How to Hike Poem Mountain (Bai Tho Mountain) in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Want to hike Poem Mountain (aka Bai Tho Mountain) in Halong Bay, Vietnam? Read on for details on how to do it!
If you want to do a lesser known hike to a hidden viewpoint overlooking Halong Bay, this article is for you!
While cruising among the karsts of Halong Bay and nearby Bai Tu Long Bay is an absolute must-do activity when visiting Vietnam, this secret hike to the top of Poem Mountain (aka Bai Tho in Vietnamese), right in the city of Halong, gives you epic viewpoints after a bit of adventure.
The hike isn’t long, but the logistics are a little bonkers, because technically, the trail to Bai Tho/Poem Mountain is closed. To be even more precise, the public access to the trail is closed, but there is another, “secret” access point that literally goes through a grumpy lady’s house and backyard. It’s a whole thing, so let’s talk about how to do it!
All the details in this post are based on our experience hiking up Poem Mountain in November 2022.
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Getting to the Poem Mountain “Trailhead“
Poem Mountain (Bai Tho) is located on the eastern side of the city of Ha Long, and on the eastern side of the Cau Bai Chay bridge that spans the bay. This tall hill rises from the water and serves as a buffer between part of the town and the sea.
To get to the “trailhead”, you can either take a taxi, or if you stay at the Draha Halong Hotel, you can walk there in 10 minutes. We stayed at the Draha Halong – it was a beautiful hotel that was very convenient to doing the Poem Mountain hike, and a short taxi ride from the port for our cruise.
Whether you are taking a taxi or walking, you’re going to want to go to this address: 92 Hàng Nồi, P. Bạch Đằng, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam.
You’ll be on a regular street lined with regular buildings – it’s not a nature-y location at all. Look for this blue door; this is where you’ll enter:
Navigating the Grumpy Lady’s House
While its going to feel a little weird, just walk into the house and up the steps. There will be a dog at the entrance that barks at you, but just ignore it and keep going. A man or a lady will meet you – and it’s the woman that you will deal with. If no one appears, just call out.
This woman (who speaks Vietnamese only) will state her required payment, and it really varies day by day how much she wants from you. While others in the past have gotten in for 50,000 or 100,000 dong, she demanded 500,000 dong (approximately $20) for the two of us to hike Poem Mountain.
Considering Vietnamese prices, this is really an exorbitant amount. We tried having a 100,000 dong bill in our hands ready to offer to her, hoping she would just accept what we had ready to go, but unfortunately that was not the case. Haggling is also going to get you nowhere here – either you pay the amount she states, or you don’t hike.
I really wanted to do this hike, so we just paid out and away we went.
After you pay, she’ll take you up and through her backyard. This backyard is absolutely filthy and full of garbage. It is also FULL of dogs – there were probably at least 10-12 dogs in that backyard – and they are all barking at you. Thankfully, they only bark and don’t bite, but it is certainly a little unnerving.
The woman took through her backyard and up to some concrete steps that led to a small concrete building and door. She said to just go through it and continue. Reading other reviews online before doing this hike, most people continued through that door and then shimmied under a gate to start the trail.
However, for us, that door was locked. We called out to the woman that there was a problem, and she came up and felt in the little hole by the door. She didn’t seem surprised at all that the door was locked (and indeed, when we came back down, we put our phone through that hole and took a picture and it was padlocked – we’re unsure how or why that door was locked up).
Anyway, the woman seemed both unbothered and unsurprised by it. She went back into her house, grabbed a tall ladder, and had Matthew take it and put it up against a tall cliff wall in the back of her backyard.
As we climbed the ladder, the lady yelled out to us, holding up one finger. We interpreted this and her other body language to mean that she would leave the ladder in place for an hour.
Once we got to the top of the ladder, we were in the middle of wild and untamed vegetation – no path in sight. The ground was still steep, but we could safely navigate our way through the trees and brush and over rocks, hanging on to trunks as needed.
While there is no path, just keep working your way up and to the left. After about 5 minutes, you’ll see the concrete railing, which you can climb over and access the actual path.
When we were there, there was this plastic bag tied around the railing where we were able to access the staircase. Make sure you note that plastic bag, and if its not there, find another way to mark where you should return. Otherwise, it’ll be really hard to find the right spot to leave the staircase on the way back down.
Hiking the Actual Trail
The official trail is a set of concrete stairs. Just keep following the path and climbing the stairs until you get to the top. It’s about a 30 minute climb to get to the summit.
We thought the rest of the path would be easygoing, and in one sense it was – you just keeping climbing the stairs. However, parts of the trail are very overgrown, and there were several sections that we had to bushwack our way through.
There were other spots where the plants and bushes were so overgrown that we had to crouch down and climb on all fours up the stairs, since there was just a small gap between the stairs and the bushes.
Still, it was all manageable and at that point, (after making your way through the grumpy lady’s backyard, avoiding the dogs, climbing a ladder up a cliff to make your way through the forest to hopefully find the steps), pushing and crawling your way through some overgrown bushes just seemed par for the course.
It’s all worth it though, when you arrive at…
The views from the top of Poem Mountain legitimately took my breath away. To be on the top of the mountain, no one else around, and just the gorgeous views spread out in front of us as far as the eye could see immediately made the crazy climb up totally worth it.
You can see ridge after ridge after ridge of the mountain karsts that rise steeply up from the water. The whole scene is just completely unreal. When we were there, it was a little bit foggy, which just added to the mystical feel of it all.
Halong Bay is just unbelievable, and this particular angle of the bay is pretty unique – there aren’t many spots in Halong where you get such a great aerial view of the bay and the mountains.
At the top, there’s a radio tower (avoid that), a monument marker that explains the history is the mountain, some rocks that you can climb on, and a little green building. This building and roof is very sturdy and you can actually hop from the rocks to the rooftop very easily. This is the best vantage point for overlooking the bay and getting that money shot.
We didn’t see a single person the whole time we were hiking or at the top – we had it completely to ourselves. It was seriously magical. The only time we saw someone else was right as we were coming back down the ladder at the end – there was another couple who were just about to start.
Coming Back Down
Once you’re done at the top, retrace your steps back down the mountain. Just be sure to watch for the piece of plastic tied around the staircase to mark where you head back into the woods and down the ladder!
Once you’re down the ladder, make your way back through the littered yard and the barking dogs, and let yourself out the way you came.
Since it really seems like a toss up as to whether the door is locked or not, I would be prepared for the possibility of either shimmying under or climbing over a gate (if the door is unlocked), or climbing a ladder and crossing through some brush to reach the trail, like we did.
When to Hike Poem Mountain (Bai Tho)
While this doesn’t seem to be a crazy popular attraction in Halong Bay, I would still recommend doing it first thing in the morning – less chance of meeting other people, the light is better, and the heat is just a little bit less intense than later in the day.
- Distance: 0.5 miles (0.8 km) round trip
- Elevation Gain: 338 feet (103 meters)
- Time: 40 minutes
We always use the AllTrails app to map our hikes, and I believe that Matthew actually created a new route for this hike up Poem Mountain. Looking back on our stats now as I’m writing this post, I’m truly shocked at how short this hike is – just 1/2 mile! It really felt like much more than that – I suppose that’s what a fairly steep climb through some thick brush will do!
What to Wear + Bring to Hike Poem Mountain
Be prepared for hot, humid weather – we hiked at 7am in the middle of November, which is during the dry season in northern Vietnam, and we were still extremely sweaty and sticky when we made it to the top.
✔️I would recommend wearing good hiking shoes/boots – particularly since you very well may be doing what we did and hiking up a ladder and through the woods.
✔️You’ll definitely want a lightweight hiking outfit (these are my absolute favorite hiking shorts, bra, shirts and, tanks)
✔️A tripod to get that money shot (whether just of you if you’re hiking solo, or with you and your partner together)
✔️Lots of water! Do not underestimate how much you’ll need!
✔️Sunscreen – it goes without saying. I always wear this facial sunscreen.
✔️A dress to change into, if you want (I’m not suggesting that you need to do an outfit change, but if you’re the type that likes a pretty dress picture, I would absolutely not hike in a dress. Chances are you’ll have the summit to yourself, and you can do a quick change there).
A Suggestion of How the Bai Tho/Poem Mountain Hike Could Fit Into Your Vietnam Itinerary
We did this hike the morning before our Bai Tu Long Bay cruise (read the full review here!). While this cruise offers round trip transportation from Hanoi, we actually got our own transportation to Halong Bay from Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh is an incredible countryside town to visit, and I would highly recommend you make a stop there!
So, from Hanoi, you could go to Ninh Binh for a day or two, then take a van or the bus in the evening up to Halong Bay. Stay overnight in the Draha Halong Hotel near Poem Mountain, do the Poem Mountain hike first thing in the morning, and then meet up with your Bai Tu Long Bay cruise at the International Port at 12pm.
Travel Tip: I recommend booking bus or van tickets from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay in advance on 12Go Asia
Is Hiking Poem Mountain Worth It?
Although we were rather apprehensive about the logistics of dealing with a grumpy lady and her numerous barking dogs, plus the unknowns of what she would charge and what the trail would be like, I love love LOOOVED this hike and the views we got at the end.
I think it was absolutely worth the time, effort, and cost to hike to the top of Poem Mountain and get the most incredible views over Halong Bay. Plus, the whole “drag-a-ladder-and-climb-through-the-side-of-the-mountain-offtrail” was an adventure. And I love a good adventure.