I was in Halong Bay recently to shoot a wedding. Once the sun came out, the karst islands put on a show as they so often do, and the wedding party and myself (a perhaps jaded Halong veteran) gawped at the beautiful landscape. Later on, me and the wedding planners took a speedboat out of the bay to the mainland. It was pitch black and the boat had no lights. We rocketed and splashed our way back to relative safety, the pilot navigating by the dim lights of a few anchored ships. It was a very Vietnamese, very exciting, and pretty terrifying way to say goodbye to Halong on what will probably be my final trip there, at least for many years. So it was a good trip, except for one thing.

A while back I remember reading an article in a Vietnamese newspaper which said that the Vietnamese authorities had decided to 'clean up the bay'. However, they weren't going to take the logical step of actually cleaning it. Nein. They were going to force every tour operator, and every boat owner, to paint their boats white. At the time I assumed it was a joke. After all, a white boat won't look clean for very long, especially if it's in water that needs cleaning. Also, part of the charm of travelling in the bay is seeing the traditional wooden junks gliding through it. Who wants to travel in a junk that doesn't look like a junk? That's right - a madman. I've never been to New York, but if I do, and even if I need a taxi desperately, and even if non-yellow taxis are stopping for me (if they even exist there), I'm not going to get in them. I'll get in a yellow taxi or none at all.

So. To Whom It May Concern - The Tourism Authority, the Vietnamese government, whoever. You are ruining Halong Bay. The boats look stupid and ugly. Also, they are dirtier than before because the real problem (water pollution) has not been addressed and the water in the bay is salty so, even if the water was clean, it would still stain the boat's hulls and anything else it touched - especially things that are white. But it seems to me that if you are going to go down this deliciously abstract route in your efforts to 'clean up', you haven't gone far enough. So I have a suggestion for you:

Replace the water in the bay with white paint. That way, any new rubbish that's added to your UNESCO World Heritage Site will instantly be camouflaged, and the boats will paint and 'clean' themselves.

You're welcome.


  1. Hi,
    I cant believe they are doing this! What ridiculous and crazy thought processes some people have. I am married to a Vietnamese lady, she is from a town very close to Halong Bay. (Aidan was one of our wedding photographers - Danang 2008) I have been to Halong Bay many times. Its a real shame. Now all those postcards and travel mag photos will need to be adjusted... Anthony