Ten years ago Vietnam was the reserve of the intrepid backpacker, but since then
Vietnam has gotten itself right on the tourist radar, particularly when it
comes to marauding groups of Chinese tourists coming through. Alas this now means
money is firmly being smelt! Navigating your way around the tourists meccas
(such as Halong Bay) has also gotten that bit harder. But no worries: you got The
Street Food Guy! Here’s my top tips to traveling and eating around Halong Bay!
Traveling to Halong Bay is quite the experience…
So, obviously to get to Halong Bay you need to travel there (duh), this can be done by flying, taxi, luxurious bus, or the local bus. Local buses from Hanoi or Lang Son cost less than $2, but holy shit do they ram-pack those buses! They also drive fast through country roads, but it’s cheap, you get to share with chickens, and they even give out complimentary sick bags! This is the legit way to travel to Halong Bay.
Hotels are a very mixed bag
Hotels are not only a mixed bag of tricks, but they often don’t provide what they say
they will. That being said you can get a great room for as little as $12 (I can
suggest the Four Seasons Halong Bay), but it’s really not expensive ($50) to
get yourself up to 4/5 star, in which case I can suggest the Marina Hotel. Long
story short: Halong Bay is one of those beautiful places where “deluxe” really
does not cost all that much.
Everyone in Halong Bay is so friendly (especially the spivs)
Halong Bay is all about the boat cruises, which seem to be the sole reason for the place existing. A few anecdotal stories: when I arrived at my hotel, the receptionist didn’t speak English and handed the phone to me, where a guy speaking English tried to sell me a tour before I had even checked in! And the same at dinner, before I had even ordered my food. General rule of thumb, if people are that desperate to sell you something they are making BIG money. If you’re gonna do a Halong Bay boat trip, check online, or negotiate down on the bay, and negotiate hard!
Avoid the beachside tourist joints!
Down by the sea there’s a big lit-up street full of life with back-to-back
restaurants full to the rafters with the hungry tourists of Halong Bay. If you
want to pay triple what you’d pay elsewhere for the same food, then will this
place is perfect. Also whilst Vietnamese service is not exactly world famous,
staff here are rude even by local standards.
For street food explore the backstreets
One awesome point is whilst the main streets of Halong Bay might be a complete rip-off, you literally just have to jump onto a Halong backstreet where the outside tables are at, and you will get served a treat at a fraction of the price. That being said: still check the price of everything before you order it.
In Halong Bay it’s all about the seafood
OK, so this might be stating the street-fooding obvious, but Halong Bay is by the
sea, so as you might expect, it is all about the fish! Shellfish particularly.
Big plates of oysters, clams, and shrimps will set you back under $5, with the
most expensive dish in Halong Bay seemingly chicken. I guess you can’t fish for
Lime and salt (and vodka)
And lastly! My last eating tip for when you street food here: lime and salt. In most of Vietnam they serve a small dish with salt, into which you squeeze your little lime and then mix your meat or fish. So simple, but really one of the things that makes Vietnamese street food so damned good. Oh and then there’s the vodka, $4 a bottle, and you can even use one of those limes to chase it.
Halong Bay is no Nha Trang, but it’s well worth travelling and eating here.
The other day at Amazonia Bar in Tirana whilst sampling the joys of Albanian cuisine I ate the head of a lamb, complete with brains, eyes, the whole nine yards. Didn’t like it all that much if I’m gonna be honest, but as I looked back on things, I realized it was the worst food …