Vietnam evidently has grand plans for HA LONG CITY. South-facing, and with Ha Long Bay raising its limestone fingers just across the sea, this place has great potential – unfortunately, development has been haphazard, and the vast majority of Western tourists hitting the bay do so on the express service from Hanoi, seeing the city only on the short walk between bus and junk. However, tourists from Vietnam and China pack the place out during the busy season, and the city now boasts several huge resort-style hotels.
Ha Long City is an amalgam of Hong Gai and Bai Chay, two towns merged in 1994, and now lassoed together by a bridge. For the moment, locals still use the old names – as do ferry services, buses and so on – as a useful way to distinguish between the two areas, each with its own distinct character, lying either side of the narrow Cua Luc channel. The hub of tourist activity and accommodation is Bai Chay, a rather unattractive beach resort and the main departure point for boat tours. For those in search of more local colour, or who are put off by Bai Chay’s overwhelming devotion to tourism, Hong Gai provides only basic tourist facilities but has a more bustling, workaday atmosphere.