For what is possibly the most beautiful view of Halong Bay, you will need to climb Bai Tho mountain. Most tourists who visit Halong Bay head directly from Hanoi to their cruise and see very little, if any of the mainland. It’s a real pity because Halong City has a lot to offer visitors and it’s definitely worth spending at least a day or two here, even if only for the Bai Tho mountain view.
The poem mountain viewpoint of Halong Bay has become famous on Instagram, and for very good reason. If you’ve seen beautiful photos of Halong Bay that have inspired you to visit the area, it’s likely views from Bai Tho mountain. While the Bay cruises are definitely the highlight here, I also want to encourage you to stop off on the mainland.
The views of Halong Bay from Bai Tho mountain are truly breathtaking. Think open waters as far as the eye can see, and beautiful karst cliffs. It’s difficult to beat these views.
The Bai Tho mountain trail is actually closed to the public. It’s considered risky and the climb was quite a bit tougher than I expected it to be. But, the views from the top are certainly worth it. Since it’s not an official “hike” and is closed to the public, finding the trail is not easy. You need to know where to look, and will also need to climb through a small hole in a fence to begin the trail. You can follow my step by step guide for climbing Bai Tho mountain below.
Climbing Bai Tho Mountain
Bai Tho mountain is one of the highest mountains in Halong Bay and is situated in Halong city center, right in the bayside. From afar the mountain looks like a huge castle with three undulating towers on the solid walls. But, of course, it’s all about the view from the top.
Halong Bay is a truly magical place. With its beautiful emerald waters and thousands of limestone islands that outline the horizon, it’s one of the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen. Halong Bay translates to “Descending Dragon.” The rock formations were said to be formed by dragons spitting jewels out into the sea to create a protective barrier from invading ships. Hence the name of the area “Descending Dragon.”
To fully embrace the wonder of Ha Long you should definitely take a boat cruise. But, if you want to get a stunning aerial view of the area, then look no further than Bai Tho mountain.
At an altitude of 200 meters, the path to the top is not too long, but it is very steep. I gym regularly and consider myself to be fit, but I had to stop to catch my breath a few times. Of course, the heat doesn’t help. But, there is a solid stone step path that leads up to the top, and all you really need to do is keep climbing. I can promise you that the views are absolutely worth the effort.
What To Know Before You Climb Bai Tho Mountain
The climb to the top of Bai Tho mountain is not easy. It’s not open to the public and is therefore not easily accessible. However, most tourists in the area do it anyway, and for good reason – the views. Here’s some things you should know before climbing Bai Tho Mountain.
- You’re not actually allowed to walk here. There’s a big red sign (pictured below) with “Dangerous area” printed in bold letters. So yes, it’s irresponsible. But everyone knows about it and most tourists do it.
- Since the “entrance” gate is closed off, you will need to climb through a small hole in the fence to begin the walk.
- You will have to find a local and pay them a small fee to direct you to the “entrance.”
- The walk up will take about 30 minutes
- Take water with you. We didn’t and we really needed it.
- I have seen many photos on Instagram of girls in beautiful dresses at the top of Bai Tho mountain and I have no idea how they did it. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as I did on this walk up. Don’t let those photo’s fool you. I would highly recommend dressing practically and wearing comfortable shoes.
Below is my step by step guide to climbing Bai Tho mountain.
How to get the best views of Halong Bay
1. Make your way to Hang Noi Road
Just about everyone in Halong city knows that Bai Tho mountain is a tourist hotspot. So mention it to your taxi driver and he will most likely know what you are talking about. Otherwise just put Hang Noi into your GPS. It doesn’t matter where you get dropped off in Hang Noi road, the locals will direct you to where you need to go.
We were very confused when we first got out of the taxi. We started walking down the street, with no clue about where to go. But within about two minutes a local lady pointed us in the right direction. She knew what we were there for. She then passed us onto another lady who showed us the way to the entrance.
2. Find the right entrance
As I said, the locals will probably show you where you need to go. But there are a few different entrances. The most common seems to be a small little stairway that leads through to a few local houses. This is where we were taken to. So don’t be startled when you are led through a narrow, dimly lit passageway. There’s a house straight ahead, and to the right is the “back entrance” to the Bai Tho mountain trail.
Some people apparently get taken through a locals house, so it just depends on who you come across. All of the locals that we came across were very friendly. Most of them can’t speak English (which was our experience throughout most of our Vietnam trip), but they were all smiles and more than happy to show us the way.
3. Pay the entrance fee
Once you are led through the passageway or a locals house, they will ask you to pay small entrance fee. The fee varies, I guess depending on who you are dealing with and how much they feel like charging. But it’s nothing extortionate, and I think it’s quite reasonable given that they show you the way and allow you into their personal space to reach the Bai Tho mountain entrance.
We paid 100,000 VND ($4) for the two of us. We were happy to pay that so didn’t even try negotigate. But there was a couple who we had met along the way, while looking for the entrance, and they negotiated to pay 70,000 VND. Some people even report paying only 10,000 VND, while others have paid as much as 100,000 VND each. So it really just depends. But if you feel like you are being overcharged, you can try haggle. If you tell them that you only have a certain amount, they will most likely settle for what you offer.
4. Climb through the hole in the fence
Once you have paid your “entrance fee” you’re on your own. Just follow the pathway around the back of a building and you will find yourself at the “entrance” gate. Old articles state that you climb over the gate. But, the gate has since been fenced up with barbed wire – making it impossible to climb over.
Some “good citizen” (haha) has now cut a small hole in the fence and you will need to climb through here to begin the Bai Tho mountain trail. It’s a little tricky because you have to climb up a few rocks to reach the hole, but it’s very doable. Getting up wasn’t to bad – I was more worried about getting back down. But thankfully I was fine.
5. Begin the hike
Now you can finally begin the hike. There are steps leading up most of the way, but when you get closer to the top it turns to rocks. It’s not a tough hike, but I found it to be quite strenuous. We had to stop to take a break quite a few times on our way up. Also, the sweat was literally dripping off my face. I’m not sure if it was the heat or because I hadn’t eaten enough that day, but I really struggled on my way up.
But once at the top, my peace of mind was restored. The views are truly incredible. I would love to have been here for sunrise or sunset, but I wouldn’t recommended walking the trail after dark. The trail isn’t lit up so I think it would be quite difficult and dangerous to walk it in little to no light.
6. Climbing back down
I found coming back down to be much easier than going up. Perhaps it was because the views from the top had completely restored and revived me. The walk down probably only took about 20 minutes. Just be sure to watch your steps because there are some uneven rocks that you can easily slip on.
Photos from the top of Bai Tho mountain
The photos that we got from Bai Tho mountain are my favourite from our whole Vietnam trip. They’re also probably some of my favourite travel photos of ours ever. As you may have already seen, there’s the famous photo taken from the green roof of a shed, and there’s also a small rock that makes for the perfect photo location.
It’s not overcrowded – there were only a few other people up there, so getting the “perfect” photo is easy enough. There are also some great city views from up here. I didn’t get any city photos because I was distracted by the beautiful sea and island views. But I’ve seen quite a few beautiful photos of Halong city from other travellers.
If you have the opportunity to visit Bai Tho mountain to take hundreds of stunning photos, I would highly recommend it! If you’re also thinking of visiting Hanoi, Check out this travel guide for spending 2 days in Hanoi.
Have you been to Halong Bay before? Did you climb Bai Tho mountain? Let me know below.