You’ve heard about it long before you arrived and you’re finally about to embark on the trip you’ve heard so much about – Halong Bay. 2000 limestone islands jut out of the ocean water covered in lush vegetation with private enclaves, beaches and picture perfect sunsets. It can be everything you hoped for and more – depending on whom you book with and what your expectations are.
If you’ve been travelling south to north you’ll already have heard stories both good and bad about tours to Halong Bay. Prices vary dramatically and they don’t necessarily reflect on what you get unless you pay top dollar. You’ll need to shop around quite a bit and then say a few prayers to hope it all works out. We booked with Halong Party Cruises from one of the dozen shops that lined our streets and paid $125 per person for 2 nights, 3 days with private accommodation, all meals and activities included. While there are tours out there for less –remember you do get what you pay for and this is not a trip you don’t want to have fond memories of.
Booking the 2 night, 3 day tour allows you to see a far greater amount of the bay than just booking a quick overnight trip. Day one for all boat tours is the same with a four hour drive from Hanoi, a tour around the closest part of the bay with stops at Surprising Cave and Ti Top Beach. While the views were great, every boat in the bay are is the same itinerary making the attractions heavily overcrowded; another reason to book the three day package.
Day two is where things really pick up with the morning spent traversing the quieter part of the bay to our own private beach complete with kayaking, rock climbing, beach volleyball and more. Here you can spend the day really soaking up the view you’ve come to see. The food offered on our tour was an extensive selection of fresh seafood daily along with your typical noodle and rice dishes and our rooms actually lived up to the photos they showed us. Most of the boats are fairly small with about 10 double rooms on each, making for a good size group of travelers on the boat.
Of course, like any major tourist attraction in South East Asia, the hordes of boats have increased pollution dramatically in the area. Combine that with the fishing villages who use Styrofoam to prop up their homes and you’ve got a floating garbage dump. It’s a catch 22 – it’s the top attraction in Vietnam and you can’t pass it up, but by going you will be contributing to the already polluted bays. As Halong Bay has been declared one of the new seven wonders of the world, hopefully the government will step in before it’s too late to clean up this amazing place.
Jen’s Overall Rating: It lived up to everything we had heard about before we went and we were fortunate to land a tour full of great people at a great price. Sad to see the amount of garbage and even more sad that we weren’t surprised since this is the norm for most countries.