Mark gives an alternative view on Ha Long Bay
The guide books list Ha Long Bay as one of the highlights of Vietnam, unsurprising really as it is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Leila’s mum even suggested to us (somewhat unsubtly) before we left the UK that this would be the perfect place to get engaged!
However, the trip was somewhat of a disappointment.
We booked a three day, two night mid-range cruise, staying on the boat the first evening and in a bungalow on Cat Ba Island the second.
It is certainly true that some of the scenery was magnificent – the huge limestone karsts, formed over something like 500 million years of deposition, erosion, sea level changes and tectonic movements, were extraordinary.
Huge cave systems (the tour guides pointing out the “dragons” and “lions” shaped into the rock).
The odd monkey.
The landscape around our bungalow was particularly beautiful – opportunity for the classic photo of women in conical hats working the paddy fields.
There are three reasons, however, for our disappointment: too many people, a brat and litter. (Edit by Leila: and mosquitoes! Ha Long Bay was where I was munched to death by the greedy blood suckers.)
Perhaps it was our fault for visiting Vietnam at the high season and for not forking out for one of the more expensive tours, but the number of tour groups was incredible.
Nature’s beauty is best appreciated in solitude and serenity. This is why we enjoyed places like Chapada Diamantina in Brazil so much. Serene this place was not, particularly when our boat and others around it starting pumping out dodgy disco music at sundown.
The brat was an incredibly ill-behaved, shrill, screaming Russian kid, whose mother’s view of discipline was to escape to the front of the boat to chain smoke. After three days of being cooped up with this family I was close to killing them both.
But the main reason for the disappointment, which cannot be put down to poor timing, tour choices, or unfortunate companions was the litter. It was everywhere. Bottles, cans, plastic bags, the usual detritus mixed with polystyrene balls floated the oily surface of the water and littered beaches.
We couldn’t enjoy the beautiful scenery for the ugly sight of litter in every direction we looked. We even cut a kayaking trip short as we were too disgusted with the state of the water.
This guy was trying his best to clear what litter he could with a fishing net, but more needs to be done.
As far as I know we paid no national park fee or tourist tax to cruise in Ha Long Bay. Fees should be introduced and spent on education and rubbish collection. Simple things like forcing all the tour boats to have bins on every deck. I don’t think ours had any, so people left their empty water bottles lying around, to be blown overboard.
Polystyrene is used in big blocks to support floating rafts throughout the bay – this should be discouraged as it breaks off and floats indefinitely in tiny crumbs. Plastic barrels, used here at a pearl farm we visited, work just as well.
So get a grip Vietnam. If you are so proud of having one of the seven natural wonders within your borders, then treat it like one!