You can’t go to Vietnam and skip Ha Long Bay. You just can’t. Maybe I’ll forgive you if you’re going only to the south. Maybe.
“Ha Long Bay” translates to: the bay where the dragon descends into. How romantic. Because Internet is full of “where a dragon descends” titles, I will stick to Ha Long. It’s shorter. But why is this dragon descending? Of course there’s a story. There always is (remember the one about Three Sisters? Click here). And it goes more or less like this: long, long time ago, Vietnamese people where fighting with an invader and gods sent dragons to help them. Dragons which were spitting jewels (seriously?). These jewels ended up in water and with a bit of magic transformed into rocky mountains on which invadors ships’ crashed. Vietnam won, dragons decided they could stay. Mother of the dragons landed in this one part of the Gulf of Tonkin which is now called Ha Long.
Another version of the legend says that a dragon decided to land on the ground and he hit the mountains so hard with his tail, that they broke into million pieces and that’s how the huge rocks were created. This story has a bit more sense. Has anyone seen dragons spitting jewels? They should breath fire, not spit sparkly rocks for rings.
Ok, now that we have landed, let’s talk about the bay. Why is it worth visiting? Well, Ha Long Bay consists of almost 2000 rocky islands on 1500 square kilometers area. 1.33 island per 1 square kilometer! More islands than sq km. Plus grottos, caves and lots of green – each rock is covered with tropical forest. Someone smart decided to put this area on the UNESCO heritage list. Unfortunately Vietnamese people are not the best when it comes to caring about the environment. The bay is full of litter, but maybe, according to our guide, it was so bad because of the storm which brought trash (and jellyfish) from the open sea.
We arrived in Ha Long around noon. Sun was burning our skin and we were extremely happy. After 2 days of heavy rain in Sapa, we finally saw the sun! And blue sky! Blue sky is not a common thing in Ha Long Bay. It’s usually grey and foggy. If gods of Vietnam decided that we have to get wet in Sapa to enjoy sunshine in Ha Long Bay, I’m fine with it. The scenery was breathtaking. Why am I still writing? Here are the pictures:
We were on an organized trip and you can’t have an organised trip without someone trying to sell you something. These time: pearls. Our boat arrived at the pearl farm, where a Vietnamese lady tried to explain how artificial pearls are made. We pretended that we understood everything, but everyone was simply tired of the Vietglish. She showed us oysters, showed some magic and in the end she opened and oyster and took a pearl out of it. I have never seen it before, so I was ok with it. The exit was obviously through a jewelry store.
There was time for canoeing and swimming during the sunset. The storm brought not only plastic bottles and other trash, but also jellyfish, so the crew stayed on board and every few second scream “jellyfish! Get out!” or “jellyfish! To the right!”. Sweet.
The next day’s main attraction was a cave. A cave named Surprising or Amazing, how you wish. It was big, cool and impressive and amazing.
We sun bathed for a bit and during these lazy hour on the sundeck, I found out that our bookin in the next destination was cancelled due to a natural disaster. A flood, to be more precise. It got quite interesting, but I’ll tell more in the next post!
How to get to Ha Long Bay? The easiest way is to book a cruise. The most popular options are 2 days 1 night (in fact 24 hours) and 3 days 2 nights (48 hours, I guess).Prices start about 60 USD per person for 2D1N if you haggle a bit and you can book a cruise in any hotel in Vietnam. If I had to wait till our arrival, I’d get a heart attack. I found our cruise on Booking. Com! It had really good reviews (and it’s not that obvious, boats are usually pretty old) and the price was ok (80 USD per person for 2D1N plus 30 USD per person for the shuttle Hanoi – Ha Long – Hanoi). I’ve heard many bad things about cruises in Ha Long Bay, saw way too many photos of terrible bathrooms, but our Rosa Cruise was really good. The crew was nice, there was waaay to much food, rooms were really nice and the whole boat was really great.
Food is included in the price of the cruise, but drinks are not. Prices are higher than usually in Vietnam, but still ok. 1 beer – 2 USD
Transfer from Hanoi to Ha Long takes about 4-5 hours.
All cruises are more or less the same: lunch, departure, admiring views, visit in the pearl farm or fishing village, canoeing, swimming, party, sleep, breakfast, admiring views, cave, views, thank you. There are many things in the itinerary and not that much time, so everyone is rushing and some people don’t like it. Well, you just have to accept that it looks how it looks and instead of complaining, focus on the views. Ha Long Bay is really huge, so it’s not surprising that you see only a part of it.