I had been anticipating the visit to Ha Long bay for such a long time and we’re finally here! One of the 7 natural wonders of the world is right here in front of me and what a sight to behold, the view is simply amazing.
After a 3 hour bus from Hanoi we arrived at the Marina and were greeted with the sight of many ‘junk’ boats. I noted ‘junk because there is nothing junk about them and are in fact quite nice luxury cruise boats decked out with aircon, bar and the works.
It is fair to say that when they mean ‘junk’ they are are referring to the stylistic nuances of the vessel, the older junk boats that you might see in older pictures with big brown sails are not around anymore, who knows why; maybe they were simply not seaworthy anymore or the increased tourism around here has allowed many operators an upgrade. The surrounding area also seems fairly upscale as evident from the little diorama of the resorts.
Our boat is a big triple decker with non-functional sails (they all have big diesel engines) with two trailing tender boats used for transporting the guests to and from the marina (the boat was not docked but anchored a little further out) as well as to little destinations within the bay where the big boat cannot navigate easily. Each room has an ensuite bathroom and with pretty good showers (hot water!) and the fluffiest beds.
Immediately we set off into the bay along with a big flotilla of similar junk boats, and as the big limestone karsts (rock formations) loom up alongside and all around us, everyone is wide-eyed in amazement. They rise dramatically out of the ocean, more than 50m in height, some up to 100m, and topped out with lush jungle vegetation; we are informed by our guide that there are 1,969 of these islets dotted around the bay. Local legend has it that they were formed by dragons sent by the gods to protect the Vietnamese from invaders; the dragons spat out jade and jewels which formed the islands upon which the enemy ships crashed against. After the battle had been won the dragons decided to stay, which is where the name Ha Long bay gets its name; bay of descending dragons.
After some time taking pictures of and with the surrounding landscape we have a nice seafood lunch onboard before setting off in kayaks to explore. Getting up close with these big limestone rocks is a must just to feel how huge they really are. We spot some monkeys by the shore and paddle around the bay before heading back to the boat. Sadly we can’t jump off the top deck of the boat as it has been banned by the local government, I am guessing some stupid idiots had done something stupid in the past and ruined it for everybody.
Next stop is Titov island in the middle of the bay (see the pic below, the lookout spot is on the top of the big island to the left) which is so named from the Soviet Astronaut Stephanovich Titov, the second man to orbit the earth – he visited the spot in 1962 with President Ho Chi Minh. There’s not too much on the island apart from the beach and the lookout at the top of the island; I counted 420 (dat magic number) steps all the way.
The 360 degree panoramic view once you get to the top though is breathtaking, you just feel like you are at the centre of everything, there are huge limestone rocks as far as the eye can see rising out of the emerald waters; there is just no place like it.
The climb up and down was not as fast as I would have liked, there are quite a few unfit/unhealthy tourists who probably shouldn’t be climbing this thing lest they descend into cardiac arrest, but the views are to die for. But seriously there was this woman at the top who sounded like she was coughing up her insides it was fucking dreadful having to listen to her raucous diseased lungs while I am trying to appreciate the beauty of this place. /rantover
Anyway there is also the beach at the bottom where the views are not as spectacular but you can go for a swim but today the waters are a bit chilly, not too cold that you can’t swim but definitely not too pleasant to stay for any extended period of time. Before the sun goes down we take a big group photo with one of the best backgrounds you can ask for.
We head back onto the boat for a seafood dinner before turning it up for a pirate party! We blast the tunes and everyones dressed up-ish in piratey (kinda) costumes and its a great time for everybody. Sadly not too many photos as my phone was kinda dead by this point, I had made several mistakes in packing for this trip – I had forgotten my sunnies, my sunscreen, my charger, my GoPro, didn’t bring enough alcohol; so many regrets! But hey I had still had great fun and everyone else had their phones for pictures and stuff if I wanted to relive any memories.
Still quite hungover, in the morning we head to the Sung Sot caves. Although not at all to impressive from outside, once you enter it is amazing to see the scale of the cavernous interior. Again the phone is dead so no pics so you’ll have to trust me on this one or go see for yourself! There are a whole bunch of stupidly big stalactites and stalagmites, cool stuff.
Sadly our stay isn’t all too long and as we head back the bay starts fogging up in mist which is kind of cool and gives off a mysterious and magical vibe. So we are at least lucky that when we visited it was quite clear so we could see all the rock formations.
Wow what an amazing place! This place has been in formation for millions of years even dating back before the dinosaurs so I hope the area stays quite well preserved for many generations to come. Again I wish I could have stayed here just that little bit longer to explore some of the small fishing villages whose houses are built on the water as well as some of the other cave formations; but then again just seeing the scenery alone is well worth it!