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Visiting Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Updated on June 22, 2013
Iammattdoran profile image

Matt is an avid traveller and self-confessed 'man of the world'. He is passionate about his home city, Manchester, and about travelling.

What is Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, situated off the Northeastern coast of Vietnam has an area of over 1,500 square kilometres. The Ha Long Bay area and features 1969 islets, the majority of which are limestone and also uninhabited. The number 1969 is easy to remember for the Vietnamese as this is the same year that their great leader, Ho Chi Minh died. As there are far too many to count, I'm happy to take their word for it even if it does seem like quite the coincidence.

Ha Long Bay Map

A markerhalong bay -
Ha Long Natural heritage, Vietnam
get directions

Old Junks of Ha Long Bay

How the Ha Long Bay junks used to look
How the Ha Long Bay junks used to look | Source

Ha Long Bay Junks

Anyone who is familiar with Ha Long Bay or who has seen images of Ha Long Bay will most likely have seen something like this image to right. Glorious brown junk ships cruising around in isolation zig-zagging their way around the hundreds of karst peaks. Whilst the zig-zagging part is still accurate the actual image is likely to shatter the illusion somewhat. The Ha Long Bay Junks are no longer brown, even though all the publicity material still shows them as such. Indeed, a couple of years ago a government official clearly trying to make a name for himself had obviously been looking at harbours around the world and was taken with the image of white yachts. He decreed, to the huge opposition of Ha Long Bay tour operators, that all boats operating in Ha Long Bay should be painted a specific shade of white, or more specifically off-white. The result has left a lot of people disappointed, not only because the boats aren't as envisaged or indeed as marketed, but also because they simply don't look very good and devalue the whole Ha Long Bay experience in some peoples eyes. The paint is peeling off many of the boats making them look cheap and untidy, something that I'm sure the old brown boats did a better job of hiding.

The Crusie Boats of Ha Long Bay

How the Ha Long Bay boats look today
How the Ha Long Bay boats look today | Source

However, a visit to Ha Long Bay isn't all about the aesthetics of the boat you're on, after-all you'll be on it so you don't have to look at it. You will, however have to look at the hundreds of other boats plying the same route but we'll skip over that for now.

Floating House at Ha Long Bay

Floating House at Ha Long Bay
Floating House at Ha Long Bay | Source

Ha Long Bay Cruises

Most people who visit the Ha Long Bay area take a Ha Long Bay tour on a boat which covers a number of points of interest around the Ha Long Bay area as part of a 2 day / 1 night package. Personally I think this is the right length of time for a Ha Long Bay cruise. Some people opt to stay for 2 nights but unless there is a specific activity planned such as spending one of the nights having dinner in the cave at Ha Long Bay, there can be too much free time with not enough to do. As well as the wonder of the hundreds of karst peaks and small islets towering out of the water, there are some really cool places of interest in Ha Long Bay that you will come across during the trip. The floating islands of Ha Long Bay, where whole families live and rarely step foot on dry land is a fascinating sight and experience.

Floating Villages of Ha Long Bay

Floating village at Ha Long Bay
Floating village at Ha Long Bay | Source

Kayaking in Ha Long Bay

Generally on one of the days of the Ha Long Bay tour there will be a kayaking activity which involves stopping off at one of the floating villages to collect the kayaks and then people are free to go off exploring Ha Long Bay. This is really cool as there are lots of caves to cruise in and out of and you can get quite close to the floating houses.

Kayaking at Ha Long Bay

Kayaking at Ha Long Bay
Kayaking at Ha Long Bay | Source

Ha Long Bay Jigsaw and Travel Guide

BBC Planet Earth Ha Long Bay, Vietnam 500 pc Puzzle by SureLok
BBC Planet Earth Ha Long Bay, Vietnam 500 pc Puzzle by SureLok

This looks fantastic. Great if you're into jigsaw puzzles. One of the more unusual puzzles! Construct your own Ha Long Bay!

 
Lonely Planet Vietnam (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Vietnam (Travel Guide)

This book covers the major regions, cities, towns, and just about all the places that a tourist would be likely to go. It won't cover every little town, and in some cases, resort areas are covered well but the surrounding towns are hardly mentioned. If a place warrants a few paragraphs, it would not hurt to mention when it also has a world class resort rather than making sure to list 25 hotels in the city next to it. Includes a section on Ha Long Bay.

 

Do you think Ha Long Bay is one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World?

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Ha Long Bay and the New 7 Wonders of Nature

Over the last couple of years an international competition has been held to find the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature'. Apparently millions of votes have been cast and Ha Long Bay has made it into the final as one of 28 finalists in the new 7 wonders of nature category. What happens next I'm not too sure... I've been to some of the sights that are included in the 28 finalists of the new 7 wonders of nature including Angel Falls, Iguazu Falls, Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Grand Canyon (to name but a few) and I'm not so sure if Ha Long Bay would beat these into a top 7 position. Don't get me wrong, it's a truly incredible place, like nothing I've seen before (although I've since seen plenty of similar places) but the sheer number of boats and tour companies operating in this space lessens it's impact in my eyes. Although I did go swimming in the water and really enjoyed it, I couldn't help but notice as we cruised along that there is a lot of pollution in the water that has surely been caused by the boats. I'm talking about oil floating on the surface, glass and plastic bottle floating on the surface and other piles of trash and litter floating about. To appreciate the beauty you have to ignore this, but I think for a genuine top 7 wonder there wouldn't be such a grim downside. I'm interested to see what the final list for the new 7 wonders of nature looks like.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay | Source

Food is generally included in the price of your tour ticket and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's generally a case of the waiters bringing out several plates of food and you have to share it out between you. On our boat they brought out loads of food for each meal so we were never hungry. They provide soft drinks but alcoholic drinks need to be paid for and they can cost up to 4 times as much as they do on the mainland. It seems unfair at first but then you remember that even at the 4 times as much price they are still less than a quarter of what you'd pay back home.

Locals at work in Ha Long Bay

A spot of fishing at Ha Long Bay
A spot of fishing at Ha Long Bay | Source

Travelling in Vietnam

The Rough Guide to Vietnam
The Rough Guide to Vietnam

The fully revised "Rough Guide to Vietnam" is full-colour throughout, helping the country's tremendous food, impressive colonial architecture and colourful ethnic minorities leap from the page, and detailed maps offer clear guidance. Includes a section on Ha Long Bay.

 

Ha Long Bay Weather

Generally, the weather in Ha Long Bay is fine all year round. Ha Long Bay weather doesn't change too much throughout the year but if there was a best time to go then it would be during the months September and October and March and April. These are the quiet, calm periods of the Ha Long Bay weather cycle. The weather in Ha Long Bay can be very hot, humid and wet during the summer months (Jun-Aug) making a Ha Long Bay trip rather uncomfortable during this period. In the winter months (Dec/Jan), although Ha Long Bay weather is generally fine, there is an increased chance that the weather could turn cold and strong winds are more common. This rarely effects the running of the Ha Long Bay cruises and tours but it can make your trip less than pleasant.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay | Source

Excellent Book (Includes section on Ha Long Bay)

To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur (To Asia with Love)
To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur (To Asia with Love)

Born from the Southeast Asian guidebook that The International Herald Tribune's Thai Day hailed as a guide with depth and color that most of [its] competitors lack, To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur launches the To Asia With Love series. This beautiful, full-color guidebook features a collection of personal essays by savvy expatriates, seasoned travelers, and inspired locals. Each reflection on a favorite dining, shopping, sightseeing, or cultural experience is paired with a practical fact file, so that readers can follow in the writers footsteps. From staying overnight with a local hill tribe and climbing Southeast Asia's highest mountain, to touring historic French villas and getting involved with local charities, every recommendation captures a distinctive aspect of the country. Includes a section on Ha Long Bay.

 

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    • brownella profile image

      brownella 3 years ago from New England

      Great hub. I visited Ha Long Bay last spring and have to agree with you on the distracting amount of tourists. We had planned to stay two days but ended up only staying one. That said, the site itself is gorgeous, especially when your out kayaking away from the group. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Iammattdoran profile image
      Author

      Matt Doran 3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Thanks Brownella. My Mom and her husband are flying out to Vietnam today and are doing 2 nights at Ha Long Bay. I really sold Vietnam to them so hope they enjoy it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Matt

    • TravelingCrab profile image

      TravelingCrab 3 years ago from USA

      I went to Ha Long Bay a few years ago. Be very careful on who you choose for your tour experience. Some companies will offer you a "luxury" option however when you get to the bay they will stick you in the cheapest option. I had a terrible experience with the tour guide, at nine they told us we had to go to bed and shut down the lights, there was no kayaking and food was limited. We tried to file a complaint with a Tourism Organization and physically tried to find them. The address listed online is bogus and no one could tell us where to go and they laughed at us because we were trying. Went back to the hotel to get a refund, the hotel called the tour operator, he just laughed and said we couldn't prove anything. The hotel gave us a couple of buck back but the whole thing just ruined our memory of Ha Long Bay. If you can afford it- rent a private boat, avoid the hassle.

    • Iammattdoran profile image
      Author

      Matt Doran 3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Hi, sorry to hear about your bad trip. I've no idea how much it would cost to hire a private boat but there's certainly no way we could have afforded that. I enjoyed meeting other people on our boat so I still would prefer the way we did it. We just asked around different places in Hanoi and spoke to other travellers and soon got a good idea of which were the reputable companies and which were not. Hope you like the hub anyway! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Matt

    • April Dawn Meyer profile image

      April Dawn Meyer 3 years ago from Belle Fourche, South Dakota

      What a beautiful area! Thank you for sharing. :)

    • Iammattdoran profile image
      Author

      Matt Doran 3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Many thanks for reading and commenting April. Glad you liked it! Matt

    • profile image

      orientalsails 3 years ago

      @TravelingCrab: HI, sorry to hear about your bad trip. We are also a provider of Halong bay tours and we understand the problems you had. When you visit Halong bay, you SHOULD request direct to provider that have good review on Tripadvisor. When you book tour thought provider, if have any problems, you can give feedback and get refund. Hope that you will comeback Halong Bay - Vietnam.

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