Halong Bay is a perfect definition of when the tourism goes wrong with the overtourism - But it is not all bad!
Before I book a tour, I always try to learn as much as I can about how ethical the tours really are, and how the local tour companies care and help to protect the enviromnent. During my research, I read good and bad things about Halong Bay tours, and there was only one way to draw my own conclusions, by doing it!
Halong Bay is definetely one of the most fascinating places you can visit, and its unique limestone formations rising from the calm bay waters makes this place so magical. Here are my observations after I spent 3 days cruising on a junk boat
Despite being a very touristy area, I was pleased to see that they still have some efforts related to preservation:
- Eco Deisel - The boats are only allowed to use eco diesel and can only go in certain parts of the bay. In some areas, they only allow row boats or kayaks.
- Preserved areas -We flew our drone while in the middle of the bay, and what we saw was absolutely outstanding. Because some of the islands are hollow inside, it forms amazing natural pools with the bluest water you can ever imagine. When we showed the images to the crew on the boat, even being from Vietnam, they were amazed with what they were seeing. They were also surprised, and informed us that no one is allowed to visit the islands and according to them, the majority of them remain untouched.
- Trash on the Water – It was dishearting to see that there are still people in the world that throw trash in the water. I saw some local people thowing waste on the water, probably left over from their food preparation. Also, the information I got was that the fishermen and their families who live on the bay are the ones helping to pollute Halong Bay. As far as tourists go, I trully believe that if someone is so blessed to be cruising this paradise, they will be very conscientous about caring for it. So keep up the good work everyone and continue to show your respect to this amazing environement and eco-system!
- Over-Crowded – If your are looking for a less touristy area, Halong Bay is not the place to go. It is over-crowded as Halong Bay becomes a more popular tourist destination. We all know, the more boats and the more people, the more pollution. My concern is how long Halong Bay can keep its World Heritage badge, unless they take actions to control the tourism flow and the preservation of this paradise.
If I would cruise on Halong Bay again?
Despite the high number of tourists and boats in Halong Bay, it is still a must see place if you are visiting Vietnam.
The views are stunning and this place is really unique with all the limestone formations coming out of the calm turquoise water. I would definitely do it again, without changing anything, especially visiting during the New Years Eve. Our boat had only 30 tourists, and normally this size boat could accommodate many more people. The crew was super friendly and treated us well.
As far as pricing goes, it was the most expensive part of my trip to Vietnam, since I paid the price for a 4 star boat with a room with balcony during the New Year, an average of US$780 for 2 people.
But you can accommodate your budget since there are so many options. I have no regrets with my choice, and I enjoyed very much my glass(es) of wine sitting on my balcony while watching the incredible views!
Being honest, I was frustrated about not being able to do and explore more of Halong Bay. During my research on what boat to take, what to choose, where to go while in Halong Bay….I was so excited and looking forward to visit some of the amazing places I saw and read about in other blogs, such as kayaking inside the caves and to visit the Surprising Cave. When I asked our crew about visiting these places, they said because of the weather forecast we couldn’t make it, but I find it is hard to believe since it was not even raining.
As for many people, being part of a organized tour can be convenient, however I really do not like the idea to go on planned tours, having to follow a guide, having to share small areas with many other tourists and struggling to take a nice picture without heads in front of my camera.
I felt that sailing in Halong Bay in a tour took away my freedom to explore and enjoy, and I felt forced to do things that I wouldn’t do if I had the ability to choose. Listening to ABBA for 3 straight days was starting to get irritating, but unfortunately Halong Bay does not offer private tours. Just book your Junk Boat tour and prepare your expectations and have fun!