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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where have all the colours of Halong Bay gone?

Picture by Fathzer
White is now the colour of all the boats on Halong Bay. The traditional brown colour of the wooden junks has gone.

Where has the old beauty and charm of Halong Bay suddenly gone? "When we look out over the bay, we saw hundreds of cruise boats, all of them painted white and in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint", write neilandjackie. "Flanked by high-end condominium developments, the port today looked so sanitized, so developed, a bit Disney-esque, in fact. Exotic no more", complain Traveling Soulmates. "All the boats where white, wooden and in noticeable disrepair. I’m starting to guess that paint is more expensive than gold in Vietnam, since no one seems to have used any in the last 30 year", comments Here Comes The Planet. Where have the old times gone, when exotic traditional junk boats in brown, read and black were sailing the bay?

It was on January 5 in 2012, when the provincial People’s Committee of Quang Ninh issued a suprising decision: All tourist boats on Halong Bay, except dragon boats, should be white with brown sails. Boats which fail to follow the decision by April 30 would have their licenses revoked. Boats with dragon heads are permitted to paint the dragon heads by traditional colour. "The move aimed to tighten government control over tourist transport, especially the boats providing over-night accommodations in Ha Long Bay", wrote Thanh Nien News. More than 500 boats were affected by this decision. A letter sent to the authorities by the Association for Ha Long Tourist Boats expressing disagreement had no effect. Pham Van Hoa, director of Bai Tho Transport Co., said the change was unnecessary, because tourists tend to like the traditional brown of Ha Long Bay’s wooden boats. He was not heard. Doan Van Dung, chief of the tourist boat association, said by painting all boats white, Ha Long Bay would lose an endearing characteristic – the traditional brown of Asian culture. He was not heard. “Foreign tourists have been always impressed with the brown and black colours of the boats on the bay, which are imbued with Vietnamese cultural identity,” said the deputy director of the Vietsky Travel Company, Dao Hong Thuong. “That’s why we shouldn’t copy foreign cruise ships and require the boats to be white.” He was not heard.

It is not clear, what really lead to the decision of painting all the boats in white. Some rumours say, the officials wanted to copy the white of the yachts seen in the ports of Sydney in Australia or Greece in Europe. Some say, the idea was to attract more tourists to Halong Bay. Bu this seems to be backfiring more and more: "What we found really upsetting was the rubbish floating around everywhere. No way I would go swimming there! Having lived in New Zealand for five years where nature is very well looked after coming here was a real disappointment. From what we were told the majority of boats do not have sewage tanks so everything goes straight into the water", observes flauschipoohbear on tripadvisor.com. "It smelled horrible from the pollution in the bay. Such a shame. we saw raw sewage being dumped and it was common to see toilet paper that had not broken down yet, trash and oil floating on the surface", adds travelswithmimi.

In Halong Bay you can see today, that Vietnam is in danger of committing tourism hara-kiri. On March 24 in 2013 Thanh Nien News has published an alarming report about distructure of nature and natural landscapes also by tourism. Ha The Tien, an engineer working on a ship in Ha Long says most vessels discharge waste, including from toilets, directly into the water. “Each passenger boats discharge an average of 2,000-3,000 liters of waste every day. With 500 tourism boats, it’s up to 1.5 million liters of untreated waste discharged into the bay." Such a report by a newspaper which is owned by the Vietnam National Youth Federation and has become one of the most influential newspapers in Vietnam, shows, that the Vietnamese authorities start to recognise the problems created by uncontrolled tourism development. May be the white colour of all the boats on Halong Bay does not stand just for whitewashing.

Read earlier stories:
How to choose the right junk for Halong Bay
How the dream turned into a nightmare on Halong Bay

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How to choose the right junk for Halong Bay

The kissing rocks, also called Hon Ga Troi (Fighting Cocks), picture by tamlynallison. More pictures.

See the locations of Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay on Halong Bay Google Map
Read background about the Karst and Caves of Ha Long Bay by Speleogenesis. Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site, read more

You have to choose and get some help here

Everybody goes to Halong Bay, more than 2.5 millions of people every year, so there are crowds of tourists in some places. And there are many operators of tours and some of them specialized on rip off: not delivering good quality. That's why I collected reviews of guests, who have been to Halong Bay. And that's why you find three categories in this blog:
- Good reviews
- Critical reviews
- No reviews

Some tipps:
- Don't await to see brown, red or black ships as you see on many pictures: the provincial authorities have ordered all the owners to paint their ships in white. Read about this: Where have all the colours of Halong Bay gone?
- Don't look for the cheapest tours, the risk is high, that the service and the safety are cheap too
- Ask the tour seller: how old is the boat?
- Check, if the boat has glass windows - boats with wood windows are older. Newer boats have hammers to break the glass
- Check, if Kayaking or the transfer from Hanoi to Halong is included in the package, check if lifewests for Kayaking are included
- Check, if the route goes to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is less crowded than Halong Bay
- Check the weather, before you start. If storms are forcasted, you should not go. In September 2009 five people died, as a brand new tourist boat sank (read more). Be aware, that the tour operater might not have an insurance, so take care, you have one yourself
- When going on board: ask for the security instruction. Check, where the lifewests are
- If you are not an experienced swimmer, take care, there can be streams in the water, may be the way back to the ship is much harder than the way away from the ship, there can also be jellyfish
- If you are not experienced in kayaking, don't go alone but with somebody who is experienced. Especially inside the caves there can be streams difficult to manage.
- Read, how cupidwithoutarrows compares the junks

Good reviews

Bai Tho Junk: View blog by Stefan Daiberl and see pictures by tamlynallison and GaryGS1. Good reviews on tripadvisor.com by kimw, Actregular Traveller and Travelling Tart.

Before boarding

Bai Tho Junk

Top deck

Dining room

More bay

All pictures by tamlynallison Stop at the beach of Ti Top island

Bhaya Cruises: Three days/two nights for two from 700 USD. The Bhaya is a new boat with an ancient history. It has been rebuilt after drawings of a junk, who was used by the Vietnamese Emperor Khai Dinh (1885-1925, read the full story). "Great experience", comments alicejlille, "perfect", notes Air Journey. Also Drew amd Liz liked the trip and Gipsy Lemonade was not only fond of the "elaborate lunch buffet" on board. In Vung Vieng floating village you change for a moment to sampans rowed by "incredibly strong" women, as Sam and David report, who show a lot of pictures of the trip. There is also a pearl farm to visit. See the detailed itineraries.

Bhaya Classic

Picture David McKelvey

Picture andreakw

Picture David McKelvey
Bhaya Spirit

Emeraude Classic Cruises: A steamer. "You wont ever be more spoiled than on the Emeraude. We had the time of our lives", comments tressophis. Read Naysay's report about the trip and see pictures. And Michael L. Grace knows the history of Emeraude.

Picture robertlafond2009


Picture sega10028
Emeraude Deck.

Luxury Cruise Collection: 3 days two nights for two from 664 USD. Read review of Hanoi Ginger by frommers.com. Good review by Anantara. Gretchen 2.0 notes, that she was transferred to amother, not so nice boat on the second day.

Picture David McKelvey
Halong Ginger

Picture David McKelvey
Halong Ginger

Picture The Exo Guy
Halong Jasmine

Halong Jasmine

Huy Hoang: See pictures and read about the experience by Photodiary of a Nomand and Alan Shih at sea and Tar chittarath and by Karen and Matt. See picture of Huy Hoang Boat

Huy Hoang

Indochina Sails and Valentine: Good reviews on tripadvisor.com. Anniejet was "totally satisfied". Bobw2046 had a "5 star time". Read also "A day on Halong Bay" with a lot of pictures by Mattandjean.

Picture txfiddlechick
Indochina Sails

Picture txfiddlechick
Deluxe cabin

Lagoon Explorer: Tropical Sails Co. LTD, wo ran The Lagoon Explorer, has been merged into Indochina Junk. There are tours to Halong Bay but also to Quan Lan Island (itineraries). Trawelwolrd23 notes, that Lagoon Explorer 1 is the older boat and Lagoon Explorer 2 more comfortable. "Intimate boat", comments Kirby 319 on tripadvisor.com, good review by Alicie Green. "The two lunches and one dinner were all epic events", remembers Brady. Johnandjustine enjoyed it too. See picture by BrianMcMorrow and by Brady.

Picture tallphil
Lagoon Explorer

Picture Kurt J

Pinta: 3 days two nights for two from 408 USD. Pinta Gold has been taken out of traffic by an inspector for security reasons on 20 november 2009. The author of this blog was on board, when this happened. You can read the story here and with pictures in this blog. The author does not know, if its operating again. See itineraries of Pinta Gold Cruiser. Read how Vaax enjoyed the trip with Pinta Cruiser, and so did Jacky on Pinta Gold Cruiser. "Great guide", "gorgeous deck"(sunlounges with white covers), "dinner was just as yummy as lunch and every time we thought that was the last dish they would bring more out", adds Chez N Andys, who critizises the mattress in the bedroom as too hard. "They served gourmet, had tons of fruits on board", notes Culinary Conquests. And Erin and Jeff were fond of the ten-course-dinner served on a beach. Good reviews on tripadvisor.com

Picture Brandon
Pinta Gold Cruiser

The deck

Prince: 3 days two nights for two for 530 USD. Itinerary. You don't have to change to another boat on the third day. Good reviews on tripadvisor.com and here. "We were looked after so well", write Dane adn Dave. "The crew was great on our boat and treated us well", adds KuchtaWorld.

Picture Indochina Travel News

Critical reviews

Dream Voyage: This boat had a bad accident with 12 tourists dead in February 2011. Read How the dream turned to a nightmare on Halong Bay. Before this accident you could find reviews like theese: "A bit dowdy, with cracked and lifting deckplanks, broken wicker benches, erratic lighting and air conditioning; poor food and expensive drinks", comments Jeremy Hay on Inkspot. Good review by Trizzyb. But "Boat in bad condition", found WicNYC, "dont use this bout", is the advise of whizzyjayne.

Picture quack2121
Dream Voyage

No reviews

Hai Long Dream: 3 days two nights for two from 460 USD. Eveline & Noel liked it.

Binh Minh: See pictures by BrianMcMorrwow

Trinh Vu: See pictures and read about the experience by Photodiary of a Nomand

Read more about attractions near Halong Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay
Islands, caves and more in Lan Ha Bay
Quan Lan Island
Co To Island

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