Halong Bay is worth the unpleasant 4h 30 min drive from Hanoi. Around 20kms close the harbour area are under construction ( widening to 2x 2 lanes) but even once completed it will still take 4hours + due to speed limits very followed: we spotted policemen literally in trees! Speed limits: 40 km in cities, 60 otherwise and... 80km on highways. Also halfway, all buses/cars stop and souvenirs there were at least twice price we paid in the Old quarter in Hanoi.
Doing the return trip in one day is therefore not recommended at all as you would have 3h30 on board and would notbe able to visit the nicest spots.
We did a 3d/2 N and had the time to recover from the car trip and enjoy sceneries and peace.
Our 3 top spots are: Titov island for the sunset view, Surprise cave nearby also for the view and Vung Vieng fishing village for its floating village, the visit in kayak we did through a kind of maze of limestones cliffs and the arch.
If you have time( and money) go to Bai Tu Long bay, in the Cap La area.Much more peaceful with less boats( as we did). However the limestones cliffs are much more spectacular in size on the western side of the bay.
March is usually cloudy. Best time seems to be June to August: the guide told us, you are likely to have strong rains then but they would last only a couple of hours and before and after it is blue sky.
The water is clean in some places and less in other: to be fair not much floating rubbish.Visitors need to know that large commercial ships are sailing through the Bay ( the main channel separating the western side and Bai Tu Long bay) and some are even loading in the main channel ( cement and coal we believe).: Not a very nice site.
In several locations we noticed small boats collecting rubbish from the sea: it is done manually with small nets: a good start but a lot needs to be done.
If you can do a private cruise. We did ours with Paloma : 2 cabins and you decide where you want to go. For us who "studied" the itinerary, absolutely worth it. Comfort was 3*, guide,food and crew 5*. Highly recommended.
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