Beyond Ha Long Bay

Apart from Ha Long Bay, the rest of Quang Ninh Province has a range of attractions to tempt visitors.

Yen Tu - the sacred mountain
Located about 130 km from Hanoi, a few kilometres north of the main road to Ha Long at Uong Bi, is Yen Tu Mountain, the location of a complex of 11 pagodas and close to a hundred shrines and towers. Many are dedicated to the early founders of Vietnamese Buddhism who lived and worked there.

Heavily visited by domestic pilgrims during the early part of the year, it is worth the long, steep climb not only for its historical interest, but also for the attractive landscape and views. A cable car is a recent innovation.

The heroic battles of Bach Dang
The Bach Dang estuary, the site of two of Vietnam’s greatest victories, lies between Ha Long and Haiphong. In 938 AD, Vietnamese rebels led by General Ngo Quyen defeated a vastly superior Chinese army by sinking sharpened ironwood stakes into the mud so that the enemy ships were impaled when the tide fell, thus ending a thousand years of Chinese occupation. Three hundred and fifty years later, General Tran Hung Dao humbled the mighty hordes of Kublai Khan’s Mongol army, using the identical strategy in exactly the same place, suggesting that the Great Khan should have studied Chinese military history!

Apart from some of the stakes still in their original position, little physical evidence of the battlefield remains to be seen. However, the small town has a good commune house, a decent museum, and is located in a tranquil area of traditional villages and agriculture.

Cam Pha and coal mining
Cam Pha, 20 km east of Ha Long City, has one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world. It's far from beautiful, but the scale of operation (and pollution!) is impressive. A visit needs careful planning, though – we have to negotiate access with the mine authorities.

In the Cua Ong district of Cam Pha, the Cua Ong Temple is a rewarding visit, particularly during the festival period in the three lunar months of spring. Its classic architecture and striking engravings are noteworthy.

Deserted beaches
Quan Lan's Minh Chau beach is virtually empty of visitorsBeyond Cam Pha, there are several ‘soil’ large islands created by alluvial deposits from the Red River. Their sea-facing shorelines are long sandy beaches, and their remote location means that few people visit them, and these is virtually no development of any kind. A boat takes several hours to reach them.

The best of these is Quan Lan, a peaceful island with a small population. There's a three places to stay. Two are very basic but a recently-built small resort is a possibility.

Closer to the shore, and thus more developed, Van Don Island’s beach is long and sandy, and overlooks the eastern extreme of the limestone towers of Ha Long Bay. There are a few local hotels and restaurant. A more up-market ‘resort’ is being developed.

Mong Cai and Tra Co Beach
In the extreme northeast of the area is the large border town of Mong Cai, devastated during the abortive Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and now re-built. Not far away, and best reached by hydrofoil from Ha Long City, is Tra Co Island. It has a long beach of hard sand – wide and practically deserted. There is also a village with an interesting commune house and pagoda. Accommodation is available in Mong Cai. A new five-star hotel with a casino has opened in the town, but it is mainly aimed at providing overnight accommodation for people passing though the border gate to and from China.

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