Poem Mountain, also known as Bai Tho Mountain, offers one of best views of Halong Bay. With over a thousand towering limestone karst islands and emerald coloured waters, Halong Bay is one of the world’s natural wonders and should be included on every itinerary of Vietnam. Seeing Halong Bay by boat is the most popular way to experience it, however if you want a truly unique view of Halong Bay away from the crowds (and at a fraction of the price!) then you need to visit Poem Mountain! The only way to get to the top of Poem Mountain is to climb, and it will certainly be one of the most craziest and memorable hikes of your life!
Why visit Poem Mountain?
Whilst the rest of Halong Bay is swamped with tourists, Poem Mountain (Bai Tho) remains relatively untouched. Despite it’s popularity on Instagram, many people are put off because of the challenging climb, or simply they just cannot find the inconspicuous entrance so give up. Below I will explain exactly how to find the entrance and what to expect, so you can enjoy the absolutely breathtaking view from the top of Poem Mountain.
What’s great is that you don’t have to go on a crowded boat trip to enjoy the view from the top of Bai Tho Mountain. This is because Bai Tho is actually located on the mainland at the entrance to the bay, in the centre of Ha Long City. Often the boat trips can be very expensive and extremely overcrowded, so visiting Bai Tho Mountain makes for a cheaper, quieter and certainly a more adventurous Halong Bay itinerary! If you have a small budget and want to experience Halong Bay all to yourself, climbing Poem Mountain is the answer!
Is Bai Tho Mountain closed?
Whilst Bai Tho mountain is not the highest mountain in the area at only 200 metres high, it is very steep and there have been fatalities in the past. Therefore the hike has been technically closed and there are official signs up that say it is a dangerous area. However it is still absolutely possible to do the hike, you just need to find the back entrance. Read below to find out how.
Where is the entrance to Bai Tho Mountain?
You can find the entrance on Google maps, just type in ‘Poem Mountain entrance‘. If you are coming by taxi, tell the driver Bai Tho – they’ll know to drop you off right by the alleyway. If you are coming by scooter, just follow the Google maps location. The entrance is located on the street “Hang Noi”, just behind “Le Thanh Tong” street. There is plenty space to park your scooter on the main street.
The entrance to Bai Tho Mountain is very easy to walk past and completely miss! It is a tiny doorway in between some shops, there is no obvious sign. You really have to be looking for it and know what you’re looking for. If you’re not sure, ask the locals. They don’t speak much English but are all friendly and they’ll all know that you’re there trying to find the entrance and will point it out to you. There are actually a few different entrances, but the one below is the most common one.
Look for a photocopy shop (the sign is big and yellow with red “photocopy” writing) and a shop with the sign “Sea Store”. You’ll see a blue doorway in between them – this is where you need to go. Some small dogs will probably come to the doorway and bark at you, in which case you’re definitely at the right place. Some people say the dogs can be unfriendly, but they were okay with us. They just bark a lot to let their owner know that someone is coming.
As you go inside the narrow and dimly-lit passageway you will really feel like it is somewhere you shouldn’t be. But just keep walking, go up some stairs, past more dogs, and you will see a house at the end. Usually the old lady is sitting inside and her front door is open. Sometimes she will even come downstairs to see who is there when she hears the barking. Often the lady will tell you that the hike is closed though. However, if she thinks you’ll be able to get past the obstacles on the hike, she will let you through her backyard to the start of the hike for a small fee. If she doesn’t, just be more insistent with her, or so I have heard.
How much do you have to pay to climb Bai Tho Mountain?
Pay the lady a couple of dollars (50,000 dong) each and she will let you pass. It is a small price to pay, so please don’t argue with her. You’ll pass some dog cages in her back yard to the stairs to the start of the hike on the right. Often one of the dogs will walk a little bit of the hike with you.
How to climb Poem Mountain:
PASSING THE METAL GATE
This is the hardest part of the hike. Once you have gone past the woman’s house you’ll climb some steps then reach a metal gate that is locked. Previously you could just climb up over the gate and fence to pass it. Now however it is completely covered in barbed wire 2-3 metres high and is impassable. So you’ll need to actually climb UP the rocks to the right of the gate for about 3 metres to bypass the fence. Then you need to crawl underneath a hole that has been (very kindly!) cut out of the fence. The hole is big enough for a tall person to squeeze through, so as long as you can climb up the rocks you should be ok to squeeze through. Coming down is tricky too as you have to jump the last bit.
CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN
The rest of the climb is not too bad as it is mainly stairs and so is quite easy to follow. It is a bit strenuous though so you might need to stop a couple of times and have a sip of water. You can enjoy the beautiful views of Halong Bay all the way up the hike, so it’s a good reason to stop.
The last part o the hike however is tricky as the steps disappear and you need to climb up big rock boulders. When we climbed it, there had recently been a fire and mudslide so my friend literally had to pull me up as there was hardly anything to hold on to. All in all, it only took us about 25 minutes to climb to the top of Bai Tho Mountain.
Where to get the best picture from the top of Bai Tho Mountain?
There are 2 main places where people take pictures: on one of the big rock boulders at the top, or on the green roof of the abandoned shed.
You need to climb across a few big rocks to get onto the green roof or the big rock but it isn’t too tricky.
Whilst it’s not impossible to get pictures of yourself with a tripod here if you are travelling alone, I really recommend to visit with a friend. This is not only for safety reasons (as mentioned below), but because taking pictures will be a lot easier as you won’t have to keep scrambling across the rocks to check your images.
When is the best time to visit Poem Mountain?
Despite us visiting at sunset, sunrise is actually the best time to visit Bai Tho Mountain. It gets very hot and humid in Vietnam and so going at sunrise will mean the temperature will be a lot cooler and more bearable than at sunset, making it much easier to hike. You don’t have to climb up in the dark and wait for the sunset at the top, just wait until it is light until you start climbing. It will still be beautiful when you read the top, plus it will be much safer. Whilst there will never be too many tourists at Bai Tho Mountain, the majority of them come in the middle of the day, so if you come at sunrise you’ll have this place to yourself.
It was actually really scary when we had to come down in the dark even though we had a torch with us. Remember when you are walking amongst trees that it appears a lot darker than it really is, and it was literally pitch black by the time we got down. At least if you go up for sunrise you’ll be coming back down in the day. Also remember, sunsets aren’t always so spectacular at Halong Bay as it can regularly be overcast and cloudy in the area.
Quite often the visibility from the top of Poem Mountain is not the best as the area is often susceptible to lots of rain and fog. I visited during the peak season (November) and whilst it was dry, the sky was still overcast and grey. I did quite like the mysterious vibe it gave to the place though. Just don’t visit when it is raining as it will be incredibly difficult to complete the hike.
What to bring for your hike up Bai Tho Mountain
Absolutely necessary if you want to visit Bai Tho Mountain at sunset as the path is not lit up. There is no light here and you’ll be climbing down in the dark which is very dangerous. If you don’t have a torch, use the one on your phone!
Another absolute necessity for your climb up Bai Tho Mountain. I am not someone who says that lightly – I regularly hike in flip flops and sandals and think nothing of it. I wore sandals to hike to the top of Bai Tho, thinking it would be an easy climb as I hadn’t researched it too well. It was definitely hard trying to climb and I even took my sandals off at one point in an attempt to get better grip! Bring shoes with a good grip. Especially if it has rained the night before the earth and rocks will be very slippy. Going down is just as difficult too so it is easy to slide down and fall if your shoes don’t have adequate grip.
SUITABLE HIKING CLOTHES
I wore shorts and a t-shirt to climb Bai Tho Mountain and I would advise you to do the same. Definitely don’t wear a long skirt or a dress as the climbing is really hard and you’ll need both hand to hold on to the rocks/trees/earth as you climb. Plus any modesty will totally be lost as you really need to hitch your leg up at times.
Also don’t wear your favourite clothes as your outfit will get ruined. So if you want a picture at the top in a nice dress, pack it in your bag and change at the top of the mountain. I was pretty grubby by the end, and didn’t have a spare pair of clothes to change into. I would also advise to bring some spare clothes to change into if you sweat a lot (or even a towel).
A BOTTLE OF WATER
Trust me you will need it! The hike is intense and of course there is no option to buy water once you start the hike.
Safety when climbing Poem Mountain:
DO NOT go alone. Especially if you will be hiking in the dark. It is so easy to fall and hurt yourself, and only a handful of people come up here a day so if you injure yourself it might be several hours before anyone finds you. Also, if you go with a friend you will be able to help push/pull each other up along the tricky bits of the hike. I definitely would have struggled if I would have gone alone.
Whilst it is a tricky hike though, the views from the top make the hike absolutely worthwhile, especially seeing as you’ll probably have the whole view to yourself!
What else is there to do near Bai Tho Mountain?
Poem Mountain is located in Ha Long City, which whilst there are not too many touristy things to do in the small city, it will definitely keep you entertained for one night. Ha Long City is split into two parts, divided by the Bai Chay Bridge, that is lit up rather impressively at night time. Poem Mountain is located on the eastern side of Ha Long City. Click here to see the location on Google maps.
There are lots of restaurants and places to grab food, but my favourite place was at Ha Long Night Market as it was full of locals and hardly any tourists. Make sure to try the Vietnamese favourites of Banh Mi and Pho at the food stalls at the market! The outdoor market is really big and there are lots of lovely Vietnamese ladies selling local products. Lots of souvenirs, knock off products and handmade handicrafts. I ended up buying so many things here!
There are several hostels and cheap hotels in Ha Long City (click on the links to book). Just check the hostel/hotel is based on the east side of Ha Long so you won’t have to go too far to reach Poem Mountain.
Why visit Ha Long Bay?
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay is really beautiful and one of the most well-known areas in Vietnam. Exploring Halong Bay on a boat trip and sailing past all the majestic islands is such a magical experience. However, sadly over the years Halong Bay has become completely overrun with tourists, and you’ll see lots of litter in the bay. Luckily the further you get from the shore, the more beautiful and clearer the water gets.
When is the best time of year to visit Ha Long Bay?
March – April and October – December are the best times to visit Ha Long Bay due to a lower chance of rain and more pleasant weather. As fall (October – December) is peak season, Ha Long Bay is extremely busy at this time and prices will rise. Rain and fog can happen at any time of the year in Ha Long Bay though, so always be prepared for rain or shine!
Where else to see the best views of Halong Bay?
If you can’t make it to Poem Mountain, or fancy climbing another mountain too, head to Ti Top Island (sometimes written as Titov Island). As the name suggests, it is an island, meaning if you want to visit it you have to do a boat cruise that stops at Ti Top. There are 400 steps to the top and the views are just as incredible as from Bai Tho Mountain.
Whilst you are on the boat trips it is hard to actually get a good view of the limestone karsts as you are so close to them and are beneath them, but the panoramic viewpoint from the top of Bai Tho Mountain and Ti Top Mountain really puts it into perspective and makes the climb so worthwhile!
Halong Bay cruises
Despite it being overrun with tourists, a cruise around Halong Bay is incredible. There are many tour options available, ranging from 1 day budget trips, to staying overnight on luxury junk boats in the bay for a few days, to even staying overnight on an island! The 1 day trips take you to the nearest islands, whereas the multi-day ones take you further away from the bay, which is where the more beautiful islands are.
How to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay:
Despite Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital being 180km away from Halong Bay, there are many tour companies that offer day trips from Hanoi to Halong Bay at a reasonable price. Click here to see my recommended day trip, which stops at Ti Top Island (for the panoramic viewpoint!) and includes all transfers to and from Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Alternatively you can get a bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay. This is a very popular route in Vietnam so there are many buses that can take you. Click here for the timetable and to book tickets. Beware the journey can take anywhere between 3 to 4.5 hours if coming on the bus as traffic can be quite bad. This bus will also stop so you can have a toilet break and buy some snacks. VIP buses are a lot nicer than the public buses and cost around 100,000 dong ($5), so book one of them if you have the option.
If you are a party person, you absolutely need to go on the Castaways Trip to Halong Bay! Castaways have their own private island in Halong Bay and the island is simply stunning and so secluded. It is an experience you won’t forget, with open-air beach bungalows, beautiful white sand and parties every night (and boat parties during the day!). There are plenty of adrenaline filled activities to do as well, such as rock climbing up the cliff face and several water sports. This 3 day trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay is perfect for young, fun-spirited and energetic people!
At Castaways Island
Which airport is near to Ha Long Bay?
There are 3 main airports people use to get to Halong Bay:
Van Don Airport, Cat Bi Airport and Noi Bai Airport (Hanoi).
Van Don is the newest and most advanced airport in Vietnam, opened in December 2018. It is located in Quang Ninh, 50km from Ha Long. All passengers flying into Van Don will receive a free bus ticket from Van Don – Ha Long (although taxis are still very cheap).
Cat Bi Airport (also known as Hai Phong Airport) is located in Hai Phong and is also 50km from Ha Long. It still takes around 2 hours to drive to Halong City from the airport. Taxis charge around 750,000/800,000 dong (£25) for the ride, which seems reasonable considering all that driving! As with many situations in Asia, please negotiate before getting in the taxi!
The most popular choice for visitors to Halong Bay is however Noi Bai (Hanoi) International Airport, which is actually the furthest of the 3 airports from Halong Bay. Noi Bai is located 27km from Hanoi (180km from Ha Long) and it takes around 3 hours to reach Halong Bay. However, as many international airlines fly here, the majority of visitors to Ha Long will go through Noi Bai Airport. Also the transportation to Halong Nay from Hanoi is quite easy, cheap and convenient, as mentioned above.
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