Not Really a Blog

February 24, 2012

Halong Bay

Who hasn’t heard of Halong Bay? Or who hasn’t seen a picture of Halong Bay? Well, I had, and I had felt fascinated by it, its ghostly waterscapes, so much that I wanted to visit it badly. Having seen amazing pictures on the internet had made my desire grow stronger. I just wanted to take my camera with me and shoot away at the amazing scenery, hoping to have great weather and perfect images, combined with a nice stay in the area.

Halong Bay 58
The place looks like this

As it happens the place is a tourist trap and for this and other reasons it was a bit disappointing. The weather wasn’t good at all,  with temperatures dropping to a maximum of 13 Celsius precisely the day I was going there, so enjoying Halong Bay in the typical way, standing on the top of a boat while you go around the thousand islands was no longer an attractive option. Also, being it a tourist trap, the place is overcrowded with boats targeting all sorts of tourists, from the party-alcohol-fuelled-goer to the more senior-citizen holiday kind of thing. Water is dirty on many spots due to the large amount of boats leaving diesel residue behind. If you add to it the possibility of drowning on one of these poorly maintained boats, then choosing whether to go or not is no longer a simple question.However, the place is fantastic, and deserves a lot of praise regardless of its shortcomings. So I went!

Cold Halong Bay
It was this cold

Upon arriving to the main dock you realise how big this tourist trap is, seeing hundreds of boats coming and go, buses loading and unloading tourists without stop. And, all of this during off-season. I can’t really imagine what this must look during the peak season. Shortly after arriving you aboard a small boat that takes you to the main pirate boat, one of those that has a resemblance with the typical Chinese junk-style boats (mind you, they are just modern boats).

Halong Bay 1
Tourist Trap Alert

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You usually get to one of these boats using a travel agency in Hanoi who offers you a tour/package in Halong Bay, where you can choose whether to stay one or two nights being the second night on an island or again on the same boat. There are prices for everyone, but everywhere you search on the internet (and on the lonely planet guides) it recommends not being tight with your money as getting one of the $50 dollar-mark tours can very well leave you on a boat infested with rats and cockroaches, and a horrid experience to remember. From there you can go up to more than $400 for just 2 nights although most tourists settle for something around $130, which is fair enough for the amount of staff you get (apart from accommodation, you get food and transport, but not drinks). Some tips to book Halong Bay tours here.

Halong Bay 49
You will be in a boat like this

Mine was called Party Boat and despite what our agent had sworn (no party, it’s just the name) there was some party. Mainly because all of these tours are led by a guide who’s not only a guide but also someone responsible of making everyone have fun, which on a boat called party boat involves putting loud music and trying to get everyone to dance and sing all the time. I guess that you know the type.

The party boat
Halong Party Boat :-/

However, as the weather was not that nice and the bunch of people aboard were closer to 30 than to 20, most of our guide’s efforts were futile. Good. Except there was a fairly large group of young Australians during the first day who were generally nice, but there were two dudes in this group who wanted to make a career at annoying people. They decided they wanted to piss everyone off and so they did put the karaoke system on full power late at night, trying to sing every song in the most ridiculous and stupid way, screaming and yelling and generally trying to keep everyone awake while they were getting high on booze. To make you an idea, they even tried to sing Dido’s Here with me. I was considering the option of making them walk the plank into the sharks…cold water. I survived that and learnt a couple of card games from fellow travellers!

Anyway, apart from these two, we were a nice group. A couple from the UK who just got married (Amy, Mike and their friend Sally), another couple from England and Germany (Laura and Dennis) and a few other made the group we were in. And we had fun in this group :)

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Amy and Sally

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Mike

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Dennis and Laura

And Jeremy, our tour guide (Jeremy was his chosen western name). He was trying desperately to rock us (come on, party party) while we had cold-stone faces (What are you doing dude?). I think he felt really frustrated that we were not responding.

Halong Bay 4
This is not Jeremy, though! :-)

But hey, it was frikking cold outside and he wanted us to party on the boat, play sports on the beach and get ourselves wet in the freezing water, as if it was summer. No exception ;-) Funny though.

Halong Bay 25
He managed to convince Mike to play football

Mike, cold
But later he was recovering like this

I chose the two nights/three days tour. It’s the right amount of time, methinks. If it were not because I had to use three blankets at night to keep myself warm in bed ;-).

You typically stay on the boat while they wander around taking you to nice spots and cool beaches, mixed with activities like hiking the hill on one of these island, playing beach football or kayaking.

Halong Bay 21
Hike to the top

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kayaking if you wanted to get your ass wet

Halong Bay 23
This would have been so nice being warm and having a mojito in my hand…

At the same time you are taken to floating villages, caves and pearl farms which makes the experience interesting.

Oyster
A pearl

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A vendor on a boat

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Did I say it was cold?

It was a shame that it was very cold, because the colour of the water invites you to jump in, no matter what time in the year it is. Watching the sunset and sunrise was magical nevertheless. Sure I didn’t see the sun (for three weeks) and couldn’t get the amazing colours you see on photos everywhere, but still the light seemed kind of magical. You just fantasize you are in a pirate boat and this is your little empire ;-)

Halong Bay 7
Colours

Anyway, Here there are a few photos I took in Halong Bay:

Halong Bay 28

Halong Bay 39
Decorated food

Halong Bay 37

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Supposedly squid fishing, but bullshit actually :-D

Halong Bay 57
Night shot

Smile
Crew member

Halong Bay 14
Your own private beach

Halong Bay 15

Halong Bay 8

Halong Bay 60

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Want to jump into the water

Halong Bay 29
Sunset

Halong Bay, captivating, relaxing, awe-inspiring despite it being a tourist trap. I worry that the Vietnamese will convert this into a full-scale tourist-exploitation system and break the ecosystem and destroy nature here which is what attracts people here in the very first place.
I have to come again, spring time, or in warmer climates, for sure! :-)

12 Comments »

  1. Absolutley gorgeous pictures! I was lucky enough to do some exploring of Thailand Cambodia, but have yet to make it to Vietnam. It is certainly on the list! Even more so now. Great review, thanks for sharing!

    Comment by shannonbearzatto — February 24, 2012 @ 15:31

    • Thanks! I totally recommend Vietnam, so if you have a chance go and see it yourself :-)

      Comment by jesus — February 26, 2012 @ 03:19

  2. What an amazing pictorial view. Thank you for sharing and blessings on the wind to you.

    Comment by SHERRY E SHOWALTER — February 24, 2012 @ 17:36

  3. Even in the bad weather you still managed to take some awesome photos! Love the carrot food animals. Good to know about the different pricing options and to stay away from the 50$ cockroach infest boats!

    Comment by AvocadoPesto — February 24, 2012 @ 19:44

  4. what a great adventure! :)

    Comment by beauty toast — February 25, 2012 @ 17:26

  5. You really managed to get some beautiful pictures! I was surprised to hear how cold it was. I traveled to the southern part of the country a few years ago and the humidity and temperature were almost unbearable.

    Comment by ptowngirl — February 26, 2012 @ 02:47

    • Oh yeah, I went also to the south and it was unbearably hot, but yeah, the north was under winter weather, very cold and humid, which made it even worse!

      Comment by jesus — February 26, 2012 @ 03:20

  6. I’m a Vietnamese, living in a Southern province of the country, which is so far away form Ha Long Bay.
    It’s a shame that the tourist spot has made some fairly bad impressions on you. This is a real situation of Vietnam tourism which many spots tend to commercialize and gradually becoming a tourist trap, somehow, as you say above. But it’s not like this over some other fascinating destinations in Vietnam, at least it’s right for South-West Vietnam (Mien Tay) that well known for some floating market, typically rural life with abundant fruits etc. Anyway, Halong fascinates you and gives you some interesting experience. Hoping that you’d skip the shortcomings and enjoy its glorious scenery

    Comment by quoctruong308 — February 26, 2012 @ 09:07

  7. I should travel there…

    Comment by Klangspektrum — March 10, 2012 @ 13:45

  8. We are dying to go to Halong Bay, Amazing! This is the photo of it that is in our dreams: http://goo.gl/tluUM. And, despite the weather, your photos prove it really is that beautiful. Question: is there an alternative way of touring the bay to avoid the tourist trap?

    Comment by Rodrigo — October 15, 2012 @ 02:53

    • I think there are options, but you might have to shop around. I don’t think it’ll be easy, but surely you can get something more tailored for your taste, probably at a more expensive price. I seem to remember finding something like that when googling it, so you might have the answer in google :)
      Good luck!

      Comment by jesus — October 16, 2012 @ 15:51


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