Getting there & away
For more on tours to Halong Bay, see the boxed text below. It is hard to do it any cheaper on your own, but some travellers prefer to steer their own course. Travelling independently allows you to take more or less time in places, depending on the weather. The downside is that it is hard to arrange an overnight on a boat this way. You can take a bus to Halong City from Hanoi (40, 000d, 3½ hours) and book a passage on a Cat Ba tourist boat (130, 000d including entry ticket, six hours). This boat takes in the main sites and drops you at Ben Beo harbour. Then chill out on Cat Ba before taking a hydrofoil to Haiphong and a bus to Hanoi. Alternatively, run the route in reverse and try and hook up with a tour boat in Cat Ba.
Northern Airport Flight Service Company (04-827 4409; fax 827 2780; 173 Pho Truong Chinh, Hanoi) offers a helicopter charter service from Gia Lam in Hanoi to Halong Bay on Saturday from 8am. Free transfers are available from the Sofitel Metropole Hotel. The cost for the charter service is US$175 per person, but it only runs with a minimum of six guests. The same helicopters can be privately chartered for US$3695 round trip.