bay for us for only $2! 🙂
Alright, now then you have a location and know the details, I bet it’s time for pictures to show you how that hike and view actually looked alike!
You need to climb to the top of that limestone, but don’t worry, the hike isn’t that tough. Be careful in the morning or afternoon as it becomes a bit foggy and slippery on the steep steps.
This dog will protect the doors where you need to come in. Don’t worry, he will bark but that’s the sign for the owner to come in front and pick you up to the back of the house.
The metal door is the first small obstacle at the beginning of the trail. You will be greeted with a few friendly dogs before your climb.
At the beginning of the trail, there are many stairs, but later, there are not any. In general, it’s not a hard hike, but you should be careful as it can be very slippery to hike there!
First view of Halong Bay city from the stairs. Still far away from the top..
The stairs at the beginning of the trail are very easy to overcome. After a while, you will get to the point where there are not many stairs and you need to use the help of your hands a bit.
After a while, you will get to the point where the path looks like this. It’s nothing especially demanding, but be careful as it can be slippery.
Where to Stay in Halong Bay
A view from the fifth floor of our hostel. Always ask for the fifth floor as you will have a huge balcony for yourself with the view like this! And not to forget, it only costs $13 for a double room.
There are many options to stay in Halong Bay, especially when tourists start to arrive (around May). I went for a budget option again, renting a hostel on the main street in Halong Bay city. The name of the hostel is Halong Bay View Hostel and it acts as a backpacker hub there. The hostel has a small pub with billiards and a restaurant where you could order a coffee, tea or western food.
A view of the hostel from the street. It has a bar and breakfast included in the price. The breakfast is nothing special, but still, any food is better than no food! 🙂
I was so amazed by the view I had from the room. Literally, you could see Halong Bay from the balcony drinking a beer! Also, the price was surprisingly low and it costs only $13 for a night in two-bedroom with breakfast included. However, as I find out later from a German girl, it wasn’t that cheap as she paid around $20 for a night in a nice hotel room with two beds. But anyway, six dollars won’t be that hard on your wallet!
Hope you enjoyed and if you have any additional questions, feel free to reach us out through contact form or directly on social media! Cheers, and wish you an amazing experience in Halong Bay! ):
btw. are you looking for your next destination after stunning Halong Bay?
Check out our Vietnam bucket list according to 14 travel bloggers.