Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful and rapturous attractions in Asia, but its reputation has been damaged by exploitation of tourists and commercialization in general. We had our qualms about booking a junk cruise due to the various horror stories we’d read of overcharging, filthy boats, and shady tour guides demanding tips. Hence, I did quite a bit of research to prepare for any possible hiccups on our Halong Bay junk cruise.
If you intend to cruise Halong Bay, do read this guide to get yourself mentally prepared.
Wait… Who Owns This Junk?
Do a quick Google search on “red dragon junk”. Go on – you’ll see that this very popular Halong Bay junk is available for booking on at least 20 different companies’ websites, all having similar names and claiming to own the same junks (yachts, really). After a dozen searches or so, you’ll be ready to smash your keyboard in despair.
It’s starting to sound confusing and even scammy, isn’t it? Which company is offering the real deal?
Here’s how it works: those websites don’t actually own the junks. They’re just different travel agencies offering vacancies on the same boat, and most of the boats are owned by the same company. For example, Oriental Sails Halong Bay owns the Oriental Sails and Calypso Cruiser junks, while Indochina Junk and Indochina Sails are two different companies owning different junks.
1. Check Reviews & Prices by Junk Name
Don’t get confused by the different Halong Bay cruise websites just yet. Instead, conduct a few searches on the various Halong Bay junks. ToursHalong.com offers a rather accurate star rating of the most popular junks, including private junks. Their prices are also a good starting point for comparison.
2. Book from a Reputable Source
The number one reason for negative reviews on Halong Bay junk tours – even for more well-known junks – is a shady travel agent or freelance tour guide. Here’s what to look out for:
- Most Halong Bay tours from Hanoi will include a pit stop at a craft/souvenir factory, but you should not be forced to buy anything.
- At the end of your junk cruise, the crew on the junk will mention that tips are appreciated, but they should be anonymous and non-obligatory. Don’t feel compelled to fork out more cash if your tour guide claims the tips aren’t enough.
- If you read a negative review about an otherwise fantastic Halong Bay junk, try to find out where the junk tour was booked and avoid that website/company.
I recommend booking a tour with AmoVietnam – they were wonderful hosts when I stayed in their Hanoi homestay, and helped book my friends and I a wonderful Halong Bay junk tour.
3. Be Prepared
Don’t feel guilty or paranoid about asking questions before booking or while on your cruise, especially if you’re going for a small private cruise instead of a larger one with more passengers on board. Try to get more details on the company that owns the junk or the travel agency so that if a nightmarish experience really does happen, you can make a complaint to the appropriate persons.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect perfection either – showers can leak, the food may not be to your taste, and the crew may not speak perfect English. Just enjoy yourself, delight in the view, and travel happy!