Some Real Questions About Halong Bay
10th April, 2006
I've been trying to find out some info about touring Halong Bay when I visit Vietnam in October. I thought staying on one of those junks would be cool but the prices I found on line ranged from "too good to be true" to "too much to handle". I don't need to stay in luxury but I don't want to sleep in a leaky barge either.
What is a standard price for a comfortable and fun 2 day tour to Halong Bay? Can anyone reccomend a good tour company or agent in Hanoi for this?
Is it going to be bloody cold in early October?
#1 Posted: 6/7/2006 - 22:30
The Ha Long bay tour thing is a real minefield and difficult to give a recommendation on as we've not done one ourselves in yonks.
There are two main problems which weave in nicely to create a nightmare scenario for shoppers -- the two problems are dodgy operators and unrealistic expectations from tourists.
Consider the following when you're pricing the tours;
It takes three to four hours to drive from Hanoi to the piers at Ha Long city.
There's junks and there's junks and there's junks -- no two junks are alike.
To sleep on the boat will cost more
To have a "deluxe room" will cost more
To kayak will cost more
Now there are operators in Hanoi offering one day Ha Long Bay trips for as little as US$15 per person, who promise "small groups" seafood banquets, luxury junks etc but it's rare that all (if any) of these benefits arise.
It used to be the case that the pricey operators were a safe bet, but now dodgy operators offer more expensive "deluxe" options but then deliver rubbish.
Most complaints come from people who have used operators that charge around $40 or less per person per day.
Operators we've heard good reports from include:
though bear in mind we have not used either of the above -- for a two night, three day tour, expect to be paying around US$100-150 per person.
Also, be wary of going into one of the above and being told they also have "cheaper" options -- these will generaly result in you being shifted off to another operator and you end up with the same crappy services.
Watch out for imitators -- handspun, handspans and handspanned were all agents I saw in Hanoi that were trying to rip off Handspan tours.
Lastly, if you don't book in advance, ask travellers on the ground fora recommendation.
Sorry can't be of more help -- its unfortunate that one of the highlights of a trip to Vietnam has been so comprehensively screwed up by corrupt officials and dodgy operators.
Also, please report back with your experience-- will be helpful for others.
#2 Posted: 7/7/2006 - 07:47
3rd July, 2006
Hi there. I couldn't agree more with Somtam's comments. There are zillions of agents promising you the sky, but quality is often poor (even on the most expensive tours) and unreliable (today it's good, tomorrow crap). Handspan Travel or ODC Travel are usually ok. Handspan is not really cheap anymore, but one of the most professional and successful operators. ODC is one of the better cheaper options. But again, no promises ! Another option is to take a public bus out of Gia Lam busstation for 2 USD to Halong (4 hours) and shop around there. Usually Mr Zdung in Halong (0084 91 3370712) is quite reliable. Another problem however is the honesty of the boat crew. They spend 30 days a month on the boat for small wages (31 USD a month) and don't get their share of the food you eat on board. So drinks are often overprized, they try to sell lots of souvenirs at crazy prices, slow down and cut angles to save petrol and another reoccurring problem is theft. Quite a few passengers have seen money disappear from their wallets when sleaping, sunbathing or swimming. Alternatively head for the non-touristy but equally impressive Bai Tu Long Bay, sleep on Van Don Island and take daytrips from there. You might spend a couple of nights on the beautiful beach at Quan Lan island. I'm personally not a big fan of Cat Ba Island.
#3 Posted: 7/7/2006 - 09:19
31st May, 2006
Total reviews: 4
is halong really a must?as rene hanoi metioned, opt for bai to long-fewer tourists means almost no hassle. if it has to be halong shop around there, avoid hanoi. ask fellow-travellers-they always know best!
#4 Posted: 7/7/2006 - 15:49
10th April, 2006
This is exactly why I love Travelfish! Ask a question and in a few days get some informative and intelligent answers.
I think I will play it by ear when I actually get to Vietnam. I intend to hang around Hanoi for a few days first so I will ask some of my fellow travellers. If all else fails I will try ODC.
#5 Posted: 8/7/2006 - 11:36
30th June, 2006
Total reviews: 12
Quality is often poor, & the organisation is probably the worst I've ever seen! These people couldn't organise a pi** up in a brewery. Generally whoever you book the trip with only acts as an agent. You'll probably get picked up by another company, who then hands you over to somebody else in Halong Bay.
I thought Halong Bay was stunning, but the trip turned into a scary nightmare. We were supposed to dock at Cat Bar island for the night, but got stranded in the middle of bay, as thick fog emerged at sun down. The boat couldn't see where it was going, so the crew decided to anchor in the middle of the bay for the night. There was no raidar or radio to let anyone know where we were. There were people on the boat who were supposed to stay at Cat Bar Island, but ended up sleeping on benches on the boat. There was only enough food for those who were staying the night on the boat. The next day we were supposed to go swimming, visit some islands etc. Nothing happened, I think to be honest people just wanted to get off the boat ASAP due to this fiasco, some people got pretty scared! There were no apologies made or any form of compensation (not that I expected any)
Just bare in mind that Halong Bay is very touristy, but still very beautiful! Don't expect much if you're pay $40 or under for a 2 day trip. I think it's luck of the draw whether you'll get a nice boat, good food, small groups etc.
#6 Posted: 14/7/2006 - 18:10
19th March, 2006
Listen carefully to all that has been said! I was there in June and paid around $40 for a three day trip. It was booked through a fake Sinh Travel and operated by AST Travel. The 3-4 hour ride was in a van crammed with people, the boat seemed decent enough but at night they docked next to a sister boat that partied all night, and there were rats squealing and fighting above our heads. A guy from the sister boat had a flood in his room so slept on our deck. The first day was ok with some swimming and kayaking and the caves, and the hike on Cat Ba the second day was great, but that was the end of anything else expected on the tour. The hotel on Cat Ba was not the decent one shown, but a crummy one across the street, and the last day we did not stop at a village as expected, only got to go swimming for about 20 minutes (after begging), and were back in Halong City for lunch at 10:15am! It is possible that someone's money and plane tickets were stolen on the boat. Although the tour itself was poor, I did meet some nice travelers on the trip and Halong Bay itself is beautiful...just be careful of how you pursue experiencing it! Oh! The day after I returned to Hanoi I heard that a junk had sunk and someone had died :(
#7 Posted: 4/8/2006 - 12:42
10th July, 2006
Total reviews: 3
I did the 'Ocean Tours' 2 day package when I was in Hanoi 2 weeks ago. It is the package sold by the Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel.
At $50 for 2 days or $75 for 3 days it probably isn't the cheapest package but it does come with -
- Really really nice staff with an adequate command of English
- Comfortable bus transfers from Hanoi
- Amazing meals on the boat
- Guided cave visit
- Swimming in a relatively clean patch of water (it never gets THAT clean in Halong bay)
- Air conditioned cabin on the boat
- 2 hour guided Kayak
- Customer comments form to fill out on the way home (really!)
My only complaints on the form were that:-
(1) drinks on the boat were expensive, like a small can of beer was 20,000 dong (ie $1.30) and a bottle of water 15,000.
(2) Life jackets weren't handed out for the kayaking, although the guide decided to wear one himself. Ask for a life jacket if you want one and aren't offered one.
Other than that, its strongly recommended. Ocean Tours really run the trips themselves - the buses and the Kayaks all displayed their logo. No dodgy re-selling. Apart from the backpackers' hostel you can book at their office in the old quarter. As with all operators in Vietnam, beware of copycat soundalikes.
#8 Posted: 20/8/2006 - 22:20
6th August, 2006
I agree with pauljaymes and recommend Ocean Tours - I went to Halong Bay with them in April this year and completely agree with all Paul's comments on the quality of the tour.
#9 Posted: 21/8/2006 - 03:31
29th August, 2006
I would recommend Ocean Tours also. I went with it because of the reviews that I read here.
I did the 3 day tour. The junk was in good condition and the food was nice. The staff were all friendly and the tour guide was good.
The best part (only applicable to the 3 day tour) is that they have their own island rather than staying at Cat Ba and the bungalows on the beach are really nice and it is really peacful as only the group you are with are on the beach.
It cost $75 but that price is going to go up to $95 as they are relatively new and this is a promotional offer.
#10 Posted: 6/10/2006 - 09:48
17th October, 2006
I've booked with Et Pumpkin (two days, sleep on boat) for the first half of November. Anyone has any experience with this agency; sofar the information I received is OK.
Second question is: will the weather (generally spoken) be OK for swimming in this time of year?
#11 Posted: 17/10/2006 - 17:20
Ok the Ha Long bay stories are now on the site - what began as a brief story has exploded into a five part series! There's a lot to read -- but we hope you find it of use.
The first Ha Long Bay story is here, and there's links within it to the others.
#12 Posted: 29/10/2006 - 17:25
9th October, 2006
Total reviews: 3
Halong Bay 3-day trip with Ocean Tours
We have just returned from this trip and I thought I would add my opinions. The boat was good quality, the rooms fine and quiet. The food was plentiful and good quality and the guide was friendly with reasonable English. You kayak in the Hidden cave and visit the Amazing/Surprsing cave. Plus you can kayak at the island - the stay here makes the whole trip more than worth it over other tours as Cat Ba looks a bit grotty from a distance. The island is so lovely we stayed an extra day there ($42). The price in November is $95 but it will go up to $115 in the new year. But... if you want to cycle back over Cat Ba Island you must have three people at least. We paid to do this ($20 extra) and then couldn't because there weren't enough people. Also don't try and do anything off-schedule, one couple paid $100 to have a private boat and guide to take them to the pearl farms and when they got there they weren't allowed in. They got 50% back with a fight but were dissapointed understandably. Numbers vary a lot, we had 10 people of which 7 did 3 days, the day before was fully boooked and the next day there were only three people. Our group was great and everyone got on well. Drinks are more on the boat - 20,000 for a Tiger, 15,000 for Hanoi beer, 10,000 for soft drinks but if you buy them beforehand you will be charged 5,000 for every can you open in the dining area - hence we all drank in the dark on the roof! On the kayaking no lifejackets were offered and the guide didn't watch the group very well but there are lifejackets on the island. Take a kayak round the corner of the island and there is another beach that catches the sun in the afternoon.
Hope some of that is helpful if you are thinking of using them. There's always a bit of bullshit involved but all in all we had a great time and it is totally relaxing.
#13 Posted: 3/11/2006 - 17:53
14th July, 2006
Oww, ow, ooh, ooh, I wish I had read this sooner. We just got burned when we signed on for the Halong Bay tour with our hotel, and then we realized that the hotel had lied to us big time. Then I read this, and we decided to cancel that tour and went with Sunshine (the real one). Yeah, we moved hotels too.
We leave day after tomorrow, and even though we lost money by canceling, I'm glad we did, because I know this will be better. After all, we have our kids with us. We chose the midpriced tour.
Incidently, the agency we canceled had the name "Sinh" in their name, but the real one is not located in the north VN. I never knew I could be so green, but Hanoi is a minefield of dishonest tour operators, and the fun begins the second you get off the plane and into a taxi. You cannot travel here without a guidebook.
#14 Posted: 24/3/2007 - 18:30
30th March, 2007
Does anyone know where exaclty the Ocean Tours offices are in Hanoi? Someone mentioned there are locations in the Old Quarter and at the Hanoi Backpacker's Hostel but does anyone have an address? I can't seem to find anything online.
#15 Posted: 31/3/2007 - 01:16
17th April, 2007
Total reviews: 2
I suggest you read this very informative comparison of Halong Bay tours:
#16 Posted: 17/4/2007 - 01:37
19th December, 2005
Total reviews: 9
We went with Handspan for US$100 twin share. An expensive part of an otherwise frugal trip but totally worth it. The boat was brilliant, the cabins were really comfortable, the food was indescribable - some of the best we ate in Vietnam and there was about 7 courses for lunch and 9 for dinner. Also Handspan itself was really organised and professional, which is highly unusual for a Vietnamese travel agency.
I have also seen a magazine article on the Emeraude and it looks extraordinary.
#17 Posted: 18/4/2007 - 08:21
24th September, 2007
Ocean Tours website
Add: 22 Hang Bac Str.,
Hanoi - Vietnam
Tel : +84. 4. 926 0463
Fax : +84. 4. 926 05 02
#18 Posted: 23/10/2007 - 11:47
18th May, 2008
I am planning to book a tour 2 Day 1 Night with Sinhcafe over at their Hanoi Branch. Its stated on their website saying it only cost US$34.30 which include AC bus, boat trip , guide, meals, entrance fees, accommodation.
Note: $6/per is added for air conditioned or single room
This is their Itinery:
Day 1: Ha Long - Cat Ba
AM: 7h30 Depart for Halong. Arrive at 11h30, lunch at restaurant.
- (Big gourp) then talking cruising boat to visit THIEN CUNG & DAU GO caves, continuing 03 hrs cruising to CAT BA island, check in and have dinner. Free time.
- (Small group) Boat trip to Cat Ba island, on the way visit SUNGSOT caves, Check in and have dinner. Free time.
Day 2: Cat Ba - Ha Long - Ha Noi
AM: Boat trip back to Ha Long Bay, lunch.
PM: Return to Ha Noi. Arrive Ha Noi about 17:00
Do you think this is a good tour? Enough to cover the essential of Halong Bay and surroundings?
#19 Posted: 18/5/2008 - 09:55
9th April, 2009
hi all - just thought i'd add my opinion on the ha long bay tours.
i live in hanoi and have done quite a few of these trips with friends that have come to visit. we've usually booked through budget places and had mixed results - it's a bit of a lucky dip in terms of service/boats/food/inclusions/drink prices etc.
this time round we decided to go for a mid-range trip and were very happy with the outcome. we booked it through a company in hanoi called 'columbus' (http://www.columbuscruise.com/) - their boat is called the pinta, which, they told us, they own. the trip cost $97 for a 2 day / 1 night tour and was really, really good value. excellent food and service on board, the boat itself is very nice - great rooms, nice dining area etc. drinks were pretty reasonable as well ($1.50 for beers, not sure about the wine though).
highlight of the tour had to be the kayaking trip on the second morning. really good fun. we went through caves and paddled up to a floating village and stopped for a chat with the locals (guide was translating for us obviously). got some great photos here.
the weather was crap (march) but you can't help that.
another thing worth mentioning about this company is the transport. every other trip i've done out to halong has involved a 3-4 hour ride in a van packed with luggage and people. not so this time. there was only 17 of us in the van, and we all had plenty of space. still don't know how those drivers cope with the road out there though!
#20 Posted: 9/4/2009 - 13:40
14th August, 2009
the last post looks a little suspect to me. english grammer not great, brand new poster and (i know like me) posting from within vietnam. im just saying, just my 1st thought.
Previous post has been deleted -- thanks
im in hanoi at moment and went to both odc and handspan and didnt end up booking with either. not going to say who i booked with yet as i will leave a report in a few days
#21 Posted: 26/9/2009 - 21:25
16th June, 2009
And I echo Splashmore's comments with respect to the last post. Sorry to the OP if it is genuine, but a user with 2 posts posting from Vietnam plugging a travel agency using poor grammer and with nothing about thier actual experiences? Looks a bit suspicious.
#22 Posted: 3/11/2009 - 17:20
18th July, 2009
Okay, I am now really confused about Halong Bay trips........... I want a junk with no more than 20 people, do not want to spend time transferring from one boat to another, want to do two nights three days, it takes my fancy to do tai chi in the morning and fishing or something else in the evening, any suggestions?
#23 Posted: 19/11/2009 - 18:23
19th October, 2009
Ha Long Bay is making my head spin already - and I'm still in NY.
Should be in Hanoi on the 23rd and heading to Ha Long Bay shortly.
After wading through plenty of murky posts I think it's down to either doing it ourselves (my girl and I), or going with betny's suggestion:
"I went on the Hanoi Backpacker's Hostel 3-day trip, and it was fantastic. It was $89.50..."
I'll try to grab the recommended guide, AJ, for the tour.
Will report back ... real soon
P.S. If anyone wants to link up around that time with two chill twenty somethings don't be shy!
#24 Posted: 29/11/2009 - 02:52
29th January, 2009
has anybody had a good day trip to Halong bay and can recommend a company. Unfortunately we only have a day free to go.
#25 Posted: 29/11/2009 - 17:38
25th September, 2009
I want to add my recommendations for Columbus Cruises http://www.columbuscruise.com.
We had a spacious minibus trip down to Ha Long bay with only 12 of us, all luggage was stowed at the front with the tour guide.
The boat was great with wet towel and fruit cocktail being offered by waiters each time we returned to the boat.
I was a little dismayed at the shear number of cruise boats waiting to pick up passengers when we arrived and this number didn't disperse much when we anchored for a cave visit. However despite being in a bit of a queue for the cave our tour guide didn't rush us through and we soon found it had thinned out and we could look around much more.
As we motored on for our evening resting spot the crowds thinned out though and we felt more isolated with only 3/4 boats in view come morning.
The food we had on board was great, although a complaint I heard was they fed us too much. We had plenty of course covering different types of food and they also catered for one of our group who doesn't eat some shell fish.
The cabin was great, I didn't need air-con being Nov but it was available. Cabins had windows on side of boat so we could enjoy the view and shower with toiletries were provided. A nice touch, but a bit wasted on me travelling as a single, were the rose petals scattered in a heart shape on the bed.
My highlight had to be the kayaking where we went through a couple of tunnels and into a cave. We were also able to spot wild monkey's on the kayaking trip but don't think Columbus actually organised that :)
When we returned to Ha Noi as I was flying out later that evening I declined a lift to my hotel however they offered a complimentary car to the airport for.
Looking at the prices mentioned here they are not the cheapest outfit available but I thought they were excellent value. I was very nervous of the trip to Ha Long Bay given the negative reviews however I had a magical time and fully recommend Columbus.
#26 Posted: 15/12/2009 - 07:42
22nd December, 2009
Short but lovely review, Daw. I am planning to take a cruise to Halong overnight in January 4. So I'm very glad to hear that January is the middle of the Dry Season. Also I read a lot good reviews about Columbus travel and their Pinta Gold, I at first just intend to 2 day 1 night cruising but now I am considering about a 2 night 3 day with the extra time spent on the beach with a BBQ meal returning to the boat for dinner.
#27 Posted: 28/12/2009 - 09:56
20th January, 2010
Total reviews: 9
I saw that you checked out my full, itinerary, and photos of my recent Halong Bay cruise, and thanks for the comment. It's here in case anyone else is interested:
To answer these questions, the bay itself seems to be dead still. There wasn't even the slightest rocking while cruising or anchored at night.
There was an A/C unit in my cabin so I imagine that's pretty standard, at least on the nicer ships.
As I mention in that article, I paid US$68 which included a US$15 single supplement for a private room. When I researched on the web I found prices for 3-star cruises to be close to $100 per person, but once in Hanoi I was getting quotes closer to $60 per person for the nicer cruises, assuming you are sharing a cabin. If price is an issue then I think you can do a lot better once in Hanoi. And for what it's worth, I was very satisfied with Cristina Cruises just a few weeks ago.
#28 Posted: 11/3/2010 - 22:38
9th March, 2010
Thanks for reply and all the good-to-know tidbits. Frankly, I'm getting info overload from all the surfing and I'm reduced to indecisiveness. :). Thing is, we are only 5 short days in N. Vn, so we cannot afford the time to go tour shopping - I think. Question: Is it cheaper to sign direct to cruise company, or cheaper to go through ground tour agent? Also, mind if I ask about Sapa? Have also got tons of info on that. But based on your experience, would you advise a middle aged cautiously adventurous couple to go on their own, or to sign on a tour package? Thanks!
#29 Posted: 12/3/2010 - 09:38
20th January, 2010
Total reviews: 9
For booking your Halong cruise in Hanoi you'll have your choice between a couple hundred stand-alone travel agencies, or the travel agency in your hotel. I don't know if you even can book through the cruise company unless the travel agency actually owns its own boats.
As I mention in that article, it seems most people recommend booking through a stand-alone agency, but I actually booked through my hotel (the Prince II), partly since they actually quoted me a slightly lower price for the same exact cruise, and partly because I loved the hotel and its service so I'd rather throw them a bone with the commission instead of an agency full of people I've never met and will never see again.
I'm quite confident that you can book the cruise once you arrive in Hanoi, as there seems to be hundreds of boats in the bay and they are probably never all full.
The Sapa thing might be a bit tricky with your time frame. Trains here seem to sell out a day or two or three in advance, at least at busy times, so booking your Sapa trip once you get here runs a risk of not getting one of the better sleeper carriages on the day you want to go. The private cars are definitely nicer than the ones owned by the railway, and to me it was worth $25 instead of $17 for a reasonably comfortable bottom bunk in a 4-bunk cabin.
Doing the Sapa trip from Hanoi is very easy (I'm 45 and traveling alone, by the way). You buy a ticket for a bunk on the train, which goes directly from Hanoi to Lao Cai, and once you arrive you'll have offers from at least a dozen drivers with minibuses headed to Sapa. I reserved a room at the wonderful Cat Cat View Hotel ahead of time, and right on their reservation form they ask if you want to be picked up at the train station. I chose that option and there was someone holding a sign with my name on it waiting for me, and it only cost 30,000-dong (about US$1.60) each way.
Once you get to Sapa it's the same kind of thing, with loads of travel agencies in addition to the one at your hotel, and they all offer the same trips and outings at similar prices.
#30 Posted: 12/3/2010 - 12:29
31st December, 2007
Location New Zealand
Total reviews: 14
At least 106
That would be a pity if Columbus have gone down the gurgler. I just checked their website but there is not reference to them closing down. I would suggest you just drop them an email and see what they say. (I found when dealing with them a year ago that they were very prompt responding to emails.)
#31 Posted: 9/1/2011 - 07:35
12th April, 2011
We did a Handspan 1 night tour which was over $100 per person, but was very impressive. The food was delicious and the boat was luxurious.
#32 Posted: 12/4/2011 - 20:18
Just a quick note that I've deleted a bunch of posts in this thread, either because they were old and not relevant or are highly likely to have been fake messages placed by shyster travel agents.
#33 Posted: 24/5/2011 - 11:35
25th September, 2009
errr so which category do I fit into Irrelevant or Fake?
#34 Posted: 24/5/2011 - 11:50
12th April, 2011
I'm wondering the same thing, daw...
#35 Posted: 24/5/2011 - 11:56
Since you asked:
David, you've made eights posts in total, all on this thread, all covering a single Ha Long Bay tour operator (across two trips by the sound of it). The operator in question has been spamming TF with fake Q&A ("Can someone recommend a good operator, I've heard X is awesome") persistently. That you have no interaction with the site other than this thread is the red flag. I've reinstated the original post.
ozjohn - four posts in total, one here for a Ha Long operator, one on the tuk tuk thread, which is Cambodia's equivalent of the Ha Long thread for touts -- I'd have deleted if I'd noticed it as it was your first post -- see the OP on that thread for an explanation of why.
#36 Posted: 24/5/2011 - 12:31
31st August, 2011
Does anyone know Ocean Star Tour? they offered us a 45 $ tour for 2days/1night in Halong Bay and 95 $ for Sapa...what do you think?
#37 Posted: 31/8/2011 - 01:02
1st October, 2013
Hi, Has anyone had any recent expereinces with tours in Halong Bay?
Are Handspan OR Ocean Tours still the same prices or reliable as earlier posts mentioned?
#38 Posted: 1/10/2013 - 17:30
11th September, 2009
Total reviews: 2
I did day tours twice with the real Sinh Tourist. Everything was perfectly adequate. Three hour bus ride, the boat ride, kayaking, caves swimming, finished about five, back to Hanoi by eight. Good fun good value.
#39 Posted: 2/10/2013 - 07:07
20th November, 2011
We went with ODC Travels to Ha long bay this time last year and we couldn't fault them. did the two nights stay on the boat and were treated great and with respect. The food was brilliant and all the service came with a jovial smile and banter. We were lucky enough to have an 8 birth boat to ourselves for the first night and the second night was full but thankfully the other guests were as quiet as we were and it was good to meet some like minded travellers.
#40 Posted: 2/10/2013 - 09:08
14th November, 2013
I will be going to ha long bay in January 2014. And we will be doing so as cheaply as we can .... Take the train from hanoi to Haiphong for$6 then the ferry to cat ba island 80,000
Dong then we can stay in a guest house for as little as $6 per nt and take day trips out to the bay for another $15, it's just another alternative, any thoughts?
#41 Posted: 14/11/2013 - 12:52
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