A friend and I are travelling around Vietnam and Cambodia for a month In July / August (I know that's not ideal in terms of time but its all we could do) I have been reading lots and have already posted and had some wonderful advice regarding my itinerary but having read more I'm wondering if I'd be better going somewhere else and missing out Halong Bay?
From what I've read Halong City is a bit of a mess and I'm not a big fan of grotty touristy places but is it worth the dirty water and rip off merchants to see the bay? I'm travelling in wet season and I'm just not sure what to do for the best? What about going to Sapa?
OR should I just save my sea side time for Cambodia or even around Hoi An?
Sorry for the million questions and thanks in advance
#1 crazylegs has been a member since 16/5/2013. Posts: 4
The bay is nice but yes is fairly polluted, highly touristy and imo overrated.
I missed out on Sapa so not sure how it really compares.
My opinion on Halong Bay is if you haven't seen limestone karsts anywhere else and don't plan to see them then it is probably worth seeing. Or if you really want to sleep overnight on a junk boat then it is probably the only place you can do that.
Other places you can see limestone karsts include
Phong Nha-ke Bang national park by Dong Hoi in Vietnam, Paradise cave here is awesome as well.
Vang Vieng in Laos, I know there are karsts here but I didn't see them as I missed Vang Vieng due to sickness
Khao Sok National Park in Thailand, best karst scenery imo as the lake and jungle setting are beautiful
Phangnga bay and Krabi area in Thailand, didn't see but know they exist here as well
The key is deciding where your interests lay?
I couldn't care less about Karst Scenery, so the place holds zero interest for me. I'm not much of a nature guy. But if you are - well I'm sure you've seen the pics - might be a place you'd want to hit up. So nobody can really answer this for you, because only you know how interesting this kind of thing would be for you.
If it is a straight choice between Sapa and HB, then, as a Vietnam experience, Sapa wins hands down and I would choose it - while touristy, there is great food at the market, scenic treks, homestays and much more to see and do in the area.
By the same token, you don't want to short change Hoi An , especially if you plan on geting suits made up. In terms of ranking and if you are tight on time I would put Hanoi , Sapa and Hoi An all ahead of HB.
HB is nice, and if you have the time then I'd say do it. I think it would be a bit of a waste in bad weather though as the scenery would be seriously compromised - first thing on a bright sunny morning the views on the bay are splendid.
The best way to visit HB is on a trip from Hanoi (typically one or two nights) so, based on my experience, there is no need to go near Halong City.
As with most things in Vietnam, choose your operator carefully if you visit HB, as there have been some horror stories concerning boats breaking up on the water.
#4 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
Actually, when you first step in Ha Long Bay , you will feel a little bit disappointing, the sea water is dirty, no tourist can swim... But, If you spend a night in a cruise, it's a totally different story - clean blue water, nature and beauty limestone, you can visit the floating fishing village, do kayaking, see the dawn from the deck....buddy, It's totally a nice experience (2 days one night is enough) In terms of grotty, the grotty in the middle of country (Phong Nha - Ke Bang) is much more beauty than Ha Long Bay. To head Sapa, you need more time than to Ha Long as the above guys already describe Sapa, It's worth to Visit too. So carefully consider to make the choose. But neither you take Ha Long Bay or Sapa, it totally the worth trip!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask :)
Good choice, and enjoy your trip!
Ha Long Bay and Sapa are both well worth visiting. If I had to choose (having been to both just a couple of weeks ago), I'd say Sapa has more to offer. The scenery there is just amazing,with the mountains and the rice fields. Do a trek to a village with one of the village ladies that come to town every morning, have lunch at their house, rent a scooter and ride around, even the town is nice to just relax and have coffee. Ha Long Bay is not THAT spectacular, though I think it all comes down to the people you are with. I'd say definitely go to Cat Ba Island if you go to the bay. It is beautiful there, catch a sunset from the top of a mountain, go rockclimbing and kayaking, and you will have loads of fun. The tourist boat trip is actually really nice, the boats are totally quite, so you just ride along on the water, watching the beautiful karsts.. Like someone already said, you may have seen similar scenery in other places. I have as well, but I'm really glad I went, it was a great trip. Sapa stole my heart though!