Halong Amazes (but for how long?)

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Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places on earth. So it is a shame it is ruined by tourists. Being two of those tourists we were both delighted to be there and sad to be contributing to the many problems in the area – mainly due to pollution from the boats and rubbish from the visitors.

Bays and boats

The best way to see Halong Bay is to take a two or three-day boat tour. Being time-rich (but money-poor) we chose the three-day option and went in search of the best deal. To do this we had to navigate our way through the many tour companies based in Hanoi that all seem to offer the same experience.

The internet is awash with stories of these companies ripping off tourists who pay for a luxury tour and end up crammed on a boat with a bunch of 18-year olds, invariably drinking beer and ignoring their surroundings, and then being taken to half the places promised by the agency.

It used to be the case that you could go to a reputable tour company called Sinh Cafe and be guaranteed a great experience. But the locals soon caught on to Sinh Cafe’s dominance and started launching their own companies using the same name. The lack of intellectual property rights in Vietnam meant that they could do this with no repercussions. There are now at least three Sinh Cafes on every street in Old Hanoi and there must be over 50 in all. Only two of these are the real thing. We soon realised that steering a course through these dodgy waters would be no easy task.

Luckily our hotel owner in Hanoi was a man we felt we could trust. He recommended a company and, although it was a bit more expensive than some of the others, we went with it to avoid the same fate as many other travellers we met who had been stung by broken Bay promises.

Enjoying the view

We are glad we did as our boat turned out to be extremely large and clean and there were only nine of us on it, when it could easily fit 16. There were lots of other boats in the harbour as we set off and we wondered what it would be like in peak season (we were there in low season). We were extremely lucky with the weather, which was pretty much boiling hot throughout and we enjoyed our visit to this beautiful area of the world.

Night time on deck

Day time on deck

Our tour included an excursion through a rather large and very impressive cave on one of the many huge rock formations that protrude from the bay and a kayaking trip around these islands.

But the best bit was on the second day when we managed to escape the throng of other tourist boats in the area and for a couple of blissful hours it felt as though we had Halong Bay to ourselves. This was followed by an amazing bike ride through one of the less populated islands in the area and a mini-trek to more caves filled with hundreds of bats.

Island biking


We cycled through rice paddies

And found our way to the batcave!

Yet on the way back it was hard again to ignore the rubbish in the sea and the fumes from the boats.  We really hope that the local authorities can find some way to control some of the poor practices that permeate the tourist companies in the area. Our trip to the Whitsundays proved that it is possible to have a popular boating destination without it being ruined by tourists. We just hope that the Vietnamese realise this before they ruin one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

Boat jam

But the bay is beautiful

The locals call these the Madonna rocks (think about it...)

The bay really is beautiful

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2 Responses to “Halong Amazes (but for how long?)”

  1. cynthia cutler Says:

    Well I know what you are talking about. I have been there and took a boat ride round the bay. It really is asmazing. Know what you say about tourists but the vietnamise are so friendy.

    Glad you did not get ripped off.

  2. bruce wayne Says:

    BATS i love bats

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