Top Spots in Halong Bay Off-the-Beaten-Track

If you are planning that vacation to Halong, one of the steps you can take is to choose where abouts that are not your classic locals. In other words, stay out of the tourism destinations and look for off beaten track in Halong Bay that deliver something more fascinating, even mind-blowing or majestic.

Here are our suggestions for off-the-beaten path in Halong Bay:

Infographic: Halong Bay Off-the-Beaten-Track
Infographic: Halong Bay Off-the-Beaten-Track

As it becomes increasingly popular as a tourist destination, visitors are becoming more and more keen to veer off the well-trodden tourist trail in favour of exploring the areas in Halong Bay off the beaten track.

Here are our top picks:

Van Don Island

Known for its rich marine life, quiet towns, and mouth watering seafood, Van Don covers an area of approximately 30 square kilometres and is the largest island in the Bai Tu Long archipelago. If it’s beaches, rural life, and cheap, delicious seafood you’re after, Van Don Island is one of the best Halong Bay off the beaten track locations you can head for.

The island’s main town, Cai Rong, although rather small and run-down, plays host to a few good hotels and a pier from which to catch ferries to the other islands in Bai Tu Long. Just a short boat ride away, you’ll find the towering limestone karsts for which the bay is famous.

Van Don’s main selling point are its beautiful beaches, most of which are totally void of people. The nearby Quan Lan is definitely worth a visit, as are the numerous beaches scattered along Van Don Island’s own coastline.

Getting to Van Don is easy; buses depart frequently from Bai Chay Bus Station in Halong City, at the ‘T’-intersection in the town centre.

Van Don Island
Van Don Island

Mat Rong Island, i.e. Dragon Eye Island

From a bird’s eye view, it’s easy to see where the island gets its name; the thick, verdant jungle sweeps around the interior lake, while the coastline boasts a run of half a kilometer of pristine sandy shore.

At the center of the island, the ethereal lake for which the place is named is an ideal spot for kayaking, canoeing, or simply seeking respite from the buzz of the outlying tourist areas. While it’s hard to beat a barbeque on the beach, the island’s seafood has quite a reputation of its own, so much so that a number of Halong cruises have now begun to include Mat Rong Island in their itineraries.

For now, it’s one of the bay’s best kept secrets, and one of the most idyllic destinations in Halong Bay off the beaten track.

Mat Rong Island (Dragon Eye Island)
Mat Rong Island (Dragon Eye Island)

Co To Island

The furthest inhabited island from the mainland in the whole of Halong Bay, Co To Island is an unspoiled paradise and one of the best spots in all of Halong Bay off the beaten track. Covered in lush, hilly landscape, Co To Island is the head of the entire archipelago of the same name.

The rolling hills and verdant scenery are est enjoyed by motorbike, which can easily be rented upon arrival at the island. Take a drive up the highest peak (measuring in at 170 meters) and enjoy the view from the lookout at the lighthouse.

Sightseeing, fishing, rock climbing, and exploring the forest areas are all on the menu in Co To, although we most recommend riding around to explore the island, and at the end of it all, plunging into the waters for a refreshing swim.

Tourist boats don’t frequently come here; the main visitors are local Vietnamese looking for a quiet place to get away; they tend to gravitate towards Van Chi beach, whilst Hong Van beach remains significantly quieter.

colourful sunset over the fishing village in Co To Island
Colourful sunset over the fishing village in Co To Island

Visitors will not find this on many of the itineraries of tour boats operating in Halong Bay, but you can reach the island by boat from Cai Rong Pier without any difficulty. Fast boats leave daily at 1pm for the 1½ hour trip, and there is an extra departure on Saturdays at 6am; the slow boats, which make the leisurely trip in three hours, depart everyday at 7am.

Note: there is a military presence on the island and, because of this, non Vietnamese nationals require a permit in order to stay on the island, which can be obtained in advance in Halong City. Arriving without one could result in you being sent straight back to where you came from, though often payment of a ‘fine’ will suffice.

Vinh Thuc Island

If there’s any spot in Halong Bay off the beaten track for real, it’s Vinh Thuc Island; it’s not the easiest place to get to (or stay on), but if you’re up for an adventure, you’ll be rewarded by one of the best road-tripping coast road in the whole region, with mesmerising blue water on one side and fields of purple myrtle flowers on the other.

Tourism provisions are virtually non-existent here; accommodation options are limited to which homestay you’re going to go for, and when it comes to food- you’re eating whatever your family is serving up.

Vinh Thuc Island
Magnificent view on Vinh Thuc Island

You’ll need a motorbike to get around, and (surprise, surprise) there aren’t any places to officially rent one, so you’ll have to negotiate a lend from your homestay family- which they are generally happy to oblige. Once you’ve got your bike, go check out that coast road, and afterwards, cruise up to the lighthouse and soak in the panoramic views of the surrounding bay.

To get to Vinh Thuc Island, you can catch a bus from Luong Yen Station in Hanoi to Mong Cai. From here it is possible to catch a canoe to reach the island, which will only cost a couple of dollars each way.

A visit to Vinh Thuc is not for the faint-hearted, but for those with a sense of adventure, this is likely to be the highlight of your holiday in Vietnam.

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