We are currently on our 28 day trip through Vietnam, and I just thought i’d give a quick update about our (very short) trip to Halong Bay, before the information gets lost a midst all that’s going on at the minute!
We couldn’t not visit Halong Bay when we were in Hanoi, even if it was just for a flying visit. Many travelers had warned us not to go to the city of Halong Bay itself as it’s ‘overrun with tourists’, and they recommend alternative places like Cat Ba Island.
However, we ignored this advice and headed straight for the ‘touristic’ area of Halong Bay as we were eager to get our road trip started, and we were just looking to do a quick tour of Halong Bay.
The town itself was surprisingly quiet with very little tourists around, maybe the reason is because we visited in low season, perhaps it’s a whole lot busier in the high season. We stayed at the ‘Alex Hotel‘ which I’d highly recommend.
We figured that a 4 hour trip was enough for us, we just wanted to see the bay, get some pictures and get on the road again.
There is a main strip down by the water that is heavily guarded by touts who are waiting to make a killing from unsuspected tourists by selling them basic tours at inflated prices.
Flor did the research and read many stories from travelers who warned of false companies, misleading information and crappy overpriced tours, so we were somewhat prepared to be conned in one way or another. A walk down the main strip gave us a quick introduction to the many touts who were waiting to pounce on us and make a healthy profit for themselves. We were offered tours in the range of $20 – $40, we thought it to be a little expensive considering it was just for a four hour boat trip, with no breakfast or extras included.
However, we were eager to see the bay as quick as we could so we took the four hour early morning tour for $20 with a company called ‘Timeless Charm.’
Son was the sales rep that sold us the tour, he showed us a picture of a lovely wooden boat that we would be traveling on, and he said that we would have to pay no extras and reinforced that all expenses were included in the $20.
Luckily we had done our homework, and we expected our boat to look nothing like the one in the picture, and we also expected to have to fork out more money during the four hour trip. And how right we were!
We ended up having to pay $8 each extra in total, $4 for the entrance fee to the National Park and $4 for the small boat ride around the bay. Not a lot of money, but I don’t see why they can’t just bundle the total cost in the initial price.
The boat we traveled on was more like a shack, and didn’t resemble the beautiful wooden one that we had been promised.
The trip itself consisted of three stops: * 30 minutes at a cave * 20 minute small boat ride around the bay * 15 minute stop at one of the floating villages Maybe it was because of the shitty tour we took, coupled with the freezing cold weather and grey sky, but we just didn’t enjoy our Halong Bay experience at all.
I have no doubt in my mind that we would have appreciated the landscape and enjoyed it a lot more had we went with a reputable tour company in the Summer months, when the weather is considerably more favorable for boat trips!
Halong Bay is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for very valid reasons, and I have seen so many stunning photos of the limestone formations in their true glory.
It’s just a pity that our visit to Halong Bay wasn’t as enjoyable or as memorable as it could have been.
But, there’s always next time!
Well, I don’t think I’d ever have the interest to head back to see Halong Bay again, unless it was during a really sunny day.
The weather couldn’t be helped, but the photos didn’t have the “punch” I was looking for in them.
Do you plan on visiting Halong Bay some day? If so, be sure to do extensive research into the various tour companies that are available, read other travelers reviews on them and take heed of their recommendations.