Ha Long Bay, is it worth visiting?
Ha Long Bay is one of the symbol of Vietnam. As I always heard my grandfather saying after he visited it in the 1940’s, it is the one of the most beautiful place on earth. The bay features thousands of limestones karts and isles which contrast with a intense green water colour (but nowhere as beautiful as the Fiji water). Although field with caves which are visible through kayaking on the Bay. It is a must see of tourist during their visit to the country and usual starting point is from Hanoi.
Pros and Cons to visit Ha Long Bay
The same eternal question remain among travellers, is it worth it to visit Ha Long Bay? It has to be said that what one day was an exclusive destination which has been added to UNESCO’s World heritage listing, is not longer the quintessential sleepy fishing villages experience. It had unfortunately became over the years and increased demand, an invitation for any kind of travellers to board a traditional Vietnamese junk-boat and explore the bay, it’s islands, caves, and floating villages. However it has to be noticed that Ha Long Bay offers a unique beauty with its karst, more than 1,600 islets and their limestone topped by thick jungle growth. Some of the islands are hollow, creating natural majestic caves which can be visited by kayaking or exploring. Some of the larger islands even have their own lakes. Unfortunately on the other side, the fast pace growing flow of tourist created an quick expansion of offer to answer demand which didn’t keep pace with safety regulations. This means that depending on which service you will decide to pay for you will get the corresponding service for very good or very bad.
Where to find a reliable cruise to Ha Long Bay?
In the city center of Hanoi, thousand of agencies offer tours packages from 60$ (from 1* or 2** options) to 150$ or more (from 3*** options). If you would like to book a tour just head up to Hang Buom street and you will be able to compare the different prices and packages.
2D/1N vs 3D/2N tours, how to choose?
This will depend on your budget, the season and obviously your will to discover Ha Long Bay. The and just have one kayak excursion. While the 3D/2N tour will give you the opportunity to stay and sleep either at Cat Ba or Monkey Islands which are the most popular for their fishing villages and trek on the islands. You can also start your tour from, or end your tour in Ninh Bihn.
What to expect in term or value for price and the main scam to avoid?
At the time of choosing your cruise, be careful and manage your expectations as if you go for the lower options, it will drastically reflect on the service you will get! We got a cheap option tour as it was Têt Festival and few operators were working. We took a 2D/1N tour. As it was February and still cold, cloudy weather we would have not appreciate Cat Ba or Monkey islands so much under this climate. We were quite disappointed by our visit as weather was not good and we could not appreciate the beauty of the Bay. However we believe that if the sun would have been there we would kept a better memory of it. Secondly we were extremely shocked and sad by the dirtiness of the water. When kayaking, it felt like being in a gigantic dump. Another important recommandation for you is to asked other people on the cruise with you how much they paid as you will be surprised to discover the differences!! We were supposed to get a 2** or 3*** cruise and the agency showed us quite modern new cabines on the boat. We were asked to pay 120$ per person as it was Têt Festival in Hanoi and prices were higher. However when we got to the boat we had the very bad surprise to discover that we had been sent to the lowest cruise (which had questionable safety facilities). Not only that, but talking with our travel companions we discovered everyone else had paid between 80$ to 90$ for the exact same trip. We got back to the agency after the cruise and after a pushy negotiation from our side finally got our money back.
In few words what to remember
To resume, the choice of visiting Ha Long Bay will remain to each one as it would be a personal decision. We didn’t have a great experience which doesn’t mean it can’t be a pleasant trip. We believe that under better circumstances with weather and travel service we would had appreciate it more. At the end Ha Long Bay has been listed to the UNESCO’s World heritage for a reason. Our only wish after our visit, would be for the Vietnamese Government to not let its Jewel dying and take measures to regulate uncontrolled Cruise Services and worrying increase of pollution.