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Vietnam: Halong Bay - A unique adventure

posted May 16, 2014, 7:57 PM by Long Quoc Tran   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 6:51 PM by Tran Quoc Long ]
Halong Bay was a magical journey with landscape that was beyond spectacular. 

The Bay is located in the north of the country, in the Quang Ninh province and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam.  It is a 4-hour drive from Hanoi. "Ha Long" is literally translated as "Bay of Descending Dragons."  You will see it written both as Halong Bay and Ha Long Bay (the Vietnamese way).

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1994).  It is said to be 500 million years old.  It is an area of 964 miles and consists of a dense cluster of close to 2000 limestone islands most covered with thick jungle vegetation. 

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Several of the islands are hollow, with large caves.  There are also a number of beaches on the smaller islands.

Halong Bay Legend

According to local legend, thousands of years ago the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, when the gods sent down a mother dragon and her babies to help defend the land.  The dragons began spitting pearls and jade to sink the enemy ships, which transformed into thousands of islands and islets dotting the bay.

Their handiwork formed a great wall blocking the invaders path.  With the people safe again, the family of dragons became interested in more peaceful endeavors and decided to stay to enjoy their stunning creation. Hence the name Ha Long (Ha: descending, Long: dragon).

Our boat - Dragon's Pearl 2

We set sail on a traditional junk boat for 3 days and 2 nights.  We selected Indochina Junk and we were on the Dragon's Pearl 2.  We were extremely happy with our choice and recommend them.

We had nine other couples on our boat from many different countries - France, Austria, UK and Australia.  We were the only Americans.  There was also a diverse range of ages among us.   But everyone was so interesting and we all got along so well.  This was a big reason why our trip was extra special.

Our Captain and a crewmember.

Our bathroom - not bad for a boat!

Our room - not huge but nice.

How about this for a dining view?

The tranquil emerald green waters and the captivating vistas truly were breath taking.

Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes: such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof).

Of the islands, 989 have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and lizards also live on some of the islands.  We did not see any animals – just birds.

What we did while on the boat

We visited a floating village.  Most of the islands are uninhabited, but there are several floating villages of fishermen living in the bay.  They have small paddle-boats that serve as transportation around the village, which they used to pick us up from our boat for our visit to their village.

The shallow waters have 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks.  We visited Cong Dam fishing village.  The houses we quite colorful and well maintained.

We have seen floating villages before – but it is always unbelievable and fascinating to see an entire village situated on water.  And hard to get my mind around their way of life including seeing this wee one was standing on a box close to the boat edge - with no one else in sight.

Full families of multiple generations lived in one-room boats… and they even had dogs. 

Indochina has built a school for this village and pays the teachers annual salary (approximately $90 USD a month) to teach the children. They have also developed the program ‘For a Green Halong Bay’.  

Supported by the government and residents, this program helps in the collection and treatment of waste in Bai Tu Long Bay.  As you might have read, trash in the bay is a big problem.

This is an oyster farm.  Australia has helped train local families in culturing, spawning and nursery techniques.  Most of these families had been earning an average income of between $1,800 and $3,000 a year. But growing oysters has offered growers the chance to substantially increase their family’s income.

Kayaking and Swimming

 We did a little Kayaking and D took a swim (he is the one swimming, not in the kayak).

He also had fun jumping off the side of the boat into the water.  There were jellyfish so I passed.

The photo below is one of my favorite of the trip.  To me, it captures the true calm and quietness of Halong Bay.

Fortunately our junk boat took us to a part of the bay where there were very few other junk boats.  There were many local boats, which were enjoyable to see.

Climate:  The bay has two seasons - hot and moist summer, dry and cold winter.   We were just on the cusp of the rainy season but lucked out and our first day was a perfect blue-sky day.  We had a few showers one morning – but overall excellent weather.

On our last night, we had a very special dinner in the Thien Canh Son Cave.  Wow what a spectacular sight.  We walked up 100 steps on the cliff and entered into the cave.  We though we would just be at the mouth but we walked several minutes deep into the cave.

Once we entered the cave, there were candles lit everywhere making the numerous stalactites sparkle.  When we read this was part of the trip - we were expecting something very hokey - but it was so special.

Below is our set table.  How they cooked and carried all the food and equipment up into the cave was impressive in itself.

The chef even carved several special table setting for us.  Below is the one of our boat made out of a watermelon and melons.  Beautiful!

And swans carved from melons.  All of the food was exceptional, not only for this dinner, but the entire trip.  It far exceeded our expectations.

Wow - we were happy we opted to take this trip with this particular company.  A truly memorable experience!

After our fun stay in Hanoi and Halong Bay Vietnam - we can't wait to explore more of this fascinating country!