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160km (99 miles) NE of Hanoi

Just a jumping-off point for trips to the bay, really, Halong City has grown in direct proportion to increased tourism, and you'll find a number of fine hotels to choose from. Many visitors choose to overnight on one of the cruisers in the bay or take a full-day boat trip that ends at Cat Ba Island. But if you're not keen on sleeping on the ocean blue or overnighting in a little island outpost, Halong City might be just the ticket. Most visitors here are part of Vietnamese and Chinese tour groups, especially in the summertime, when Hanoians want to get out of the humid capital.

The town is divided into Bai Chay, the main tourist strip of hotels and boat piers for trips to the bay, and Hong Gai, a more local area that's reachable by ferry from the north end of town (a bridge is currently under construction that will speed up that connection). Hong Gai has just a few minihotels and local restaurants geared mainly to Chinese tour groups. The local Halong City culinary specialty is gio, a minced pork dish popular with Chinese tourists.

Fast Facts -- A Vietcombank branch in Bai Chay along Halong Road near the main pier (tel. 033/381-1099) offers ATM service and can cash traveler's checks. Open Monday to Saturday 8am to 4pm, but closed for lunch 11:30am to 1:30pm. The outlet adjacent to the post office offers the best Internet service. The main Halong post office is at the intersection of Vuon Dao and Halong Street at seaside.