Halong Bay: Majestic Sight or Over-Rated Seascape?

No trip to the north of Vietnam is complete without a visit to Halong Bay. Our travelers share their tips to see the best of this popular destination.

However, there’s a lot of debate over whether it’s a beautiful wonder of the world, or an over-run tourist trap full of junk boats and garbage littering the bay.

Before you book a trip there, see what other travelers have to say about this majestic sight.

Is Halong Bay Worth It?

The unique beauty of the bay with its karsts make it a natural to be added to UNESCO’s World heritage listing. But, it seems the 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, 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 for travelers to board a traditional Vietnamese junk-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 Halong Bay.

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 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 Halong Bay in danger of being loved to death? Should you stay away, or as one Nomad put it: “Go, find out for yourself.”

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