At 5.45 am on a Friday morning, a few friends and myself headed to the Luong Yen bus station on the outskirts of Hanoi and boarded a bus for Van Don — a port city near Halong Bay. Tickets were priced at VND125,000.
After the five-and-a-half hour ride, the bus arrived in Van Don, where we grabbed some street food at a market near the bus stop before catching a cab to Cai Ong port. Here, we purchased tickets for a 45-minute motorboat ride — VND280,000 each for a round trip.
Far from the hustle and bustle of Cat Ba, Quan Lan appears to be a pristine and untouched island. Upon reaching Quan Lan, we load into a tuk tuk and head to the town’s centre. Despite its remoteness, Quan Lan offers a wide variety of hotel accommodations both in town and on the beach. For starters, the Minh Quang Hotel in the city centre has two-person rooms that go for VND300,000 a night. Next door at the pricier, albeit classier Ann Hotel, a room for two is priced at VND650,000. On Son Hao, one of the larger beaches on the island, Van Hai Resort supplies four-person bungalows on the sand for VND800,000 a night. We opted for the cheapest option.
While there are no western bars to speak of, the town doesn’t completely shut down at night. We found a fun karaoke joint with about 15 Vietnamese guys slamming shots of beer and rocking out on the mic. Needless to say, we decided to drink and be merry and joined in.
The next morning, we woke up early and headed back to Son Hao Beach for the first half of the day. After a swim, we feasted at Van Hai Restaurant — the only one at this beach. However, menus were not in English and seafood must be ordered in bulk.
A Little More Lively
After Son Hao, we headed to Minh Chau Beach, which is another 7km outside of town. What this beach lacks in bungalows it makes up for in restaurants and is also home to bigger crowds and a livelier atmosphere — picture bonfires, techno and karaoke.
Sunday morning, we surveyed the beach 200 meters from our hotel — appropriately named Quan Lan Beach. We then grabbed fish and clams for lunch before heading back to Hanoi.
While a visit to Quan Lan is fairly inexpensive, be prepared for various small charges that will pop up during the trip. To get to and from most of the beaches, you’ll have to either rent motorbikes for VND150,000 per day or hire a tuk tuk, which costs either VND200,000 for a roundtrip from town to Son Hao Beach or VND300,000 for a roundtrip to Minh Chau beach. At each beach, entrance tickets cost about VND20,000.
However, these fees are a small price to pay for what Quan Lan offers — beautiful beaches with none of the hassle that you’ll find at more popular seaside destinations. While the island is not the place for bar-hopping and shopping, it serves as a getaway from the madness of the city.