When staying on the junk boats, guests are often informed that outside beverages are not allowed and that a drinking fee of 10% all the way up to $1 per beverage will be assessed per item (up to $5 if alcoholic). With drink prices being expensive as it is, often $1.50 per cola at a minimum, many people resort to outside sources in an attempt to sneak drinks on board to avoid the fee.
The common technique to get around this in Halong Bay is row boat peddlers which pull up to the side of a junk boat and sell drinks to passengers at heavily discounted prices. A dream come true for the budget minded? Hardly. It turns out that supporting the local peddlers has a huge impact on Halong Bay more than just drinking at a cheaper price.
For those traveling to Halong Bay, wait until dark to see the true nature of some local peddlers, as dozens of empty cola and beer cans are guaranteed to float by in the water, dumped without care of repercussion. At first, the guests on our junk thought it was from our boat itself, but we later saw the trash supply being unloaded from the boat for disposal via proper channels. Our tour guide informed us that the water dumpers are in fact the local people, fisherman, row boat peddlers; the very same that only hours earlier sold several people on our boat drinks at significantly reduced prices.
This act of disregard for trash disposal goes on throughout many Vietnamese cities, where highways, roadways, and side streets become dumping grounds for garbage. This is not an issue so much in these populated locales as there are numerous street cleaners that walk the streets at all hours picking up every piece of debris. The bay, however, does not have a similar service, and trash is likely never picked up until it makes landfall.
For being a World Heritage UNESCO site, seeing trash and debris floating in the waters is unsettling. Getting past the amount of boats on the water is one thing, but physically seeing cans and beer bottles floating by is unacceptable on many levels.
It is with this knowledge that I make this request to all readers: Do not support the boat peddlers in Halong Bay. To ensure the beauty of Halong Bay is maintained for future generations, purchasing drinks on the boat is the way to go, even if it may kill your prepared budget.