We thought that the best way to see Halong Bay was by taking a cruise, but believe it or not, we were wrong. Hiking to the top of Poem Mountain, or Bai Tho Mountain as it is locally known, and seeing the cliffs from above was one of the most insane views we have ever seen. Read on to find out exactly how to get this view for yourself!
Seeing the incredible landscape of Halong Bay is usually top of most travellers’ bucket lists when they come to Vietnam. Thousands of towering limestone cliffs rise out of the water and create one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes we have ever seen. There is a hike up Hang Mua Cave in Ninh Binh that offers similar spectacular views and is known as Ha Long Bay on land.
Check out our full guide on a cruise around Bai Tu Long Bay to find out more: BEST BAI TU LONG BAY CRUISE
Witnessing the natural beauty of this landscape from above was absolutely next level. We are used to seeing places from the sky with our drone, but nothing can beat seeing somewhere with your own eyes. The cliffs extend out into the ocean for miles and the sheer number and size of these mini mountains blew us away. We did some great hikes in Vietnam and we’ve done some amazing hikes around the world and this ranks up there with the best of them.
Is Poem Mountain Open to Climb?
Updated December 2019 – It appears that authorities have once again closed Bai Tho Mountain to the public. This has happened many times in the past and the locals have always found a way to provide access to Poem Mountain for a fee. We are hopeful that access will be re-opened soon and we will try to update on here as soon as we know anything. Please let us know if you have any updated information.
Short answer – Yes! Legally, it appears the answer is no, but who ever let something like that stop them anyway?
Getting to Bai Tho Mountain
The Poem Mountain hike can be found in Halong City and we have pinned it below on the map to show you exactly where it is. Most people will be coming from Hanoi where there are daily busses to Halong City. The cheapest and easiest way to get here is by booking a bus with Bookaway. We booked all of our transport in Vietnam with them as they always seem to offer the best rates. You can book a ticket from Hanoi to Halong City here.
If you don’t fancy riding a scooter here, another great option is to take a Grab (popular app for ride-hailing similar to Uber). From the main touristy area of Bai Chay, it is a 15-minute drive to the base of the mountain.
Finding the Entrance
The entrance to the hike is located on Hang Noi street. We had read a few blogs and reviews about the mountain before we went and many of them said how difficult the entrance was to find. To access the entrance to the mountain, you first have to walk up through the house of a local lady. It is the entrance to this house that can be tricky to find.
You really do have to walk right through somebody’s house to reach the base of the mountain. We passed a couple of puppies, headed up the stairs and passed the kitchen and living room and came out into the backyard amongst the chickens.
This is where we finally met the infamous lady who owns the house with access to the mountain.
There is no set entrance fee to Poem Mountain. The lady will charge you whatever she feels like and it varies from person to person. We were charged 50,000VND ($2.15 USD) each after trying and failing to barter with her. The couple behind us paid 100,000VND each and we met another couple on our way up who only paid 25,000VND each.
You can try your best to haggle with her, but even if you have to pay 100,000VND per person it is still totally worth it. Plus, we didn’t feel like we had a lot of buying power when she is providing access to the mountain entrance.
Once you have negotiated an entrance fee, it’s time to break into the mountain. Having read numerous reviews, we saw that some people had to climb over barbed wire while others climbed through a hole underneath the main gate. At the time of hiking (June 2019), the authorities had closed both of these access points.
Now you have to scale a 10-foot rock wall and climb underneath the fence. They have literally carved away part of the mountain to allow tourists to gain access. It is a bit of a sketchy climb but the lady will help guide you up by showing you where to place your feet.
Poem Mountain Hike
Depending on your level of fitness, the hike to the top can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour. It took us around 30 minutes to reach the peak. It is not a particularly long hike, but it is straight up and steep the whole way. So although it is quite a short hike, it is fairly difficult. We had to stop every few minutes to catch our breath and drink some water. We went for sunset and even that late in the day the heat and humidity were still a killer.
The first two-thirds of the hike are up cement stairs that are still in very good condition. As it is officially closed, there are several sections where the trees and bushes are overgrown and you have to duck down low and shuffle underneath the greenery to get by. The last part of the climb is along mud and rocks and involves a bit more scrambling, but nothing too crazy.
At the top there is plenty of space to hang out and a few different vantage points to enjoy. There were just 4 other people at the summit when we arrived for sunset. It was so peaceful and we love when we only have to share such an awesome place with just a few others.
Best Photo Spots
There is a green hut perched on the edge of the peak that you can climb on to. It looks kind of sketchy but it felt pretty secure to us. We went to the edge of the roof and enjoyed uninterrupted views of the bay. It is a wicked spot to take some seriously cool photos.
Just above this green roof is a rock that protrudes out of the mountain which we clambered to the top of to take some more photos, and again to enjoy the view.
Shortly before the sun set we started to make our way back down. We wouldn’t recommend climbing back down again in the dark as the top part of the mountain has a couple of slippery sections that were tricky to navigate down.
Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
Catch a Grab or rent a scooter – These are both cheap and easy options to reach the entrance to the mountain.
Wear trainers – The top section is difficult enough that you should wear trainers for this hike. Flip flops are not recommended.
Bring water – It is a short but tough climb so you will need to carry some water with you. There are several shops near the entrance where you can buy water before and after the hike.
Take some cash – You will need to pay the owner of the house to reach the entrance. Take a few hundred thousand Vietnamese dong with you just in case she feels like increasing the price that day.
Plan to take 2 hours – To climb to the top, enjoy the views at the summit and make your way back down again, we suggest taking at least two hours. The best time to enjoy the view is at sunset so make sure you time it right so you are not walking back down in the dark.
Pack your camera – Like we mentioned, the views at the top are unreal. Pack your camera so you can take some epic photos to remember your trip. They should look especially good at sunset.
Avoid after heavy rain – As some of the trail is unpaved and muddy, it would be dangerous after heavy rain.
It is moderately difficult – Even though it is short, the constant uphill climb makes this a tough little hike. Prepare to rest every few minutes on the way up.
Where to Stay
We looked at doing the hike on the same day as arriving from Hanoi and setting out for our our cruise around Halong Bay, but we just couldn’t squeeze it all in. It’s worth staying for at least one night in Halong City either before or after a Halong Bay cruise. Even if you weren’t planning on a cruise, it is worth the bus journey out here just for this hike.
Budget: Ha Long Bay Fancy Hostel – We stayed in a double room with A/C which cost 300,000VND ($12.93 USD) per night and included breakfast. The room had a private bathroom and was very comfortable. It is also in a great location right in the Bai Chay area. There are plenty of good places to eat nearby. We recommend the restaurant next to the hostel as it was super cheap and some of the better food we had in Vietnam.
Mid-range: The Bay, Ha Long Homestay – Great value for what you get. The homestay is super clean, well-decorated, with a cute garden patio to relax while still being right in the city centre. The owner and staff are also super helpful with all your tour booking needs.
Luxury: Vinpearl Resort & Spa Ha Long – With a private beach area, swimming pool, tennis court and fitness centre, this resort is the epitome of luxury. Not to mention, it is located on its own private island just off the Bai Chay shoreline.
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Halong Bay Cruise Recommendation
As most people will do this hike as well as do a cruise, we thought we would offer up our recommendation. We went with Cristina Diamond Cruise and could not have been happier with this decision. Our stay was not sponsored – we paid full price. We just really enjoyed our stay, our guide, Lucky, was fantastic and every expectation was exceeded. We cannot recommend them enough.
This cruise actually visits Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay. The landscape is the same, but there are fewer boats here which we thought was fantastic. We did a two-day, one-night trip but would have loved to stay an extra day.
Check out rates and availability for Cristina Diamond Cruise.
I’m not sure we can really put into words how awesome the Poem Mountain hike was. Most places we visit are pretty cool and get a couple of thumbs up from us, but this really was next level. I would definitely say it was the single best thing we saw in Vietnam and it’s one of the better views we’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing anywhere in the world.
Most people head straight from Hanoi to do their cruise around Halong Bay and then go straight back again. You’d be mad to miss out on this experience and you should stay at least one night in Halong City so you can do this hike. As it is just starting to grow in popularity, it still doesn’t attract too many tourists.
This is the hidden gem of Vietnam but it may not stay that way for long.
Have you hiked Bai Tho mountain recently? Let us know your experience!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our other blog posts on the area:
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Vietnam in June 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in local currency (VND) were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.