Halong Bay: Gulf of Tonkin

The Most Famous World Heritage Site in Vietnam

UNESCO: Floating Village, Halong Bay
Halong Bay crowded with tourists, even in early March. The sky overcast, cold, covered with mist and rain. It was right decision buying only 1-day tour. Around the gulf was poor visibility. I could not see the far and had to sit in the boat caused drizzle and wind.
It took almost 4hrs between Hanoi-Halong City, then embarked to the Junk traversed the thousands of limestone mountains in the sea. Visited fish farm at fisherman floating village, took a small rowing boat to visit nearby islands among the drizzle. Back to boat for lunch.

Tour guide brought us to visit Thien Cung Dong (Heavenly Palace Cave) that we had to walk up the stone stairs to enter this cave before being surprised about what we see. Chamber is quite high, airy and free from odor and wetness. They do the walking path and stair with non-slip floor tiles over the cave floor, adorned with man-made fountain and waterfall. Cave is decorated with colorful lighting shining to stalactites and stalagmites.

One visitor said to the tour guide unhappily that "decorations change the nature of the cave". So, I said jokingly "Heavenly Palace Cave is furnished by the imagination about heaven of people of Vietnam, natural cave is like a general. (In fact, their beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are not necessary to use colorful illuminated lights to help).

Many World Heritage Sites operations in Vietnam bring questions to some international visitors about the value creation and their management skills. 

In the Junk, Halong Bay
Foggy Day, Halong Bay, March 2012

Thien Cung Dong (Heavenly Palace Cave), Halong Bay
The beauty of Halong Bay and unpleasant weather
Early March 2012 Halong Bay was covered with fog and rain. No blue sky and emerald clear sea, it was not suitable for sitting outdoor to enjoy the Limestone Mountains in the Gulf of Tokin. We did not have opportunity to swim caused cold water. No chance for BBQ party on the deck or kayak paddle. For overnight tours on board that pay more, travelers might be stuck in the cabin or singing karaoke until they reach the shore.

Data indicate that Feb and March are the months where rainfall is lowest. Winter is low season for Halong Bay visit. Summers is high season (May-August), but beware of storm and typhoon. The tour guide told us that the most appropriate time is September to November.

However, even rain in Feb and March are minimal. I had found drizzle every day in North of Vietnam for over a week. Summer is a high chance to meet storm and typhoon. So the best time is not much. It is difficult to guarantee that we will experience this World Heritage Site, as we see from beautiful postcards.

Group tour is the easiest way to visit Halong Bay.
My tour’s details.

1-day Tour
Hanoi-Halong Bay
39USD / person
Approx 30 person / group
APT Travel via hotel’s tour desk
Pick up and drop off at hotel
Excursion fee (80,000VND) and lunch included
Drinking water, beverages, and rowing boat fare not included

A Sales staff may not care about the weather at Halong Bay, my friend and I heard she talked to expecting customers repeatedly “very nice”. Actually, 1 day after my visit with foggy, all day drizzle and cold weather there.

My tour operator is not bad compared with others that my friends paid for. Price is moderate 39USD each for 1-day tour. Three of my friends spent 45USD each for 1 night stay on board, about 1 week after my excursion. And it’s not the good memory for them. The guide was rude and not professional.

Halong Bay trips from Hanoi are more expensive and longer distant than Halong on Land trips (Ninh Binh). If you have limited time and consider 3-4hrs drive each way to Halong city is intolerable. Please go to Ninh Binh instead. It’s 2hrs drive each way.

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