Although there is much speculation as to whether it is a beauty spot or an over-run tourist trap full of junk boats. See what other travelers have to say on the subject.
The unique beauty of the bay with its karsts make it a natural to be added to UNESCO‘s World heritage listing, is it? The opinion of the traveller community on the Ask A Nomad site is divided.
There are more than 1600 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, creating majestic caves. Some of the larger islands have their own lakes.
At the centre of the bay there are 775 of the formations in an area of just 330 square kilometers – an invitation to travellers to board a traditional Vietnamese junk-style boat and explore the bay, it‘s islands, caves, and floating villages.
On the downside, there is now a well-worn path that leads from the hostels of Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. What were once quintessential sleepy fishing villages are now transport hubs for the hundreds of vessels that ply the waters. The Irish backpacker you met at Siem Reap is likely to be in front of you 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 2 months later – thankfully with no loss of life.
So, is Ha Long 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 Ha Long Bay, and the answers from the Nomads travel community. Check them out here, and ask your own travel question.
"Is Ha Long Bay (one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature) worth visiting? I'd really appreciate your comments on this! Thks!" Asked Surenio via the Ask A Nomad iPad app.
The quickest answer came from those who love the place, such as Quang Minh who was on the iPad app.
"It definitely is, cheap place too. Unique and can' be found elsewhere :)"
Sentiments echoed by Dwight Z a World Nomad – although as a local tour operator, he‘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) & 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 World 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 who‘s a Travellr user 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 via the Ask A nomad iPad app, and because we‘re always concerned about ethical travel it 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 on the iPad 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 and 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 lol."
You‘ve decided to give it a go, or at least get there before it‘s totally compromised, so like Brain Thacker on Travellr you want to know of a reliable cruise, 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 via Travellr.com 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 3days, 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."
One of the Ask A Nomad community‘s most prolific contributors, 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. Is beautiful, but proceed with caution."
And finally a logistics question. Ha Long Bay is about 150 kms from Hanoi and the guesthouses there will provide, or recommend, a reliable mini-bus service to get you there. But what about coming from south Vietnam?
"How do you get to Ha Long Bay from Ho Chi Minh?" Asked DirekJet via Ask a Nomad iPad app
KLDavis is all about the destination, and if you have limited time, why not.
"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 local, Nguyen Van on Travellr was all for taking the slow road.
"It depends what feeling you would like to enjoin. You can travel by train to see Vietnamese life, or chat with people when joining tourist bus, or be fastest with plane. You can book tour or rent private car. Good luck!"
Whichever way you decide to go, when and for whatever duration, stay safe and be sure to respect the environment.