Is a cruise on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam worth the money?
Upside (Pros, if you will) Beautiful scenery as you cruise by the gorgeous rocky peaks of Ha Long Bay. The cruise itself was a wonderful experience. Giving a rustic feel to a more modern activity. Our cruise was a mix of people, two families with young kids, a Korean family, two elderly couples, one American couple, one Spanish couple and Andrew and myself. We got to see monkies jumping and playing in the trees during the kayaking excursion!
Downsides (Cons, if you like that kind of thing) In my opinion there is a lot more that I would have rather done with my $300CAD than go onto the Bay with 100 other boats of people. The government has taken over the Ha Long Bay experience and all boats have to go to the same areas now so that the government can grab its bite! I thoroughly enjoyed the actual cruise experience, however, the excursions were ruined by the hoards of tourists and insane lines to do the most basic things. On top of that, if you go to the excursions and decide to go to the beach, be aware that it is unlikely that you will be able to enjoy both the beach and the Pagoda at the top of the tallest point in Ha Long Bay because it will take you a minimum of half an hour to go up and down the hike. You are only given an hour, so enjoy the top or enjoy the beach, but you wont be able to enjoy both! Be forewarned that the bathrooms on this island are absolutely atrocious; every single one was plugged when I went, there were no bathroom doors, toilet paper or bum washes and the men could see you squatting as they walk by to their bathroom. The serene calming canoeing excursion was ruined by boats of Asians starting up a sing-a-long. (I was not the only one annoyed at the fact that they were scaring away the monkies and birds!) I could hear other couples commenting in different languages that they were being so loud!
Ultimately it is your decision to go, but I wanted to allow you an opinion that wasn’t just me saying, it was stunningly beautiful and you get there to realize the downsides. I believe Vietnam has some much more beautiful landscapes than Ha Long Bay. If you are able to find a cruise or a way onto Ha Long Bay that is perhaps more private, or leaves from a different area, I would recommend trying that. Perhaps you can find a cruise from Cat Ba instead. My friend mentioned they found some locals who took them onto the bay from Ha Long, but it was while before I went and I do not know when they changed the rules to say that all boats must anchor in a certain area.