Quan Lan Resort (unique)
Our brief comments:
The Quan Lan resort is located on Quan Lan, a long thin island north of Ha Long Bay. Until recently, Quan Lan Island had no accommodation and the 4½hr voyage made a day trip impractical.
It's a small development of ten well-made wooden bungalows, each with an en-suite shower and toilet. Electricity is laid on, but there's no air-conditioning - a prevailing on-shore breeze cools the air to a comfortable level.
Apart from a small restaurant serving basic Vietnamese food, that's it! No pool, no safety boxes, no fitness centre, or any of the other standard resort amenities.
However, it's very Vietnamese, so be prepared for noise and jolly games on the hotel beach, more noise, TV, and plastic furniture in the restaurant, and other manifestations of Vietnamese modern culture that would probably not appeal to non-Asian visitors.
On the other hand, and away from the resort complex, you get a pristine environment, crystal clear waves, and a strong contender for the best beach in Vietnam! If you really want to 'get away from it all', and don't mind basic accommodation, head for the other beaches!
North Vietnam is almost devoid of accessible decent beaches. There's a couple of sandy coves on Cat Ba Island, two artificial beaches in Ha Long Bay, and the rock-hard sands on Tra Co Island next to the border with China, but little else. Quan Lan Island has three - Quan Lan beach, about 1km from the small town, Son Hao beach about 6km away, and a further 6km, Minh Chau beach.
All three are composed of chalk-white soft sand, fringed with cedar trees and bounded by rocky promontories. Gradients are gentle - at low tide, depths reach two metres about 50m from the surf (100m when the tide is high) - so swimming is safe for children. There's plenty of seashells and hermit crabs as well as an occasional giant jellyfish that seem to be reasonably benign.
Apart from the Quan Lan Resort, the only other development on Quan Lan beach is a tiny cluster of basic huts with no facilities apart from a feeble shower. Another small concrete-style resort is under construction on Son Hao. Both beaches are excellent and mostly empty, but Minh Chau is simply stunning, and usually deserted.
There's not much to do apart from swimming and sunbathing. The rocky margins of the coves offer snorkelling potential - apparently there are areas of coral in places.
For the more energetic, hiking up the forested hills provides good views and bio-diversity. The town has a few temples but little else for sightseeing. On a sunny day, sunrise and sunset are a photographer's dream
Getting to Quan Lan Island can be by public ferry (4½hrs - crowded but cheap), private charter (4½hrs - reasonable for a large group, but otherwise expensive), or speedboat (2hrs - very expensive). Charter and speedboat prices increase somewhat for additional nights. Boats can't reach the wharf at low tide, so delays or transfers by basket boats are necessary at those times.
Travel on the island is by tuk tuk or xe om (motorbike taxis) - roads to the town and beaches are metalled.
This is a place to escape to for a few days. Whilst it wouldn't please visitors used to the conveniences of international hotels, it would be attractive for travellers seeking solitude among natural beauty. Don't wait too long, though - hotel developers are already eyeing Quan Lan Island's rich potential!