There's a lot of debate over whether Halong Bay is a beautiful wonder of the world, or if it has become an over-run tourist trap where junk boats and garbage litter the bay.
Before you book a trip, see what other travelers have to say about this majestic sight.
The unique beauty of the bay, with its towering limestone karsts, make this a natural wonder worthy of a UNESCO World heritage listing. But, it seems opinions are divided among travelers.
There are more than 1,600 islets in the bay, their limestone worn down by 500 million years of tropical downpours, and topped by thick jungle growth. Some of the islands are hollow, and visitors can take guided tours inside to explore majestic caves. Some of the larger islands even have their own lakes.
At the center of the bay there are 775 formations in an area of just 127mi² (330km²) – and this is where travelers onboard a traditional Vietnamese junk-boat can explore the bay's islands, caves, and floating villages.
Want to know more about Vietnam? Head to our Stories section to delve a little deeper.
What were once quintessential sleepy fishing villages, are now transport hubs for hundreds of vessels that ply the waters. The Irish backpacker you met at Siem Reap is likely in the queue to buy a ticket, and the last free berth has just been sold to a honeymoon couple from Pittsburgh.
Regulation and safety hasn't always kept pace with the popularity of the destination and the rapid expansion of services to meet demand. In February 2011 a charter vessel sank, killing 12 people. Witnesses said a plank simply tore away from the vessel's side. Adding to worries about shoddy standards and un-seaworthiness, another vessel sank just two months later – thankfully with no loss of life.
So, is Halong Bay in danger of being loved to death? Should you stay away, or as one Nomad put it: "Go, find out for yourself."
Here are some of the most asked questions about Halong Bay, and the answers from our Nomads. Ask your own questions, here.
"Is Ha Long Bay (one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature) worth visiting?" – Surenio
The quickest answer came from those who love the place, such as Quang Minh, "It definitely is, cheap place too. Unique and can't be found elsewhere."
Sentiments echoed by Dwight Z a World Nomad, and local tour operator, who's either biased, or completely in love with the place!
"Ahhhh! Let's see. I've been there three times and will go back. Ha Long Bay is a Natural Wonder. It's great just to kick back for 24 - 48 hours. Light shows? (Lighting in the caves?). I've been swimming there (watch the currents if you're swimming off the boat) and I don't drink (my bottled water is cold). Book a reliable boat and crew. Relax and enjoy!"
Queen of Sheeba (welcome your Majesty) was another happy Nomad:
"We've been on a cruise about 1 1/2 weeks ago and we truly enjoyed it. We went on a 2 days/1 night cruise and that's enough to see the Bay, but if you want to relax some more then better take a 3 day cruise. We went on the Bhaya Classic 4 and it was nice, cabin was nice, food was good and it didn't cost an arm and a leg."
But, Bob Bobbus wasn't so sure:
"After spending the money, not convinced. A must see, or a 7 new wonder hmmm... still not convinced, but as I always say, go, find out. Not expensive for westerners and life is short. Got one day to live? Go elsewhere and avoid bad light shows, no swimming warnings, warm beer etc. Oh and canoe paddles that sink and cost you $20 to replace, as they dive down to get them back."
Then we came across this question from Drejah, expressing concern for ethical travel. It certainly caught our attention:
"How controversial is it to visit Ha Long Bay? I've heard that the area is being compromised environmentally."
Halcyonicole's answer was enlightening:
"I visited Ha Long Bay in June 2011. I felt that its environment was heavily compromised. The place is overrun by tours with very little concern for waste, and conservation. However, part of my visit included Nam Cat Island, and rock-climbing with a company who are conscious of these issues. When we went to Moody Beach for the climb, we spent a while picking up rubbish left by the local fishermen and chatting about the issues. But there are people and companies around who care to preserve Ha Long Bay's beauty, so you just have to find them. Nam Cat was also much cleaner with a helluva lot less tourists, and just as beautiful."
And Travelbuggy chipped in:
"It's a beautiful place! 360 views of huge amazing lime stone cliffs! It's truly a gorgeous place but I imagine the tourism is not helping preserve this heritage. We witnessed so many workers throwing garbage off our boat into the water. Sad but true this was couple years ago now so I can imagine the struggle to keep up on it and keep it a world heritage place... I'd still love to wake up there."
So, you've decided to give it a go, or at least get there before it's totally compromised, and like Brain Thacker you want to find a reliable cruise, as you're worried by news reports of boats sinking.
"Anyone recommend a good cruise in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam? I don't want overcrowded booze cruises or posh boats full of old people! Something in the middle."
To that, Catharina Stam said:
"I think they are all about the same, and they each have a day, two days/1night or 3days/2nights option. I would recommend 3 days, so you can really get to see Ha Long Bay properly, and then also experience Can Ba Island - which is one of the biggest islands in Ha Long Bay. I went with a company whose boats were labeled FantaSea. We had some younger people, some older people, and families. I am 28, and not a party animal and I thought that our particular group was a nice mix."
TravelEater had a word of warning:
"Be careful. Lots of scams on these cruises. Double check your paperwork to be sure you get what you paid for. Tour companies will charge you what they think they can get away with, and many misrepresent the amenities you will get on board. And everyone on your boat will have paid wildly different prices for the same thing. It's beautiful, but proceed with caution."
In terms of logistics, Halong Bay is about 93mi (150km) from Hanoi, and the guesthouses there will provide or recommend a reliable mini-bus service to get you there. But what about those coming from south Vietnam?
"How do you get to Ha Long Bay from Ho Chi Minh?" Asked DirekJet.
KLDavis is all about the destination, and so if you've got limited time, take a flight.
"I would fly. There are cheap airlines throughout if you can book in advance. The bus will take at least a day or two. And less travel time will probably equal costs to fly."
But this local, Nguyen Van, was all for taking the slow road.
"It depends what feeling you would like to enjoy. You can travel by train to see Vietnamese life, or chat with people when joining tourist bus, or get there fast on the plane. You can book a tour or rent a private car. Good luck!"
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