Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Vietnam and for good reason. It consists of thousands of limestone mountainous islands teeming with natural wildlife jutting out of the emerald waters below. Trying to explain the natural beauty of Ha Long Bay is near impossible. No words or pictures can accurately describe it. Yet, with so much beauty comes a downside: mass tourism.
Mass tourism can be defined as thousands of people going to the same destination at the same time and is often sold as a package deal. The day trip tours to Ha Long Bay are the perfect example of mass tourism. Let me explain why.
We were fetched from my friends parents hotel at 8am along with a number of other tourists. They drove us all the way to Ha Long Bay and arrived at the port with what must have been about 50 other buses packed with tourists. Our guide explained to us that Ha Long Bay attracts 5000-7000 visitors every single day. We were lead to our boat that was docked between a fleet of other boats that could each hold a substantial number of people. Our boat could hold 70 people but luckily, there were only about 30 of us for the day, which was probably due to poor weather and the low tourist season.
As we left the harbour, I could see the most magnificent landscape ahead. To see these ginormous islands teeming with vegetation and wildlife is something i’ll be back for. Yet, in every direction I looked, giant white boats all providing the same kind of buffet lunch experience packed with tourists could be seen. It was near impossible to get a photo of the landscape without one.
As we neared the iconic rocks that are supposed to depict two chickens kissing, we had to wait in a literal queue of boats to get a clear view. Not to mention the number of boats who pushed in or right past us for their gain. Sounds like a petty childhood fight, right?
The next stop on the carefully planned itinerary was canoeing or being rowed on a bamboo boat by a local through two arches in the cliff side that lead to two beautiful enclosed bays. Due to the poor weather, we decided to do the bamboo boats. We were rowed towards the first arch, where once again we hit a traffic jam of people in canoes and bamboo boats. In fact, the canoes with tourists were the only ones contributing to the congestion due to a lack of spacial awareness and little experience. As the tourists bumped into each other, the arch walls and bamboo boats, the locals became increasingly agitated. In all honesty, the boat congestion, the tourist’s squeals and the neon orange life jackets dotted around the bay took away from appreciating the natural beauty around us.
Thereafter, we headed to Dong Thien Duong, which is one of the most spectacular caves I have ever entered. It is filled with giant stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites rising from the ground. Due to the large number of tourists and time constraints, it was difficult to just stop and stare at this magnificent cave system. Once out of the first cave, we were told that we could go to the second cave but need to hurry as they boat will be leaving soon. Who wants to rush through a natural phenomenon?! Not me.
Through my mass tourism experience, I’ve come to realize that there is little to no adventure involved. Sure, you get to see this beautiful landscape but where is the adventure and authenticity in simply seeing with our eyes?
Ha Long Bay is breathtakingly beautiful. Mass tourism doesn’t take away from that beauty but it takes away from experiencing it. I am yet to stay over on one of the islands but from talking to others, it’s a much better experience.