Getting there & away
Most buses to northeastern destinations start from Mien Tay bus station before passing through Hon Gai bus station (Ð Le Loi). Buses for Mong Cai (42, 000d, five hours) and Cai Rong (20, 000d, 1½ hours) for Van Don Island (Dao Cai Bau) depart frequently during daylight hours. There is also one bus a day to Lang Son (45, 000d, five hours) at 12.30pm, handy for anyone heading to Nanning.
With a marked improvement in roads around the region, boat transport is not as popular as it once was, but the hydrofoil to Mong Cai remains a good option for anyone overlanding to China.
There are daily slow boats connecting Hon Gai with Haiphong (35, 000d, three hours). Boats depart Hon Gai at 6.30am, 11am and 4pm. It could be considered a cheap way to do a Halong Bay tour. There are no longer hydrofoils linking Halong and Haiphong, as travel by road is cheaper and just as fast.
From Bai Chay, Mui Ngoc (847 888; Ð Halong) operates hydrofoils to Mong Cai (US$15, three hours) leaving at 8am and 1pm; the ticket office is almost next door to the Mien Tay bus station. The trip is definitely preferable to the long road journey. Book ahead, as demand often outstrips supply.
The best way to get to Cat Ba Island is to hop onto the regular tourist boats from Bai Chay tourist-boat dock. It costs 100, 000d one way, including a leisurely cruise through the most beautiful parts of the bay. An extra 30, 000d brings entry to the most important caves and grottoes in the bay. The whole trip takes about five or six hours, but there are no precise departure times, as it depends on numbers.
As always, be prepared for changes to these schedules.