Natural wonder of the world
Imagine 2000 or more islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and you have a vision of breathtaking beauty. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, and legend claims the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, this mystical landscape of limestone islets is often included in the list of natural wonders of the world. The bay’s immense number of islands are dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, and their sparsely forested slopes ring with birdsong. – Lonely Planet
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Halong is Vietnam’s most famous tourist attraction, popular among locals and foreigners. Unfortunately, it is often not able to live up to the high expectations.
1. Nice weather is an exception
Located in Northern Vietnam, Halong is often cloudy and rainy. The grey limestone carsts and greenish water won’t be very impressive in dull weather. Make sure to check forecasts before booking an overnight cruise.
2. Overnight cruises are overpriced
Expect to pay quite a sum of money if you don’t want to end up on a nightmare cruise. 3 Days 2 Night trips can cost up to 200$ per person. If possible, sleep one night on a boat and one night in a beach bungalow to get the most out of your visit.
3. You can’t go swimming
Halong Bay’s water is quite polluted from the heavy boat traffic and the waste disposal practices of the locals. The greenish water has very low visibility and hides a few unpleasant surprises. Just stick to kayaking and you’ll make it out unharmed.
4. ‘You buy from me!’ – around every corner
You thought you could escape the pushy sellers for a few days? Think again! There’s an overflow of floating shopkeepers at every parking spot. And a closed cabin window won’t discourage these ladies for too long…
5. You are never alone
L’enfer c’est les autres. – Jean-Paul Sartre
Halong bay is a victim of its own success. Day in, day out, hundred of cruise ships are drifting through the archipelago. Good luck getting one of those idyllic postcard pictures…
Tam Coc, the ‘nicer’ Halong Bay
So you have been disappointed by your Halong trip? You might want to visit Tam Coc, the Halong Bay of the mainland, a region largely untouched by mass tourism, only 3 hours South of Hanoi.