Even though this 21 year old UNESCO heritage site is a popular tourist attraction, it still retains its charm and mystery. You just cannot visit Vietnam without a trip to this magical bay. Legend has it that many years ago, when foreign invaders threatened to reach the coast of Vietnam, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. The dragons spat pearls and jade which, upon touching water turned into rocks to block the way and destroy the foreign ships. The dragons decided to settle and now rest peacefully and enjoy the serenity and beauty of Halong Bay. Today, there are over 2000 rocks scattered across the bay.
You can easily find a tour operator to Halong when roaming the narrow, busy streets of Hanoi. However, we planned our trip before with Thien Thien agency and we were on the Gardenbay Cruise ship, which I can definitely recommend.
Many operators will offer day trips as well as trips up to 2-3 days. My cousin made the mistake of booking the day trip and it was thanks to him that we decided for the 2D1N option. Firstly, the drive to Halong from Hanoi is roughly a 4 hour drive, with a midway stop at a large Vietnamese Craft shop accompanied by an overpriced Cafe and restrooms. I would avoid shopping here, as everything is overly priced! Shopping at Hanoi is much more of a treat, read my previous article for shopping tips in Hanoi.
Once you get to Halong, it takes about 2 hours on the cruise to get to the bay, so imagine the time left if you had to return on the same day.
The usual trip involves kayaking or the dryer, less physically demanding choice, sitting in a sampan (bamboo boat). We were taken through an old fishing village, which has now been vacant for the last 6 months. The fishermen have been sent to live in Halong city in order to preserve the environment at the bay. We had the opportunity to visit the primary school at the fishing village and learnt the pledge recited by children in schools across the country.
- Love your country, love your people
- Study well, work well
- Work together and follow the rules
- Keep the environment clean
- Be honest, brave and confident
It is a belief, like in many asian countries, that children should learn manners first before they learn how to write and read. Something that unfortunately went missing in the west.
Most Cruise ships then also take you to the Hang Sung Sot Cave, discovered by the french, which means “suprising cave”. In my opinion, it has lost the enchantment I imagine it once had due to the streams of tourists with flashing lights. In the cave, you will walk across a rock, naturally formed in a shape of a turtle. In Vietnam, the turtle is thought to be a sign of luck and you are suppose to gently rub the turtle’s head with your right hand to make a wish. And make sure that wish is kept a secret!
The best times to go to Halong bay are during autumn, September to November. This is if you want to experience heavenly clear blue skies. However, I must admit, the fog and mist we experienced brought about an eery calm that left me mystified. I was left to question what magic lay behind the clouds. And when you leave the bay and look back through the mist, there you see the shadows of a resting dragon.