Halong Bay is said to be the most aesthetically beautiful place in Vietnam is and currently fighting to become one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world’, it is also a UNESCO heritage sight. It’s basically a beautiful bay, with glimmering blue and green waters and thousands of limestone rocks arising from deep below the waters. It is very popular to take overnight boat tours around the bay, which is what I decided to do.
The Vietnamese believe that years ago, during the wars, a dragon came to help the people, he flew out from beneath the waters and in doing so flung pieces of land everywhere, this land thus forming the thousands of rocks throughout the bay. These rocks then protected the people as they could hide in the many caves etc that had subsequently been created during this process. One of the caves has a rock at the front in the shape of a sword, this sword is said to have prevented the enemies entering the cave, and thus protected the people.
They have many stories such as this in Vietnam, and across Asia. Although I may not believe in quite the same way that the locals do, I like this and I enjoy listening to the tales.
The boat was adorable. We had nice little cabins and there was a communal area where we would meet with the other people staying on the boat for dinner, drinks and card games etc. There was an outside area with seats and loungers for us to relax and admire the view, and it really was an outstanding view.
Whilst cruising through the bay we stopped off at a huge cave (the one with the sword)! This cave was HUGE and it was incredible to see. Our tour guide explained all about how people would hide in the cave during the wars and how there were various rocks that look like things and have meanings…for example, above one entrance was a rock in the shape of an elephant that is said to guard the entrance, there was a rock in the centre of the cave in the shape of a turtle and people will touch the head and make a wish (the turtle being a sacred animal in Vietnam) and of course the sword shaped rock that I mentioned earlier. This was all very interesting and I was intrigued at all the historical wartime tales.
You could also go kayaking around the bay which was amazing!! We rented kayaks from one of the local fishing villages (a floating village!!!) and rowed our way between the huge rocks scattered around. The water was a but murky so it was difficult to see any fish but it gave us the chance to get up close to rocks and admire some more of their elegance. There was an almost eerie atmosphere, I felt so small and helpless in comparison to the huge looming rocks that surrounded me. It was astounding beautiful and that kayak ride will almost certainly remain a fond memory.
Just before dawn the boat anchored in a beautiful spot of the bay. Here we all had the chance to swim in the waters, and after an incredibly hot day, we were quite excited about this! We all decided to jump from the top deck of the boat into the water (there were 3 floors to the boat so this was pretty high!), this is quite unusual for me as I am afraid of heights and not the best swimmer, but I thought what the hell! And I jumped! It was a great adrenalin rush and we all did the jump two or three times each before having a nice little swim and returning to our cabins to shower before dinner.
The following day we docked at Cat Ba island. This is the largest of the limestone rocks, and is big enough that there are a few people living there in the town, there is a national park and some beaches too. In the morning we did a trek through the national park to the highest point on the island. The views from the top were great, however there were many people there from different tours, this made it very touristy and tainted the experience somewhat, with there often being queues at tough parts of the trek and people slowing down the pace.
On the last day of the tour we had breakfast, chilled out on the top deck of the boat for the morning, and then arrived back in Halong City in time for lunch before venturing back to Hanoi.
Halong Bay was incredibly beautiful, but for me, it was far too touristy and the tourism could be better managed. For example, they could have less boats arriving at the cave at the same time, and perhaps schedule the treks for different times, rather than the mass tourist trek that seemed to take place. The boat itself was very nice, and it reminded me a little of the time when I went on a house boat in Kerala, India (pots to come soon about this). I do also think that it would have been nice to have docked somewhere good for sunset and for us to have the opportunity to swim again on the second or third day, as it was extremely hot. Oh dear sounds like I should send in some feedback…. Ha ha But it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip that I would certainly recommend to anybody visiting Vietnam!
Halong Bay…a must see when visiting Vietnam!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Make sure you’re in the know- I also recommend buying a Lonely Planet guide!