A trip to Vietnam is incomplete without a tour to Ha Long Bay .This picturesque bay is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone karsts topped by rainforests. Aerial views of this bay from drones can be really breath taking making it a popular film shooting destination .We all were also looking forward to this visit to Ha Long Bay.
A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, it is spread over an area of more than 1500sq kms and has close to 2000 limestone monolithic karsts ; most of them covered with tropical rainforests. The word Ha Long means “descending dragon”. Some of the karsts are hollow and contain enormous caves with stalactite and stalagmite formations. At many places, the lower part of the islet has got eroded and there are arched entrances to bays inside.
The emerald waters of the bay with the towering islets.
Ha Long Bay….An Overview
Legend has it that celestial dragons intervened when Vietnam was under attack by the Mongols and these dragons fractured the landscape into thousands of islands making it difficult for the Mongols.
On a more practical note, these karst landscapes have been sculpted by wind and water over millions of years. These formations offer tremendous potential for kayaking, climbing, caving, hiking and of course photography!!
The hundreds of rocky islands which constitute the beautiful bay are individual towers where the intervening plains have been submerged by the sea. There are two distinct eco systems co existing here; the evergreen rainforests and a marine and coastal ecosystem.
Of the almost 2000 islands in the bay, around 40 are inhabited. Fishing communities live on these islands, some of them on floating houses. They sustain themselves by fishing, aquaculture and ; of late, tourism.
The environmental impact of tourism has also taken its toll with mangroves and sea beds being cleared for boat jetties and wharfs.
At the centre of the bay is an area of around 330 square kms where there are more than 770 limestone formations making this area the most popular area for the traditional junk boats to cruise.
Junk boats are actually small cruise ships with residential accommodation of various categories, restaurants, pubs, swimming pools and other recreational activities on board. An overnight stay at one of the junk boats helps tourists enjoy the bay, see the bay at sunrise and sunset and indulge in other activities like kayaking and visiting the caves in the bay.
A typical junk boat
Our trip to Ha Long bay started with an early morning departure from our hotel at Hanoi in our tour bus. It was a bright and sunny day and we were looking forward to the junk boat cruise. Enroute, we stopped at a traditional handicraft emporium where artisans were seen painting and stitching beautiful pictures. We were told that many of the workers were handicapped and this helped them find a livelihood too.
Artisans at work!
As we neared Ha Long city, the weather changed and it looked cloudy and gloomy. Soon, our guide Ang told us that he had some disappointing news for us ! A storm was approaching the bay and many of the junk boat tours for the day were cancelled. That really put us all off and the gloominess outside descended into the bus.
After a couple of calls and conversations that did not sound very encouraging, Ang said that our tour agency had made alternate arrangements for us and so there would be a slight change in the itinerary.
Soon we headed to another area of the bay which was not impacted by the storm. After alighting from the bus, we reached a boat jetty from where a small mechanised boat took us to our junk boat.
Parts of Ha Long City lashed by rain
Walking to the small boat. Large junk boats anchored on either side.
Soon we boarded the boat that took us out to the bay to board our junk boat for the cruise. After about 30 minutes, we reached our junk boat and boarded it. We all had cabins just like hotel rooms with a large glass door balcony overlooking the bay. After lunch, the boat started its cruise and it was very beautiful indeed! Some pictures….
Some views of Ha Long Bay
Soon we had a lady coming alongside selling everything from liquor to daily necessities!
A short video of the Ha Long Bay cruise
After the cruise on the bay, our junk boat anchored at a particular place and we got ready for a sampan ride under some of the limestone karsts. We reached a jetty from where the kayaking and sampan boat rides started.
The Sampan boat jetty.
Sampan is a wooden boat which can be rowed by a single person and can be easily manoeuvred under the limestone karsts.
Our Sampan and the boatman, Note the crevice under the hill through which he rowed us into another bay
Sampan enters the opening under the karst
The enclosed bay where kayaking was on
A short video of the sampan traversing the under surface of the karst
After spending some time on the sampan where the boatman took us to various parts of the bay, we returned to our junk boat.
By then it was getting dark and after freshening up we all gathered on the upper deck to enjoy the bay views in the dark sipping hot and cold drinks.
The lit up junk boats look like jewels in the bay
After dinner, we rested for the night to get up to the sunrise views at Ha Long Bay. Some pictures…
The sun rises to another beautiful day at Ha Long Bay
After the sun rise views we had to get ready for yet another amazing sight at Ha Long, the Cat Ba island about which, I shall detail in my next episode.
Till then do keep your feedback and comments coming in..