I visited just a week after the fatal accident that killed 12 people here on an overnight boat. Traffic seemed to have resumed as normal. Overnight stays are also possible again, some of my group went on to stay for 1 or 2 nights on the boat. I opted for a daytrip only: not because of the accident, but also since I usually get bored pretty quickly looking at "natural beauty". And I had heard bad reports about life on board of the ships: I knew that I had made the right decision when I overheard the guide speak to the others about the evening programme that would constitute of "drinking and karaoke".
The natural beauty of the Bay lay hidden today under a very common fog. As I had already seen the similar karst landscape at Yangshuo/Guilin in China a couple of years before, I cannot really say that I was blown away by it. We went onto one of the islands to visit the Surprising Cave - an indeed suprisingly big and beautiful cave with three hollow chambers. We saw some monkeys here too, just outside the cave exit.
Part of the tour also was half an hour of kayaking - enough to paddle a full circle around the main area. The views from the kayak I found much more impressive than from the larger boat: you're so tiny then and the peaks rise sharply in front of you. I had a better look at the water too, and cannot say that I saw pollution by plastic or other junk floating around (contradictionairy to most of the reviewers below). There is a thin layer of oil on the water in some parts though.
And then it's time to get back in the bus to Hanoi, another 3.5 hours. It has been somewhat of an obligatory trip, to tick off the WHS. However, the tour was carried out well (good seafood for lunch) and I had a satisfying day.
carole (usa): I have to agree with the people who complained about the pollution of this most stunningly beautiful area. Also we got the feeling that there was not much life there. We saw people fishing but saw no fish in the water ourselves in the two days we were on the boat. We never saw a bird either during that time. We wondered why it was so devoid of life? Bit off putting really. Date posted: April 2014 Deborah Graban (United States): I visited Ha Long Bay as a side trip to a bicycle tour of Vietnam. We stayed overnight on the bay and took a kayak tour the next morning. The boat itself was first class and the service and meals on the boat were excellent.
Unfortunately, it's my opinion that this should be taken off of the list of World Heritage sites. Why in one word: POLLUTION. Not only is the air so thick with pollution that it's difficult to see the beautiful limestone outcrops jetting out of the bay, the water stinks to the point where I was concerned about it splashing on me when we kayaked. It seems to me that the 100's of boats in the bay may be dumping raw sewage into it. What a terrible shame and truly an environmental disaster. The Vietnamese government is spending a bundle of money widening the roads and building a new port area so people will visit. Unless they also turn their efforts into cleaning the area up, they might as well leave the roads alone. Furthermore, from what I could see, it will take 15-20 years to clean this site up. Too bad-- the decimation of this site is impossible for me to understand.
Date posted: November 2013 Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
Being in Hanoi in the year 1997, a joined an excursion to Ha Long Bay for only 20 US Dollars, including the bus journey to Haiphong, sailing boat to one of the 1600 islets, plus accommodation in a hut and al the meals! It was a bargain.
Early in the morning a bus was picking up travelers in the hostels of Hanoi. When we were about thirty we left to Haiphong.
Among my companions there were Australians, from USA, Italians, French, Germans, and from other European countries. I was the only Spaniard, so I have to use a foreign language to communicate with my travel companions.
The atmosphere between us was polite and exchanged a lot of travel information about Far East countries. I made friendship with two French, with whom I would travel by train to China after the excursion to Ha Long Bay.
The sailing boat made several stops before reaching our island. In that time we used to swim. The landscape around us incredibly beautiful, we felt in paradise. We saw pagodas on some islets, caves, small villages and many fishermen in their boats.
The afternoon of the next day those who have paid for two days and one night excursion returned to Haiphong and Hanoi. Some stayed one more day in the islet.
Date posted: October 2013 Stephen Brooker ():
We did Ha Long Bay as a one night cruise.
The shear natural beauty of the place is bordering on indescribable, and when coupled with a comfortable junk and excellent seafood, this beomes one of the worlds most romantic places. Loved it znd would go back in an instant.
Date posted: September 2012 Clyde (Malta):
I visited this WHS in February 2011. There are around 1600 limestone karsts that form this incredible seascape. Best seen on board a junk boat for a number of days to take in the breathtaking views especially at sunset and sunrise.
Date posted: September 2012 Susan (Australia): I have just returned from Vietnam (August/Sept 2010) and of course did the obligatory Halong Bay 3 day 2 night boat trip. The scenery is absolutely beautiful but I was so distressed by the pollution levels (air and water) that I am not recommending to any intending travellers.
The water in the bay we kayaked to for swimming was extremely polluted (althought the small beached area was relatively clean. After swimming, my skin stung for the rest of the day. Maybe the sea is extremely salty...or maybe the little mounds of oily foam floating all over the water are a testament to who knows what chemicals being dumped into the bay.
The sky was so hazy that there were no stars to be seen at night and the islands were invisible until you were almost on top of them.
The depth of the physical pollutants in the ocean was a real shock. For as far down as I could see (bear in the mind the water is pretty clear) there were plastic bags. Add to this the plastic water bottles, fishing flotsam and jetsam (including nets and floats), bits of broken up foam, all manner of food packaging etc etc and you get the picture of where this World Heritage Site is heading.
I asked one of the crew on my day boat about it and he said it mainly comes from the fishing villages (where he lived incidentally). When I asked if anyone came to clean it up he just looked at me bewildered. Obviously the idea of cleaning it up is completely foreign.
On reading the other reviews on here, it seems the problem has compounded in a few short years. How much longer are the authorities going to wait before this site is completely destroyed??
Date posted: September 2010 Claire (Australia): Just spent 2 nights/3 days on a junk in Halong Bay (April 2010), like some of your other reviews I to was shocked by the amount of pollution in this World Heritage area. The haze was described by the operators as mist and apparently is at its worst at this time of the year April/May. I would describe the 'mist' as smog and if the air quality in this area is as bad as the water quality in this beautiful area I would say this was a fair description. One of the days we visited a beach for a swim. The beach was so polluted by plastic bags, bottles, plastic bags filled with garbage and other flotsam and jetsam, there was no way that I would let my children swim in such polluted water. I found it amazing that the tour operator took us to this beach when it was in such a dirty state. My husband and I found it ironic that the operator didnt employ some locals to keep the beach clean - this could've been done at a minimal cost. Halong Bay needs to be cleaned up - on my return home I told people how beautiful the area is, but I also tell them about the pollution. Eventually tourists will be turned off and the main losers will be the tour operators and the locals who live in the floating fishing villages. Date posted: April 2010 huongnguyen (Vietnam):
Out of my expectation!
This was the first time I stay overnight on boat. It gave me a strange feelings, romantic and authentic...
Date posted: March 2009 Lopez Mr (USA): There is a best way to enjoy your cruising in halong bay that is renting a charter and sailing down to cua van (near cat ba island) and this is a place really great for swimming and stay overnight, of course only oneway that you have to rent a boat charter to make this special cruise trip,
My family of 4people from LA had stayed for 3days and was guided by the Vietnampathfinder Travel (www.vietnampathfinder.com) that office base in the florida ( their head office in hanoi) and i would say their quality is really outstanding,
I also have collected some information on Cua dai fishing village to share with you:
Cua Van Fishing Village
"Va Gia "– Cua Van is situated at Hung Thang Commune, Halong City, 20km away from the tourist boat wharf, the fishing village lies in a calm bay surrounded by mountain.
Characteristics: Cua Van Village has a population of 733 in 176 households. They mainly earn their livelihood by fishing.
This makes it ideal for anchoring boats here. Their floating houses look spacious and clean. The well-off families even have tiled roof houses with radios, television sets, tables and chairs, etc.
The village boasts a training establishment for their children. Over an area of 150m2 lies four classrooms and one small room for teachers. They are the first floating classrooms in Hạ Long. At present, Cua Van has 7 classes, mainly in grade 1 and grade 2. The youngest pupil is 8, while the oldest one is 17.
It is interesting to see the rambunctious children going to “school”. Their bustling calling and their flopping rowing liven up the atmosphere of the quite bay. Looking at the small boats driven by tiny oars going to school, and the radiant faces of the children, one feels confident in a bright future for the fishing village.
Thank you mr Tony Pham for makiing the best trip for us!
(You better click to see at www.vietnampathfinder.com)
Date posted: October 2008 Elisabeth Fransisca Situmorang (Indonesia):
It's a stunningly beautiful site. As I always love water, it gives the best out of the site. The changing of shade of colours from the sky as opposed to the bay... the rocks of different size and forms... the misty fog as I went along a 4 hours sail from the port to one of the islands, and not a second was wasted..
I call the place, where some peace of mind can still be found...
Date posted: August 2008 phamdinhnguyen (USA): The first time we visited Ha Long Bay was in February of 1999. We took a motorized, wooden boat from Hon Gai City all the way south to Cat Ba Island. The nearly 4-hour cruise afforded us visits to well-known caves and beaches that were prepared for commercial tourism. We were absolutely impressed by Ha Long Bay's unique and natural composition of over a thousand islands and islets. Though we encountered some floating merchants, we didn't observe any pollution from tour operators, merchants, or tourists.
Recently in late December 2007, we had another opportunity to revisit Ha Long Bay. This time we decided to take just a one day excursion. The bus ride from Ha Noi to Hon Gai City was on better conditioned highways. However, the experience wasn't any better, due to an excessive number of automobiles, scooters, and just bad traffic in general. What I observed were too many tour operators, too many motored boats of all sizes, and especially too many tourists crunched into such a small welcoming area. Speaking of "welcoming,” that was the feeling I least had when the bus dropped us off to board our boat. The feeling of pristine and wonder of nature was nowhere to be found until 5 minutes into the Ha Long Bay water. I was disappointed with the chaotic, unorganized, and unprofessional way of guiding visitors by the Ha Long Bay tour operators.
All in all, it wasn't the same good and memorable experience as it was 8 years ago :-(
Date posted: July 2008 Javier (Spain): Tai chi is known as the most graceful martial art, where the body functions smoothly and fluidly. It is a cleansing, meditative discipline, and best performed at dawn in a pristine environment. What better place to indulge in this ancient practice than on the deck of a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, Vietnam, surrounded by some of the most sublime scenery in the world?!
The sky is pastel pink, streaked with orange, softening to a duck-egg blue. The emerald sea mirrors the soaring limestone cliffs on the myriad of islands, mysterious grottos shrouded in the soft morning mist. A lone fisherwoman, debecked in a conical hat, rows her longboat towards a floating village, her morning’s work complete. It is a setting worthy of the gods.
But where is the co-ordination, the balance? A tai chi virgin, my feet feel like plodding size nines, my arms like leaden weights as I valiantly attempt to follow the master’s directions. “Your right arm is the eagle, your left is the cobra. Then sweep your right hand to your left, and bring them together like you are holding a soccer ball...” Only trouble is, my eagle is a seagull, my cobra a lizard and my ‘soccer’ resembles a watermelon. How do they make it look so easy?
Four hours later in the city of Hanoi, I am faced with an even greater test of co-ordination – the simple act of crossing the road. Once again, I am all hands and feet, limbs and brain totally out of whack. I step, I withdraw, I stumble. There is an art to this, and, like tai chi, I must learn from the masters.
The trick to crossing the road in Vietnam is not to look. No “look left, look right, look left again” – the old schoolyard adage will only leave you stranded permanently on the curb. The trick is to ignore your senses and every instinct – forget about the blasting horns, the motorbikes whooshing past, the sea of vehicles approaching – and simply step out into the fray in blind faith.
After a few false starts, I follow the lead of the locals, and simply walk. Straight. Across. I try not to look at the mayhem around me. I wince with every passing horn. But miraculously, the sea of traffic seems to part, as motorbikes, scooters, cyclos and bicycles anticipate my mission and make their way around me. I am just another obstacle on the road, one which they take in their stride. I make it safely to the other side and feel chuffed at the achievement.
Despite the apparent chaos on the roads, Hanoi is a physically easy city to encounter. The air is breathable, the noise bearable, the pollution minimal. The smell of baking bread, burning incense and fresh market produce permeates delightful alleyways, characterised by exotic Asian touches against a backdrop of French colonial splendour. Colourful shops, resplendent with silk, lanterns and lacquerware are a dangerous temptation, while culinary delights beckon in every direction.
Hanoi, capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, has emerged in the 21st century as a sophisticated, prosperous city, fuelled by foreign investment and a resurgence in tourism. But despite the overwhelming abundance of stylish coffee shops and designer jewellery, gift and clothing boutiques, the heart and soul of Hanoi is still the Old Quarter, with its lively alleyways selling everything from spices to gravestones.
Navigating the intricate maze of this 1000 year-old microcosm is a fascinating experience. Each street has its own specialty – the main drag, for instance, is Hang Gai or Silk Street, where you can buy everything from tailor-made ‘ao dai’s (the elegant traditional Vietnamese pantsuits – around US$25, whipped up in just a day) to scarves and silk sleeping bags. Across the road – if you can negotiate the crossing – you’ll find Tin Street, Lantern Street, rows of herb sellers, beautiful Vietnamese shoes… it really is a shopper’s paradise, if you don’t mind having to search for what you want.
For an overall perspective of the Old Quarter, it’s advisable to start your shopping expedition on a cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) – the drivers will take you on a loop of the main sights, allowing you to get your bearings and plan your attack. This leisurely view of the city also allows fantastic photo opportunities, as well as being a fun introduction to Vietnamese culture.
Dominating the streetscape of Hanoi are charming French colonial facades, the legacy of a 100 years of French rule. Above the ground-level shops soar three or four storey apartments with elegant balconies decorated with iron lace, distressed paintwork, plantation shutters and overflowing greenery; while on a grander scale, there is the magnificent Opera House and the classical white exterior of the Metropole Hotel, the smartest historic hotel in the city.
However, it is a building of a very different architecture style that has become the symbol of this northern city. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is a severe and imposing monument in true Soviet tradition, bleak and grey, surrounded by a vast, empty square. This building, which houses the body of Vietnam’s most beloved leader, has become a symbol of the national struggle for freedom. Locals consider it a place of pilgrimage, and often line up for hours to view the embalmed body of the great ‘Uncle Ho’, lying under lights with his peaceful, patrician expression on display for all eternity.
Foreigners keen to pay their respects are privileged with a separate (and faster) entry line to the locals. There is a strict code of conduct for anyone entering the mausoleum – no shorts, mini-skirts, hats or singlet tops, no photography, no hands in pockets and definitely no talking. Guards in crisp white uniforms are quick to chastise anyone breaking these rules, and the continuous line of visitors is ushered quickly past the embalmed body, with no opportunity to linger over the rather macabre sight.
Ironically, it was Ho’s request that he be cremated on his death, in keeping with his simple lifestyle. Proof of this is just a short walk from the mausoleum, where his charming wooden stilt house is located in parklands overlooking a peaceful lake. Ho lived here during the 10 years preceding his death, and it has been preserved exactly how he left it – with books, typewriter and traditional Vietnamese artefacts scattered around, the austerity and tastefulness standing in marked contrast to his final resting place.
Another peaceful enclave in bustling city surrounds is the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple dating back to 1070 AD. This was the country’s first university, a place of education for an elite minority lucky enough to be accepted into its hallowed halls. Students who achieved doctorates had their names displayed on 82 slabs set on the back of stone tortoises, which today are considered the most precious artefacts in the temple.
After a busy day shopping and sightseeing, there is no better way to recharge your batteries than in one of Hanoi’s fantastic restaurants and cafes. The culinary scene is varied, affordable and delectable, including traditional Vietnamese, French and international offerings. First-time visitors must try the Vietnamese staple, Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) – spicy, herby noodle soup, served freshly mixed with chilli and lemon – simply delicious! Less attractive to western tastes is another delicacy – Thit Cho, or dog. Only the very brave and unsentimental need apply – but by all accounts, this ‘festive’ meal, widely available in street stalls and roadside cafes, is gamey, flavoursome and fuels courage and strength.
More applicable to Australian tourists is a restaurant named Koto, which stands for ‘Know One, Teach One’. Started by ex-pat Aussie-Vietnamese Jimmy Pham, Koto trains street kids in the art of hospitality, taking them off the streets and giving them hope for the future. Jimmy’s philosophy is that if everyone helps one person who in turn helps another, then you’ve made a difference. His philanthropy and generosity has helped over 130 underprivileged teenagers turn their lives around during the restaurant’s four years of operation.
If the exquisite gastronomy of Vietnam tantilises your tastebuds, you may like to take the experience one step further at the Metropole Hotel’s Cooking School. A half-day course includes a visit to a local market to select fresh ingredients, followed by a cooking demonstration and lunch. Recipes include Vietnamese Spring Rolls, delicately wrapped in rice paper and served with fish sauce, chilli and papaya; grilled chicken skewers wrapped in lemon leaves; and marinated pork grilled in bamboo. Satisfaction, a full stomach and a new zest for experimentation in the kitchen are guaranteed!
While the parks, temples and pagodas are a pleasant diversion from Hanoi’s crazy traffic and bustling markets, true serenity is found further afield – at magical Halong Bay, 170 km east of Hanoi. With over 3000 islands rising up from clear emerald waters, this is truly a location worthy of its World Heritage listing, comparable in its beauty and mystery to Guilin or the limestone cliffs of Krabi. Most tourists choose at least an overnight boat-trip to experience the islands at their most captivating – at sunrise and sunset, when the calm waters mirror the soaring limestone outcrops.
According to legend, the islands, grottoes and cliffs were created by a giant dragon that lived in the mountains. As it ran towards the coast, its flailing tail carved out valleys and crevasses, which filled with water as the dragon plunged headlong into the sea. This creature is said to still inhabit the waters, a mythical beast known as the Tarasque, the local version of the Loch Ness Monster.
However, as our luxury steamer, The Emeraude, sat becalmed on the jewelled sea, it seemed impossible that any creature, great or small, could disturb the peace of this idyllic environment. A soft mist enveloped the fantastical rock formations; the glassy water was still, rippled only by the odd fishing boat setting off from colourful floating villages dotted along the shores of the islands. A cluster of red-sailed traditional junks, the overnight abode of backpackers and romantics, were moored across the bay, shining like lanterns in the morning sun. Grottoes, caves and beaches beckoned, to be explored at leisure in kayaks. And then there was the tai chi session on the top deck.
The Emeraude is a magnificent vessel, a replica paddlesteamer which encapsulates the traditions of seafaring of French Indochina. This is the most luxurious boat plying the bay, with comfortable air-conditioned cabins, first-class meals and gorgeous views from the canopied upper deck. Skippered by a gruff Aussie captain, it offers two day cruises of the Bay, including a visit to Sung Sot grotto and water activities including swimming off the back deck and kayak hire. This trip is not cheap, but it is certainly romantic and arguably the most comfortable way of experiencing this special place.
There is a popular saying: - “One has not been to Vietnam unless they’ve been to Halong Bay.” Combine that experience with a mouth-watering meal, a day exploring the markets of Old Hanoi, and the harmonious discipline of tai chi and you have a Vietnamese experience definitely worth savouring.
Date posted: September 2006 Philip T.K. (Canada):
I visited Ha Long Bay on a day trip from Hanoi in July 2004. It was very cloudy on the day I visited but the resulting mist made the islands in the distance very enchanting and I was able to take quite a few good shots from the boat I was on. Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam's premier destinations and as a son of Vietnamese immigrants, I am very proud of this world heritage site.
Date posted: June 2006 Phlip Thomas (Newzealand): We did a trip 2 week ago, this is one of the most beautiful on earch, our private overnight boat trip was fantastic with sunset and sunrise, caves visit, long cruise showed us some of hundreds very spectarcular islands and islets juting up from clear water. We recomended for whole travellers comming to Vietnam.
We booked this trip through internet and we went with: http://www.explorer.com.vn
Following is website of Ha Long Bay, which provides beautiful pictures and photo gallery of Halong.
Date posted: May 2006 Daniel (United States): We were in Vietnam in December, 2005. We did an overnight junk trip on Ha Long Bay and were thoroughly enchanted. Stunning scenery, and really quite a special place especially cruising through in the morning mist. We did not see any of the pollution that others have written about. We really felt like we were far from land-based civilization while we were out on the water. Date posted: April 2006 Deborah (USA): I have just returned from a trip to Vietnam which included 2 days on a traditional Vietnamese junk boat in Halong Bay. The site itself is breath-taking, but unfortunately, there is little respect for nature shown by those operating the tour boats. I repeatedly saw boat operators throw their garbage overboard into the waters. These are the people who survive on tourism and ought to care more about protecting the very site which is bring the tourists to them in bus-loads. It was sad to see this and I hope the government forces people to clean up their act.   Denys nguyen (Australia): To whom it may concern
I was real disappointed when I received this email from friend of mine. This is a part of her email she send me.
"We had an overnight trip to Halong Bay - with a half day boat cruise - the bay was beautiful but the terrible pollution was quite a shock - the boats just throw all their rubbish overboard resulting in us swimming among plastic bags etc. Also saw buckets floating around, cans, bags of rotting" food etc.
I know this issue had come up before and you tried to stop this pollution of bay by tell the government to clear up there act (literally). If they don't you would withdraw your found from your organisation. I think you have to raise this concern again and try a different direction or something. I don't know, but you as an organisation found can't let this continue.
After reading my friend's email, I had a second thought about visiting Halong Bay on my next holiday trip.
Thank you for your time to reading my concern and please let me know on how your progress going.
Have you been to Ha Long Bay? Share your experiences!