12 In Beaches + Ocean Activities/ Hiking + The Outdoors/ Travel/ Vietnam

Let Me Tell You About Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, in every photo I’ve ever seen looks like one the most magical places on earth. [see below] Besides that, it’s mentioned in all kinds of top 100 things to do on earth lists, so it of course had to make my top 10 list of things I wanted to see in SE Asia. I was so excited to see this mist-covered stone rocks rising up out of jade/blue-colored water; this, however, is not what I found waiting for me at Halong Bay. In fact, let me tell you what I thought about Halong Bay…


photo found on Pinterest

… It would not come anywhere close to my top 10 for SE Asia nor would it really make it on a must-see list for Vietnam.

Here’s what we did: we booked the one-day cruise and didn’t use the highest or lowest priced cruise. Perhaps you needed to stay the night to make this more magical?


We set out early in the morning and caught the bus to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. On our cruise boat we had a very large meal and we splurged on some beers because we were so excited to toast to the mysteriously striking Ha Long Bay. (This was only a portion of the meal – my vegetarian options came out after their food.)



This was a first view of Ha Long Bay.


People enjoying their meals on the boat.




While the landscape these photos is in no way hideous, it certainly doesn’t look like the hundreds of photos that I’ve seen all over the internet.



Where is the jade-colored water? It looked like dirty lake water to us.




We went to the “floating village”, which was simply a handful of boats that had people fishing from them and sleeping in hammocks on them. We paid a couple of dollars to row around a small section near the floating village with a few fast friends we made on the tour. 


This was one of the prettiest sections of the bay, but the magic is lessened when you’re one of about 10 boats squeezing through this area to take some photos. We actually bumped into other boats several times trying to get through this area.





This was a bit giggle-inducing! haha





Like I said, it isn’t that this isn’t a beautiful site, it just DOES NOT look like the other photos I’ve seen of Ha Long Bay. It was so disappointing because of those photos of mysterious stones rising out of beautiful blue/green water and below the rising mists. 


Our boat-rower was absolutely adorable. She took the cameras out of all of our hands and posed us all together at least 5 different times and used all 5 of our cameras! She laughed with us as we tried our hand at rowing her cute little turquoise boat.




This man and the boats behind him make up a large portion of the “floating village.”



My favorite part of the Ha Long Bay Tour was walking through Dau Go Cave. This cave is MASSIVE and they have all the different formations lit up by neon lights. 





This window on the top of the cave allowed these heavenly-looking rays to beam in. 







This is the view from the exit of the cave. It looked out over the water, the dozens of cruise boats hauling tourists in and out of the area and the town on the horizon. 


I think if I had gone to Ha Long Bay with no expectations it would have awed me more than it did. Instead, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. So, here I am, giving my honest, unedited opinion: if there’s something else you’re torn between (Sapa, Dalat or even a day in the museums) I would chose all three of those things over this day trip. Sorry, Ha Long Bay lovers.

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  • Reply
    wild life photos
    October 6, 2015 at 10:07 am

    wow – I’ve never been there, but I would have also expected blue & clear ocean water… maybe with the possibility to snorkel amidst fishes etc.?! but the karst topography looks fantastic – even on your photographs! 😉

    • Reply
      October 26, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      The karst formations were still beautiful. I think if I hadn’t seen all of these photos with the pristine water and such I would have been less disappointed. It’s partially my fault for setting such high expectations.

  • Reply
    Ana O
    October 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    It seems that all the hype surrounding this place ruined it for you. I know what it feels like. I was disappointed by Geneva, although I think I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as you were about HA Long Bay 🙂

    • Reply
      October 26, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      I completely agree that it was the hype. I think I built it up so much in my mind because everyone had it on their ‘top sites in the world to see’ and it just wasn’t that for me. It’s interesting to hear that you had that response to Geneva, I’ve never been, but perhaps your comment will keep my expectations in check for when I eventually make it there 😉 Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Reply
    Richard and Sally Read
    October 14, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Not sure why you didn’t get the blue water in some places. Seemed OK when we went 3 years ago, in some places but not in others. Thoroughly enjoyed it though (see thereadrovers.wordpress.com blog.) and would go back to there, Hanoi & Sapa.

    • Reply
      October 26, 2015 at 10:58 pm

      Did you go overnight? That’s the only thing we could think of was that perhaps we didn’t get far enough out? I’m glad you guys got to see the blue water, though. It just looked like murky lake water for us. I’m partially to blame for my disappointment though because I let my expectations get to high. I loved Sapa and there are still several things in Hanoi I would love to go back to see. I would go to Sapa again and again. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Reply
        Richard and Sally Read
        October 29, 2015 at 4:36 pm

        Yes, we had three nights out there, I seem to recall. Have a look at my blog on “thereadrovers.wordpress.com” for late 2012 or early 2013 for more details.

      • Reply
        Richard and Sally Read
        October 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm

        Sapa was glorious but maybe spilt in the future because of a planned cable car. Wonderful scenery and people. X

  • Reply
    January 24, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve just been to Halong Bay (Dec,2016) and came away with the same feelings of being underwhelmed. The karst formations are great but the overall wonder of the place was missing. The water looks grey at best and dirty at worst. We swam at TiTop Is and climbed to the lookout above…it was OK. Of the things we did in Vietnam: Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa, the trip out to Halong was the most disappointing. The rest of our trip was awesome and I’d thoroughly recommend Vietnam as a travel destination. Others in our group said that the similar formations in Thailand are much better.

  • Reply
    Esther of Local Adventurer
    March 24, 2016 at 12:53 am

    They do saturate the photos quite a bit, but we still really enjoyed the river cruise. We actually didn’t get much sun.. and the clouds hung really low, so the fog made the scenery look like a painting. I don’t know that I’m dying to go back to Halong Bay anytime soon, but that was probably my favorite part of Vietnam. Everything else was super underwhelming.

    I always have to remind myself that photos can be deceiving. I’m a photographer, so you’d think I know.. but I always get fooled! I just got back from Iceland and before we went, we thought we’d be surrounded by nature in solitude, but it turns out most places are packed with tourists. To get the photo looking like your alone by a landmark takes quite a bit of patience!

    • Reply
      April 3, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      I know that photographers will saturate photos along with many other editing tools, heck I try to make my photos looks as good as possible, but I also like it to still look like the place. It seemed like just about every photo I’d ever seen of Halong Bay had been incredibly over-saturated. I’m envious of the low-laying clouds, though. That mysterious look would’ve been a welcome sight!
      What other parts of Vietnam were you in? I think Halong Bay was my least favorite of the stops we made, but I love that about travel- that things move people in different ways.
      I’m surprised about Iceland; it always seems like such a wilderness in photos. I hopped over to your blog and I really love your hiking lists and guides. My fiancé and I love to get outside and explore at least once a week, so we added some things to our list from your blog! Thanks for reading & taking the time to comment too! Cheers!

  • Reply
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