Do Not Support the Boat Ladies of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Posted By Jeremy on Dec 14, 2011 in Asia | 6 comments

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The beautiful sights of Halong Bay are one of the most sought after destinations in all of Vietnam.  Resulting from this, hundreds of tourists visit every single day and stay overnight on the water in one of the many number of junk boats. While this is a dream itinerary, there is one small drawback to the experience – the garbage.

Saving Money, Polluting the Waters

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.

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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.


Jeremy founded Living the Dream in 2008 to chronicle his long-term trip around Asia. Since then he has been on two long-term trips, visited 68 countries, and is just getting started. He is now on a Lifestyle Design quest to build businesses to pursue a life of travel.

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  1. Good for you for speaking up! What a shame to see pollution while you’re enjoying such a gorgeous spot… and a pity for anyone who actually lives there!

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  2. Awesome, you’ll love it! Vietnam is one of those places I went to not knowing what to expect, and now it is one of my favorite places in the world. Let me know when it gets closer and I can give you tons of recommendations.

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  3. Hi Dyanne! So glad to hear you made it over to Vietnam! It is encouraging to know that not all junk boats charge the ridiculous extra fees for outside beverages and that the boat ladies aren’t there all the time. Other travelers had warned me about these things before I got there so I was under the assumption it was a 100% given.

    The plastic bottle issue is quite a serious thing around the world. A good portion of the trash that I mentioned is in fact plastic bottles and that is true just about anywhere. Sadly I am guilty of that too so far as I have not purchased a purifier yet. I get a little jaded being an engineer that specializes in water seeing a cure-all water filter.

    But, for what it is worth, the Sawyer filter you mention does look pretty cool. Maybe I should get one and test it out with my engineering background for a proper review?

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  4. Interesting. Having recently spent 3 days on Halong Bay (which truly IS among the most wondrous settings on the Planet), the subject never came up. I mean, nobody on my junk mentioned anything about extra fees for “outside” beverages. Nor did I see any local row boats pedaling soft drinks (only sea shells).

    Still… no doubt the garbage situation is a serious matter in such an exquisite locale. So good to alert folks to be aware of the issue.

    Similarly, my personal “soapbox” is the bottled water situation ALL OVER THE WORLD. I just don’t understand why so many backpackers, etc. keep preaching “buy/drink bottled water” in remote areas. Sure, one needs pure drinking water when traveling, but WHERE.ON.EARTH.DO.YOU.THINK.ALL.THAT.PLASTIC.GOES???

    The answer? Extremely simple: carry you own filtered water bottle (e.g. my “Sawyer” comes with a life-time filter), and refill it yourself from any tap, stream, on the globe.

    Seriously. As travelers, it is up to us to set an example. Be it ponying up for a bit pricier soft drink on a Halong Bay junk (one would like to think the extra dong goes to proper recycling of the containers, yes?) or simply carrying your own reusable water filter bottle, and refilling it wherever you go.

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