Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is a must see for those travelling to Hanoi. Popularised in the films Indochine and the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, the scenes of the bay and its limestone masses pointing towards the sky have found a way into many travellers’ minds and inspired many to make the long trek to Vietnam.
‘Ha Long’ literally means ‘descending dragons’ and according to local legend, in a time of strife, the gods from heaven sent down a family of dragons to help defend the land against invaders. After they arrived, the dragons began to spit out jewels and jade into the sea which turned into the islands that dot the seascape. These islands formed a fortress impenetrable against the invaders, protecting its inhabitants for evermore.
The bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, 170 kilometres east of Hanoi in northern Vietnam near the border with China. In all there are 1,969 limestone islands which rise spectacularly out of the sea. Due to the precipitous nature of these small islands they are unfit for human habitation, which gives them a unique tropical desert island feel. The bay was made a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994 which provides this rare habitat with increased protection.
There are many choices for travel on the bay from small day cruisers to traditional style junk boats some of which have been completely decked out with all the modern luxuries. Some of the boats could be compared with cruise ships as they offer drinks, Vietnamese chefs on board, guides and if shared with other tourists can be a perfect place to meet people. No matter how you see the bay, don’t miss the chance to go for a swim especially during the spring and summer when the waters are crystal clear. Several of the islands have caves and small alcoves with charmingly tiny sandy beaches which can be explored by the small vessels most tour organisers carry on the boats.
Many tours also take visitors to explore some of the huge caves that can be found amongst the islands and give visitors a chance to learn about some of the geologic history of the area. The calm waters, steep sided cliffs and labyrinth of caves in the bay make it an ideal destination for a soft adventure holiday with excellent kayaking and trekking plus an endless supply of beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
There are many travel agents lining the streets of Hanoi that offer to book trips around the bay or most tours can be booked through your hotel. The trips vary from short one day excursions to longer stays where high value, luxury accommodation is provided in hotels on the shores in and around the bay and even on the boats themselves.
Going on one of these tours is also a great way to meet like-minded travellers and see some sights that you would be unable to see without a boat.