Ah, Halong Bay. The name stirs up mysterious pictures of floating mountains and towering cliff descending into the depths of the sea. It is a place that many people write off as an unattainable place to visit, somewhere they will only ever see in books and travel magazines. One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Imagine my excitement when I found myself planning my own visit to such an extraordinary place. Well, also picture my disappointment when I arrived back from what turned out to be one of my more disappointing travel experiences and how you can avoid it yourself.
First off, let me just begin this post by saying, yes, Halong Bay is absolutely worth visiting if you find yourself in Vietnam and I have no regrets seeing it. I just would have made some changes to my own personal trip to make it more enjoyable. The bay is breathtaking and sailing under the immense limestone mountains is very humbling, I’ll never forget it.
I’m not even going to give you the company that I used, because I wasn’t all that impressed with it. I booked it through my hostel.
We visited Surprise Cave (a huge cavern that probably 90% of boats take you to), we kayaked for an hour among the limestone giants (this was my favorite part), and we visited a small and extremely crowded island where you could swim or hike up to a view point. I chose the hike but had no water, which was a big mistake, the view was stunning though. Here are a few of the situations that made this “would be amazing” trip underwhelming.
It can easily be done in one day.
I was very excited at the thought of staying overnight on a boat and waking up to the sunrise on the bay. What I didn’t know was that it can easily be done in one day. Honestly you do nothing on day two except sail back, arriving at the dock around 11am. A three day option would offer more cave exploration and activities but the two day seemed pointless. Visit for one day, don’t waste your money.
This is not a great solo destination.
If you’ve explored my blog at all you’ve probably seen that I do a heck of a lot of solo travel. I love solo travel, I’m an introvert and very independent and I love that solo travel allows me to make up my own mind. Well, this trip ended up being probably the worst situation for solo travel. I was in a group of about 12 couples and one group of four friends. It is very romantic, so if you are a couple it’d be a great destination, but if you are the only one traveling without a partner, it’s not so wonderful. All of the activities are based on duos, so you’re either stuck on your own, stuck with the tour guide, or any other solo travelers. My group did have one other solo traveler but he was a middle-aged man, and we didn’t have much in common, although we were forced into toleration due to sharing quarters and activities. Yes, sharing a room. I wasn’t given the option to have my own room and found out upon arrival that I had to share with this random man. He was plenty nice, I was lucky, but what if he hadn’t been? It was very, very uncomfortable and I would have much preferred to have the option of my own room, even at an extra expense. It was also awkward having to share a room key with someone you don’t know. If you’re a solo traveller, inquire your own room upon booking. You may get lucky and find a more open and inviting group, but mine didn’t seem to keen on getting to know or include the one random, lone traveler. Maybe I was just unlucky.
Many of the trips are very focused on alcohol consumption.
I’m not a drinker or partier and I was quite disappointed at how much focus was put on alcohol. The rest of the group stayed up until goodness knows when drinking beer and playing games while I headed to bed. I felt like a party pooper, but I was already left out by being a solo traveler, and then being the only person not getting drunk really set me apart. There are, apparently, some touring companies that cater more to families, which may end up being less about drinking, but I have no experience with that. If you’re a drinker, then you’ll have a great time, it’s just not my idea of a good time.
4) My tour guide made no effort to include me in with the rest of the group.
Typically I’ve had some amazing experiences with tour guides as a solo traveller. We gravitate towards each other because we are the only people on our own. My guide on the trip, however, seem utterly enthralled with the group of couples and made zero effort to get to know me. You might try and blame this on me as being antisocial, but it’s very vulnerable being a solo traveller (especially as a woman) and to have no response to your efforts to reach out makes you close yourself up quickly. A tour guide initiating a single conversation makes you feel included and even wanted. This is something I have seen other tour guides do and I think it marks a good from a mediocre guide.
If I were to do it all again I would definitely opt for a day trip and researched more into companies that other solo travelers have used. Of course, it’s all about luck of the draw and the people you share the trip with makes a big difference. Ideally, I think Halong Bay is a better attraction when you’re traveling in a group or couple. I never discourage solo travel, but this wasn’t the most accommodating. Some people will read this and think I’m being whiny, but having had so much solo travel experience, I know how things should go and how to present myself. This just was a bad experience. I had a wonderful time the day before in Nim Binh as a solo traveller.
I hope this doesn’t discourage you from visiting Halong Bay, as it was a glorious place. Hopefully you’ll just do a bit more research than I did and won’t fall into the same situation I found myself in. Maybe this will even inspire you to reach out to solo travelers if you find yourself on a trip like this one. Yes, we’re independent but we still want community. You live and you learn and it was probably time for me to have a cruddy experience since I’ve been so blessed with my travels in the past.