Halong Bay, VietnamApril 7, 2016 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌧 4 °C
Halong literally means the dragon's landing. A city and a bay with the same name sit on the northwest of Vietnam. Halong bay is fed by the China sea, and it's composed of thousands of islands of different sizes. Vietnamese people like to think that the bay homes 1969 islands, because this is the year when Ho Chi Min died. But in actuallity, the real number is a mistery, but estimates using satellite images proposed that there are more than 2000 islands. The story goes that Halong bay was formed by two dragons sent by the gods to help Vietnamese people defeat the invading enemy. These dragons fragmented the land by spitting fire and breaking it into many islands, to prevent the enemy from passing through. Halong bay is currently considered one of nature's wonders of the world. And it is indeed beautiful.
Currently, many travel agencies offer tours on cruise ships which take you around the bay. I took a two day one night cruise, sleeping on the boat. There is also the option of sleeping in Cat Ba, one of the biggest islands with permanent inhabitants in it. Cat Ba also offers trekking, and hiking through its national park.
A group of about 10 of us was picked up from Hanoi and driven up to the pier (about 5 hours). After we recovered one of our passengers which had been left behind by our very rude driver in one of his pit stops, we got on the boat and started our jouney, accompanied by our guide "Key" an overly friendly anticommunist vietnamese. We sailed into the bay for about 30 minutes while we had lunch. We then stopped, checked into our shared rooms, and were allowed to kayak around for 30 minutes. The kayaking was definitely the highlight of my Halong bay visit. The water is amazingly peaceful, and swaying around the green islands while taking in the majestic views in solitude was utterly relaxing. People jumped into the water from multiple ships after kayaking. I definitely didn't.
At night we were surrounded by ten other ships, you can hear the music and laughter coming from some of them but all in all, halong bay is misty and quiet at night.
We went to Cat Ba island's Trung Trang caves. This cave system is unique because it's still being shaped by the sea. The caves are 11 to 700 thousand years old, and they served as refuge and hospital to the locals during the Vietnam war. The trail is paved and the cave is illuminated, making it a very breezy visit. The only challenging part is that some of the passageways are very low and you have to make your way literally squating down.
Overall, Halong bay is beautiful, and definitely worth paying the overpriced tours (you share rooms, get ramen noodles for breakfast, and have to overpay for even your water, and morning coffees separately for about 50 USD).
My only major criticism goes to the Vietnamese people here (and maybe also to a few irresponsible tourists). Kayaking through the bay the pools of oil from the ships are immediately visible. And there is not a clean place in the water. There are so many bottles, shoes, boxes, pieces of styrofoam, left over fishing gear, and just general crap floating around. I saw how the boats, we were told there are around 400 of them in the bay- 300 of which are allowed overnight stays-, emptied their waters and disposed of the left overs from cooking right into the bay where people were swimming. I'm positive that if Vietnamese don't take a stand to protect their distinctive national scenic landscape, it will soon loose its appeal, hindering their significant income from tourism. Most importantly, this disregard for conservation is a threat to the unique wildlife found here, some of which is already endangered (like the Cat Ba Langur monkeys). It is heartbreaking.Read more