There are plenty of Good things to say about Ha Long Bay, in the north-east of Vietnam – the country’s most beautiful natural attraction. 

Thousands of limestone islets soar from the turquoise water to create a scene that was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1994.  If that isn’t enough, Ha Long Bay has also been listed as one of The New 7 Wonders of The Natural World .  Now, that doesn’t happen without good reason.

This weekend, we have been fortunate enough to take a cruise around the many islands on a traditional Vietnamese wooden junk.

We were picked up from our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and, after a four hour journey, arrived at Ha Long City, where we climbed aboard the junk for an overnight cruise around the bay.  There were only 15 people on our cruise, sharing the nine luxurious cabins on board.  We were treated to an itinerary of activities including a visit to a floating fishing village, Sung Sot cave (also known as Surprising Cave), the rock featured on the back of the Vietnamese Dong notes, and a chance to try out kayaking and Vietnamese cooking.  We dined on plates (and plates) of good food, artistically presented, and made new friends with fellow travellers Ilya and Chris from Rotterdam, Holland, who we hope will come and stay with us in southern Spain one day.

As you can see for yourselves in the YouTube clip below, the scenery is spectacular, with the tree-covered limestone islands rising from the turquoise waters.  It’s a pity that we had cloudy skies and fine drizzle (at times) – but it really didn’t take away any of our enjoyment of the trip.

As for the Bad, I’ve only had one glass of red wine on three occasions during the four weeks since we left home – and on each occasion I have had a stinking headache the following morning!  Now, that’s bad news in my book!

I won’t dwell on the Ugly, but nonetheless it’s worth a mention.  Because of the nature of Ha Long Bay, especially with it’s UNESCO listing and New 7 Wonders of the Natural World status, it’s a very popular destination for tourists.  When we arrived at the dock to board our boat, we were surprised by the hundreds (if not thousands) of visitors waiting to board junks for day, overnight or two night cruises.  The distressing news is the pollution.  Not only did we see rubbish floating in the Bay, but also patches of oil, and the diesel exhaust fumes at times were overwhelming. 

In my opinion, this area desperately needs eco-tourism – low impact, take all your rubbish away, sailing rather than diesel boats.  And, if it costs more, so what – this is the price we need to pay to save these areas of outstanding natural beauty.