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Touring Halong Bay

VIETNAM | Friday, 1 June 2012 | Views [684]

First let me say, this story is meant to be informative for other travelers not so much a pleaser for friends and family.

We were interested in visiting Halong Bay, a World Heritage site boasting thousands of islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. It’s a beautiful place and worth seeing, but we were disturbed by the numerous inconsistencies we came across in order to “tour” the area.

First off, it is worth the time and money to compare the prices of many travel agencies. While on the boat tour, we spoke with a few other groups about the prices they were quoted and what was included in their trip. The prices ranged from $50-$110 per person for a two day tour of the bay. This included the bus to Halong City, the boat tour around Halong Bay, a kayak rental, meals, a night on the junk boat, and a night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island and also the boat and bus transport back to Hanoi. Why the prices ranged for the exact same tour is up for debate. Same goes for the one and three day tours.


Secondly, I am pretty positive the majority of the images you will see of the junk boats, rooms, and meals, are nowhere near the reality. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for, i.e., if you pay $50 for two nights lodging and tours and meals, you are not getting a 5 star luxury boat. We did not stay a night on the boat, but some of the details they won’t tell you in the travel agency that were included in some of the stories from those who did include: roaches joining you in your room, water leaking through the ceiling onto your bed to the point where you bed is “soaked”, which then leads to roaches discovering luxury lodging for themselves underneath your damp, dark pillow.


We try to avoid taking all-inclusive tours whenever possible. However, certain sites you just have to see, and unfortunately these tend to be the ones that have been capitalized upon. Although it is extremely convenient to have all the decisions and scheduling already laid our for you, this leads to the major downfall of the tour itself. You are essentially on someone else’s time, for better or for worse. For example, during our tour of the bay, our guide often said something like “You have 40 minutes to see the cave.” Well, after following in a single-file line through the “most beautifulest cave in Vietnam”, we then waited for our boat to reach the dock for another 40 minutes. This conflict of time then led to only having 15 minutes to kayak. Which was supposed to be included for us, but turns out it was not.


Almost everything during our tour continued on this way. The bus, shuttle, boat, guide, was always running a little late, eating up the actual tour time. I can’t say I would recommend taking a tour, but its just about the only way to see the bay. We only reserved the one day tour with return service whenever we wanted it. We stayed in a hotel on Cat Ba Island on our own. The hotel was nice enough, air-conditioned, clean, and overlooked the harbor for $12 a night for two people.

Tags: atp travel agency, cat ba island, halong bay, junk boat, tours

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