On Feb 2011, a boat sank quickly while tourists were asleep killing 12 people. There wasn't any storm. A wooden plank simply let loose and water gushed in quickly leaving very little time for the tourists to save themselves. In the previous years, boats have been known to capsize during heavy storms bringing down lives with it.
Check the credentials of the tourist operators. Do your research before committing yourself to a tour. Avoid very cheap tours as your life could be at stake. There are a lot of cheaters and scammers in the Halong Bay tours industry, so shop around diligently.
Check the weather report before sigming up. If stormy, don't go
Before you jump...
For overnight cruises, Halong Bay boats would normally drop anchor at a place where it's suitable for guests to swim. The water's great but the main thing to watch out for are jellyfishes which could pack a sting. Other than that, no need to worry about sharks or other marine creatures.
There can be a lot especially near fishing villages but then the boat crew would advise against swimming in such areas as the water may be polluted near villages.
- Sailing and Boating
- Diving and Snorkeling
This particular one was photographed at our lunch venue when we returned from our Halong Bay trip, in Halong City. It was a huge glass container and in it were snakes, lizards and even birds.
Try it if you dare - but be warned. It could cause severe stomach upset. I wasn't silly enough to try it, but I do know one VT member who has - and he was quite sick
- Budget Travel
Dangerous Tours in Vietnam
APT TRAVEL of Hanoi could have cost us our lives. APT TRAVEL of Hanoi have no concept of their obligation to guarantee the safety and welfare of their paying customers.
Before we tell our nightmarish tale, please know that we dealt happily with APT and enjoyed their various tours in 2005. They were a small company then, but expansion, growth have caused them to ignore quality, safety, efficiency, etc. We are more disappointed with them than angry.
We started to have reservations about APT after we did the Tam Coc tour. It was bad enough that the guide spoke incomprehensible English, but he caused a group of 20 to wait around over an hour in a hot car park in Hoa Lu while he took a group of three tourists on a pushbike ride from Tam Coc to Hoa Lu. We were inconvenienced so that APT could make a few dollars more.
We took the 3 day/ 2 night tour of Halong Bay on 16 April, ‘08 and hoped it would be as glorious an experience as it had been nearly three years before. I couldn’t help but notice the bald tyres on the bus that was to drive 175 km. from Hanoi to Halong City, where we were to catch the boat to Catba Island via a lot of beautiful scenery and a visit to a cave. The Tour Guide seemed a pleasant enough young man who spoke quite good English. When we approached him and said we were concerned that we were the only members of the tour group with luggage, as we were to have 2 nights at a Catba City Hotel…and were we on the right boat?. He assured us all would be well. We suspected something was not right at all when we sailed into an isolated harbour with no houses of any sort about. The Guide walked us to what seemed a public bus that was already full. The Guide had said that we were at the “ Old Harbour” 30 km from our hotel....and that this was the LAST BUS of the day. We made it clear that we were willing to stand, but the bus driver refused, and when we attempted to enter the bus, we were forcefully shoved off. Throughout all of this, the TOUR GUIDE SAID NOT A WORD. “Xe Om”, motorcycle boys & men who make their living transporting pillion passengers, then besieged us. They demanded an extortionate fare. In the meantime, the Tour Guide just walked away, ignored us when he called to him, pleaded with him for some rescue, and calmly got back on the boat and returned to Hanoi. He had a mobile phone but did not use it. WE WERE ABANDONED to a grasping mob that spoke no English.
We waited an hour and a bit in the vain hope that the Guide had phoned for help once aboard. At 5pm we realised that we would have to pay two Xe Om and pray we got to the hotel in one piece. This was no straight, flat road. Luckily there was no traffic, and the visibility was endless. There was, of course, another snag: we had no idea which hotel it was. We had left it all to APT to get us from A to B to C, etc. Thus, a hair-raising hour later, we set out to find out the name of the hotel. The manager of the SUNSET HOTEL was so upset at hearing our sad story (for it was here that the Xe Om dropped us off) that he set out to find out which hotels APT employs after first trying to ring the APT office in Hanoi. Within 15 minutes we were in our hotel room.
We let the local APT agent know of our plight, and he said he would phone Hanoi. We decided to just enjoy the rest of the tour and deal with the situation when we returned to Hanoi. But APT was soon at it again when it let down a whole busload of tourists including us by having them swelter for 175km in a clapped out bus with no functioning a/c and with few windows that could be opened. Once again bald tyres.
We were staying at the APT Hotel (which we found good value with excellent staff), and we expected a rep. to await us with an apology and the return of the money spent on the Xe Om. No such thing. We had to phone them, and APT thought it was some generosity on their part to repay us. We tried to get across that the Tour Guide had a responsibility for our welfare & safety, that he had various options for helping us but chose to abandon us. Talk about “what if”s”: what if we had had more baggage, not enough money, had had an accident on the bikes, been robbed, murdered, etc. The response was a blank look. Once APT had our money, they, and they alone, determined their responsibility.
THUS, if you value your health & safety, avoid APT like the plague. In Hanoi there are hundreds of places to buy tours. They are ticket sellers, not tour companies. It is important to ask the name of the Tour Company before booking. If the answer is APT, ask for another company, and there are dozens of them.
Please contact us if you want more info.
Robin & Stuart
- Family Travel
Be extremely careful swimming in Halong Bay
Today I took one of the day trips out of Hanoi to Halong Bay with my four children. The children were eager to swim and we soon found out from our guide who asked the captain of our boat that this was indeed possible. They all had a blast jumping off the side of the boat again and again. I stayed in the water making sure that they were OK, especially the youngest. All was fine for the first 10 minutes or so, but then, suddenly a strong current developed and it was like swimming on a treadmill. I called my two oldest back to the boat and started making my way back to the ladder with the younger ones. The current got stronger and now the captain was calling us in. My youngest told me that she could not swim any more and I put her on my back and grabbed the other one. While the older kids approached the side of the boat from an angle, I was swimming with the others almost parallel to the boat. All of a sudden we started being pulled toward the boat and nearly went under it. We were only a few feet away from the ladder but I nearly didn't make it as I was holding 2 children and swimming with one arm. There was really almost a whirlpool sensation. Finally, I was able to jam my foot against the hull and push my children to the ladder. Let me tell you I was scared. We are all strong swimmers. I swam competitively and was a lifeguard myself for many summers. My advice, if you swim in Halong Bay, be very careful, approach the boat from out wide (where the current seemed to be a non-issue) and WEAR A LIFE VEST!!!! When I got back up on deck, knees shaking and out of breath, the captain said "Oh yeah there are some dangerous currents out there." Thanks for the warning, captain!
- Family Travel
Unfortunately the emerald waters of Ha Long bay suffer a great deal of pollution: all sorts of plastic, rubbish can be found on the sea surface not to mention occasional petrol.
It was hard to find any place to go for a swim... Even the small beaches that looked nice from afar, they were heavily polluted when you were close
This is caused because the waters are used by merchant cargo ships, by many cruise junk boats plus the polpulation living in the floating villages.
There are lots of water activities to do at Halong Bay e.g. swimming, kayaking, snorkelling etc. Do wear a life jacket because Halong Bay is in deep water which is not so clear even though the water is calm most of the time due to the surrounding limestone islands. Also, follow the group because it is easy to get lost and always remember how your junk boat looks like because there are many of them and they look almost alike.
- Diving and Snorkeling
Workshop of handicapped children
The workshop of handicapped children will definitely be a rest stop of your land trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay if you are taking the packaged tour from any of the tour operators in Hanoi. It is not so much of a danger, but the souvenirs and crafts here are very overpriced, and you wonder whether they are really made by handicapped children, and even so, if the money will eventually go to the handicapped children. The good thing is that the people here will not agressively persuade you to buy the souvenirs unlike those shops in China.
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
Land journey on mini-buses
The land journey from Hanoi to Halong city to take your junk boat is by airconditioned mini-buses. The mini-buses are OK but the road journey is rather bumpy and long (about 3 hours one way) so do take note. You will see houses, flat farmland and rivers along the journey, and there will be one rest stop halfway. The rest stops are a good place to get some food, and do try the ice cream which is very cheap and delicious. When you see some limestone karst on land next to the road, it is an indication that you are approaching Halong city. Once near the city, you will be able to see the sea with the many islands of Halong Bay at a distance.
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
Because there are so many junk boats carrying loads of tourists to Halong Bay, sometimes your boat cannot park itself next to the jetty and therefore you need to hop from boat to boat. Be careful and try not to carry too many things with you. The guide and boatmen, as well as other tourists will help you.
Peer group jumping off the boat
It was fun to see adventurous travellers taking a big dive jump off their boat into the not so clear waters of Halong Bay.
There is a lot of peer group pressure. If you are not into diving, just use the boat ladder for a more graceful plunge into the water. Saw one person hurt his arm while being pushed off the boat and another must have broken the ear drum because there was a little blood oozing from the ear.
So enjoy but be safe.
Bad Weather and ..?
Last month, one of the travellers has died on the trip due to the the boat sunk.
I checked the information quite carefully before writing this tip for reminding travellers to take care of yourselves. Of course, this case rarely happens.
No one knew that the boat had problem before its cruise or because the the too bad weather ( that night was stormy and the boat was overnight on the region of Cat Ba island ).
All group has been transfered to the small boat to land while the boat was sinking, except 1 traveller still in the cabin, didnt know anything and no one remember him until it was too late.
He was drunk? Or what happened? The question hasnt been answered.
So, please be careful and take care of yourself.
- Sailing and Boating
The resident monkeys of Monkey Island are ornery little primates, probably due to closer contact with humans than is healthy or normal. I was sitting on a rock when another member of my tour pointed out a monkey sitting on the sand nearby. When I looked at it, the monkey screwed up its eyes, opened its mouth, and hissed in an aggressive manner. I got up and as I turned to start walking away, another monkey leapt towards my leg and scratched me with its claw as it tried to get its teeth in as well. I ran a few steps and broke one of my toes on a piece of coral.
Another visitor to Monkey Island thought it would be cute to let the monkey crawl on his back. The monkey proceeded to bite the man's arm and his girlfriend hurled a rock at the monkey to scare it off. It was ecotourism at its finest.
- Budget Travel
- National/State Park
overnight on a wooden junk in Halong
Fourteen foreign tourists were rescued Wednesday September 14 in Ha Long Bay
after their local wooden junk sunk in a storm, local authorities reported. The junk, Thai
Binh Duong (Pacific), began to sink gradually after being unexpectedly hit
by a storm while in the world-famous tourist site. But all aboard managed to
get into life-jackets before it sank.
Marine police forces arrived on time and rescued, besides the foreign
tourists, a tourist guide and the crew. Later, leaders of the Ha Long
People's Committee and others called on the visitors, who are from South
Korea, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and Israel.
15/Sep/2005 Thanh Nien Newspapers
Mind your steps
We have to cross several other boats to get to our boat.
See how my boat mates climbed over from the other boat and cross from one boat to the other.
I almost got cramps on my legs and had to attempt those climbs with my heavy back pack.
Do it slowly else u may slip and fall.
- Sailing and Boating
- Water Sports