You won’t see much unless you take a boat tour of the islands and their grottoes. For those travelling independently, life has gotten much easier under the watch of Halong Bay Management Department (846 592; halong.org.vn/; 166 Ð Le Thanh Tong). It regulates pricing for cruises on the bay and has a published list in its office at the Bai Chay tourist dock. Some of the staff speak English and can usually hook you up with other people. Be aware that the tourist boat dock is a bit of a circus, as dozens of boats unload one set of passengers and welcome another. There are usually hundreds of people milling about around midday.
There is no need to rent a whole boat for yourself, as there are plenty of other travellers, Vietnamese and foreign, to share with. The official prices are ridiculously reasonable at 30, 000/40, 000d for a four-/six-hour cruise. Whole boats can be chartered starting from 100, 000/140, 000/160, 000/220, 000d per hour for a no-star/1-star/2-star/3-star boat respectively – an affordable indulgence for those wanting some privacy. Boats to Cat Ba Island cost 100, 000d per person or from 1, 000, 000d for a charter.