Halong Until I Get Scammed in Vietnam

Halong Bay Scams

Marissa and I had spent the two days after booking our trip to Halong Bay wondering if we had fallen for the all-too-common tour company scam in Vietnam. There are many variations of this scam, but basically tour companies will show you glossy pages of four star boats cruising past Halong Bay’s limestone karsts, which tower above cerulean waters. You’ll fall in love with the image, book the trip, and wind up on a ship that looks like it had just returned from sardine fishing. After spending hours shopping around, we decided to book two spots on Glory Cruise for a two night, three day trip, using Kim Tours travel agency.

When we were having dinner, Marissa said, “You know, the lady at Kim Tours never actually called the boat company.”

For two days I worried that this blog post would be about how I fell for the typical scam.

But on the day of the trip, a van that had GLORY CRUISES painted down its side pulled up to my hotel.

We each gave sighs of relief.

The Ride to Halong Bay

After four hours in the van listening to our nine-fingered tour guide, Su Su, give the history of Vietnam, we arrived at the boat. There were hundreds of tourists heading for ships. A ferry took us out into the bay where the Glory Cruise ship was anchored. The aft looked like it had been set on fire. Onboard, the ship was a bit nicer, but this four star, Vietnamese ship was like a two star hotel, where you’re not sure if you should wear protection on your feet in the bathroom. Our lunch menu didn’t help to build my confidence in the vessel. Though the summer rolls were tolerable, they also served fish that tasted like mercury, along with bland vegetables and chicken

At the very least, I thought, we’ll get to enjoy the world famous views of Halong Bay.

Su Su stood up. “We are not sure what will be the outcome, yeah. But we have to await news from whether we can sleep on the bay, yeah. There is heavy winds coming our way, yeah. We might have to sleep on the land, yeah.”

Outside, the bay looked calm. Not one leaf on any tree was rattling and the water looked like glass. I was kind of upset that the first of our two nights would probably be spoiled because when do they ever make that announcement unless things truly are going to get worse.

At the very least, we’d stay in a hotel in Halong Bay and return to the ship the next day.

“Where will we stay in Halong Bay?” another passenger asked.

“We will return to Hanoi, yeah.”

Everyone looked as though they had either misheard or assumed Su Su had misspoke.

“You mean we’ll stay in Halong Bay, right?” someone else clarified.

“No. We must return to Hanoi if they close the bay, yeah. The bay will not reopen for two days after that, yeah. But we have time before they make the call, yeah.”

Suddenly, good news came. “We will definitely have at least tonight on the boat, yeah.”

The boat dropped us off at a cave, where hundreds of other tourists walked around snapping photographs of stalagmites and stalactites.

“This rock looks like elephant, yeah.” Our guide used his laser pointer to trace a rock that looked nothing like an elephant. He went laser-pointer crazy. “This is jellyfish… A lion… A couple embracing, yeah.”

In the cave, cash was strewn about on rocks that were supposed to look like lucky turtles. The turtle really just looked like a rock. The cash, however, looked like cash.

We returned to the boat. The skies had grown dark and it started to rain.

“We have just been informed that we must turn back, yeah.”

“But…” Nobody could argue with the bay master even though we had only been on the waters for about one hour.

Everyone made frantic calls to the travel agents who had booked them on the tour, trying to coordinate refunds, to arrange hotels, to book new tours.

That’s when I panicked again. There was no way the travel agent was going to give us back our money.

“Don’t worry,” Su Su said. “You get full refund. We in this for future. Not for present, yeah.”

“You’re sure that I’ll get a full refund,” I kept asking.

“Yes, yeah,” Su Su kept repeating.

We placed a phone call to Kim Tours and not only did she say she would refund our money, but she had arranged–at our request–a night train to Sapa, a mountain town in northern Vietnam that we had heard everyone rave about.

“The train leaves at 9:50 pm,” the agent at Kim Tours told us.

“We probably won’t arrive back in Hanoi until 9:15,” I told her.

“Don’t worry. I book for you the night train.”

Great, another seventy dollars I would never see again, I thought. But as our van pulled into the city, our travel agent had arrived on motorbike with our train vouchers in hand, flagged down a cab, and sent us off to the train station.

Four days later, we returned to Hanoi to get our refund.

I walked into the Kim Tours office at 7:30 am, which was when the travel agent asked me to come by. But she wasn’t there. Instead, there were other employees who asked me to come back later.

“I’ll just wait here for her.” I sat in an empty seat.

One guy kept touching my arm and looking over my shoulder as I tried to book a room on my iPad. Then he finally said, “Come back in two hours. Vietnamese don’t like to start business by giving out money. It’s not good luck.”

Americans don’t like to get ripped off, I wanted to tell him. I wouldn’t budge.

The woman from Kim Tours arrived at eight and happily reimbursed me for part of the trip. “I cannot give you back your money for the first day. Glory Cruises wants to charge you.”

Scammer, I thought. “Call Glory Cruises. Su Su told me four times that we were entitled to a full refund.”

She called and I spoke to good old Su Su.

“No, yeah. We give you boat trip to cave, yeah. And lunch, yeah. You pay one day.”

“All we did was sit on a bus for eight hours, eat crap food, and listen to you tell us that rocks were unicorns.”

There was no convincing him. He just kept screaming, the way people do when they’re caught in a lie. So much for the typical scam coming from the travel agent. This time the scammer was the cruise line.


What are some scams that you’ve encountered on your travels?

Halong Bay Vietnam

(Marissa wants to let everyone know that our time in Vietnam was not terrible. It was actually rather nice. But that’s not to say I don’t have a few more stories like this.)

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

7 Responses to Halong Until I Get Scammed in Vietnam

  1. Lester

    Sometimes the “rocks” in the rocky roads we travel are best forgotten. Look forward to the paths you’ve yet to follow! Waiting excitedly to learn of the rest of your adventures!

  2. sam lederman

    les is right.

  3. Eve Lashar


  4. Mrs. Gross

    Love the title of the post. Where are you going after Viet Nam?

    • Somewhere Or Bust

      Sorry for the late reply. We’re in Cambodia now, then Bangkok to fly to Bali.

  5. Katie Goldstein

    That’s awful!!! Mariss, you look so tan. Love n miss you guys!

  6. Spencer

    Oh well, at least you can chalk it up to experience!

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