After couple of days in Hanoi, we leave the city behind and head towards the sea. We book a boat cruise in Ha Long bay with a tourist agency. A mini bus drives us 130 kilometers away to a port, from there a smaller boat takes us to a bigger one. The big boat represents our home for a few days. We cruise among the bay, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is located in the Gulf of Tonkin and includes some 1600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Most of the islands are uninhabited and the scenery is truly outstanding and breathtaking. Observing how the nature played with land and sea is a real feast for the eyes. You may recognize this famous bay from the scenes of James Bond movie If tomorrow never dies. The dragon bay is composed of thousands of karst formations, natural bridges, caves and islets as green hives emerging from the Emerald South China See. Scenery is extremely photogenic.
The name of these wonder of the World literally means “descending dragon” and it originates from a legend of this ancient land. The legend says that during the old time when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. Feeling sorry for the country, the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth and help ancient Vietnamese people defend the country. While the mighty enemies were attacking the main land, The Mother Dragon and her children suddenly appeared and incinerated the enemies with their divine fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered around the battlefield on the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall that left enemy battleship fleet sinking. Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were swept away and the peace finally came back the South East Asian country once again. After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes. After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children didn’t come back to the heaven, but stayed in the mortal world and turned into human form and help people planting, cropping, raising cattle, reclaiming, and expanding the country. To remember the help of Mother Dragon and her children, the people who live there from generation to generation named the bay where the Mother Dragon descended “Ha Long or Halong” and the bay where her children descended “Bai Tu Long”, which means “Thanks to the Dragon’s children”. This legend is also a part of the general belief that Vietnamese people’s has Dragon’s origins.
After hiking through Sung Sot cave that offers spectacular and popular view of the bay, we went kayaking, also among the floating village nearby. When we made anchor, we could jump of the boat and swim in the cold sea. The evenings though are reserved for delicious dinner and karaoke. If you’re a seafood lover, you will enjoy dinners on board, but luckily for me, since I don’t like seafood, they also serve delicious spring rolls, soy sauce and obviously rice. Next day some people leave the bay, but we sail deeper in the Halong bay towards the biggest island Cat Ba. But first a short stop to a pearl farm, where we can see how the pearls are gathered.
Next we anchored on the small island Viet Hu on which we cycled around. A short stop for swimming is on a “Monkey island”. You can guess whose residence it is by its name. We are warned to keep our belongings close to us because the monkeys will steal them. We took only a short swim in the turquoise sea while keeping attention on our towels and flip flops. Before boarding the boat, we sunbath on the white sand. Paradise like. Next day we made it to Cat Ba. There we visited a floating village, walked around the island, swam in the sea and indulged ourselves in coconut milk. Cat Ba is the largest island in the bay and approximately half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur. Cat Ba means “Women’s Island” (Cat meaning sandy and Ba meaning women). Legends has it that many centuries ago, three women of the Tran Dynasty were killed and their bodies floated all the way to Cat Ba Island. Each body washed up on a different beach and all three were found by local fishermen. After spending the night on the island, it is time to sail back to the harbor on land and from there to Ha Noi.