I'm heading to Vietnam in a few months and though I'll be there for three weeks, I wonder whether I should spend time doing the Halong Bay circuit. Based on what I've read and seen, the whole place seems like a big tourism driven dog-and-pony show. I'm not so keen on traveling all the way to Vietnam just to end up with a boat full of drunken tourists.
So what do you think? Is it worth it or should I look the other way?
#1 sdevlin has been a member since 20/2/2009. Posts: 2
I had the same concern as you sdevlin, but it was a great trip. The road trip isn't much fun, and its a zoo at the port during changover time. I'd suggest you book on one of the smaller boats which helps avoid the "party boat" scene. After leaving port we hardly saw other boats except at the obligatory cave visit. The scenery is amazing for sure (I have a few photos at http://www.noexpectations.com.au/galleries/ha-long-bay-march-2007 if that helps).
#3 kipcole9 has been a member since 5/3/2009. Posts: 4
We did the HaLong bay thing two years ago and I would reccomend it. It's fun. Yes its a tourist trap but damn they do it well.
we booked through Tonkin Travel in Hanoi and had a car take us up there and the driver to help with the absolute chaos at the dock. we then spent 2 days on a smaller but very comfortable junk wit 3 other couples. And no one spoke any english!!
And the food served on these junks is amazing. We had 9 courses at every sitting.
I just did Ha Long for the first time and it was very nice. We did it in a sort of 'do it yourself' way and I'm glad we did. My suggestion, if you want to avoid the "tourism driven dog and pony show" (ha!) is not to book anything that's been pre-packaged in Hanoi .
We went to the Gia Lam bus station in Hanoi and easily found a 60,000 dong ride to Ha Long City, where we stayed for the night and asked around a bit. We ended up booking a one way jaunt on a tour boat to the island for 200,000 dong, which lasted nearly a whole day and gave us the whole tour boat experience. It was great; stunning views of the bay and a fine seafood lunch, but we weren't stuck on the boat for the night. To me, unless you just want to do it for the novelty of sleeping on the boat, spending the night on the bay would seem rather boring and expensive (soda was 25,000 dong, beer 30,000, and not included in tour cost). The price of the boat ride also included a bus ride to the hotel area at the north of Cat Ba Island, where we stayed for 2 nights. The island is relaxing and a fun place to explore on motorbike. Finally, the night before we wanted to leave, we easily booked a return trip on a tour boat again, this time for 150,000. Just ask around at the guesthouses. On the way back, we got to see a floating village, and upon our return we found another easy ride on a tour bus back to Hanoi for 100,000 dong, which dropped us off directly at our guesthouse of choice.
In sum, Ha Long is a tourist trap, but it is beautiful, and you defenitely don't have to jump fully on the pony line to enjoy it.