Vietnam Part 8: Ha Long

After our three-day stay in the cold and rainy mountains of Sa Pa, we decided to get some more sunny coast vibes. On Cat Ba Island we got a first glimpse of the beautiful bay scenery and we craved for more. Ha Long was promised to be the perfect choice. Like Lan Ha Bay, but bigger. Yet things turned out to be quite different.

Ha Long was confusing from the first moment. Everything seemed to be surreal. Huge luxury hotel complexes lined up along the perfectly paved streets, most of them under construction and not finished yet. On the other hand, old Vietnamese houses and poor people appear once you take a step away from the main street. What’s more confusing is that in October there were almost no tourists in this obviously very touristic place. There even is an amusement park. It seems like all the tourists booking organised daytrips starting from Hanoi never get to see the mainland of Ha Long. So why do they build so many hotels here? All the buses are driving directly to the harbour, where large party boats and cruisers are waiting to take the visitors around the bay while serving sea food and soft drinks. That’s probably the reason why the mainland actually feels like a ghost city, besides all the busy workers trying to finish the hotel complexes.

vegan world explorer ha long
A strange scenery: small fishing boats between a beach full of waste and large hotel complexes

As we did not book a boat trip in advance, we felt quite lost in Ha Long. Additionally, we had to start communicating with hands and feet (and Google Translate), because most people (hotel staff included!) didn’t speak English at all. Nevertheless, we made some attempts to discover the area around us on our own. We rented a motorbike from a hostel nearby (150,000 VND / about 5.70€ for 24h) and drove along the coast until we arrived in the non-touristic parts of Ha Long. When you see beckoning children greeting you with a “hello”, you know that you might be the only foreigners they’d seen for a long time. There is this “you are not from here” glance, but mostly it is a friendly and welcoming one. As we were leaving the touristic area, the streets became more and more bumpy. That’s why we love driving around with the motorbike on our own! We enjoyed an about two-hour trip, even if the light was not that perfect to take pictures. On our way back, we ended up in a Loving Hut where we had some vegan food for take away.

vegan world explorer ha long

The following day was unexpectedly cold and cloudy. We finally gave up to plan another one and a half day in this suspect area, so we decided to head back to Hanoi at the evening. Luckily the company where we booked our way back had two places left at this day and we were able to switch our booking without additional costs. We’d never believed that we would say this, but we were so happy to go to Hanoi again!

vegan world explorer ha long bay

Vegan in Ha Long

Another circumstance which strengthened our decision to leave Ha Long earlier than originally planned, was that vegan food was rare at this place. Before we went there, Happy Cow showed us several places (vegan, vegetarian and vegan options). But when we arrived, these restaurants disappeared from the map for some inexplicable reasons. There were only four vegan places now, two of them too far away to reach them with the motorbike. One of the restaurants was always closed when we tried to visit. So we ended up eating in “Nha Hang Com Chay” – a vegetarian restaurant – two times. The food was ordinary, but not as cheap as expected after reading the reviews on Happy Cow. Also a translated menu that put a smile on our faces!

The only whole vegan restaurant was the Loving Hut on the other side of the bridge, where we had some inexpensive food for take away.

To find something for breakfast was nearly impossible. So we decided to have at least some toast, jam, and fruit in the hotel where we stayed. The ony English speaking staff served us sausages, even after we told him that we do not eat meat or eggs. The “fruit plate” was one slice of dragon fruit and the jam tasted like artificial strawberry aroma. I think this was the worst breakfast we had during our Vietnam journey and an appropriate ending of our stay in Ha Long.

After this disappointment we were really excited to devour all the phantastic vegan food waiting for us in Hanoi.


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