Ha Long Bay

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

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

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..

Antelope Canyon

Friends…I must tell you…this is one of the most amazing places I have been to….its incredible!!!

We had made our Antelope Canyon tour bookings online from India via Viator. The tour company that was assigned to us was Coexist West Coast tours. They did a good job of it.

The day finally arrived and with lot of excitement, we waited outside the hotel lobby for the pickup. Never expected this kind of freezing weather in Las Vegas and we were caught unawares with our woollens dropped off elsewhere. The bus pickup point was something like a small bus stop with a canopy on top. The warm air being pumped out from the canopy was definitely a blessing and we were pleasantly surprised and much comforted.

Finally a minivan arrived and we were a group of 12 tourists on the van to Antelope canyon. The driver had stocked up some soft drinks and nibbles and we were all allowed to help ourselves. The drive to Antelope canyon was along the desert fringed roads of Arizona

The Rocky desert fringed roads of Arizona   


A roadside desert beauty in full bloom!!!

The first halt was at Lake Powell the second largest man made reservoir in the USA. Lake Powell is a man made reservoir on the River Colorado in Utah and Arizona. It was created by flooding the Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam which also led to the creation of Glen Canyon national Recreation area.

We walked up to the edge of Lake Powell and took some pictures.

Lake Powell

If you do not have time constraints, you can take a kayaking tour on Lake Powell and if you kayak for more than 2 miles….you will reach antelope canyon!!!!

After leaving Lake Powell, we were taken to a Subway joint and we could pick up a  breakfast of our choice. It  was really sumptuous and tasty.

 I had heard a lot of the beauty of Antelope canyon and so was eagerly awaiting our arrival there. Let me just brief you about the origins and history of this wonder on earth….

 Antelope canyon is a slot canyon carved out by the waters of the Colorado River. The flowing waters carrying sand along with it has carved out this magnificent canyon whose walls resemble fluid rock. Located close to the city of Page in Arizona, it is a photograper’s delight. Its towering walls with  wavelike lines and the varied hues of colour as the sunlight trickles in; makes it an awe inspiring giant sandstone sculpture. The sculptor of course is nature….

The natives of this place called Navajos now run this place which includes Lake Powell area called The Navajo Park Recreation area. The Navajo name for this place means “where the waters run between rocks”. This place was once home to herds of pronghorn antelopes  ……

 As we were nearing the canyon a real surprise awaited us. We could see melting snow by the road side and the guide informed us that it had snowed in the canyon the previous night and it was a very rare phenonmenon. So we were even more excited to see it!

Snow on the roadside….a rare occurrence in that season

We drove past the upper and lower antelope canyon and were taken to Canyon X as they call it. We were told that this is identical to Antelope canyon and minus the crowds…so we could spend more time and get some awesome pictures without the crowds. Antelope canyon is one of the most photographed places and so this is one of the important considerations while travelling here. There are even special photography tours offered here.

 The Canyon is very sacred to the Navajo people who are the original natives here and this canyon can only be explored under their guidance. One cannot do a tour in the canyon by oneself. A very helpful and friendly group of people…I must admit. One of the locals even offered me her jacket as it was unusually cold and we were caught unawares without proper winter wear.

One we arrived there; we were handed over to The Navajo guides who are now engaged in tourism as an occupation. Two of the Navajo guides took us by a van to the actual canyon which was about 2 km from where we were dropped off by the other guide.

Once we reached the canyon, the guide asked us to follow him and we were in a magical world of rock formations in various colours and designs. It was around noon and the sun was peeping in through the crevices and adding to the colour of this vibrant canyon We walked in between the crevices; some very narrow where we had to squeeze ourselves and at places stoop down to avoid hitting the ledges. No amount of description by me is going to equal the majestic views…..so let me just show you the pictures….

Just imagine yourself walking in between these beautifully coloured rocks….

The Entrance and one of the narrowest crevices inside

  See the different shades of colour        


The lines on the rock resemble strokes of a paint brush

The artist is none other than flowing water and sand    


The final result looks like fluid rock!!!

Imagine a throne in this heavenly place!!!      


The blue sky seen in between the towering sandstone      


Lost in nature’s beauty   (note the jacket provided by the Navajo lady)

Feeling sad to leave this awesome place

It took us close to two hours to walk the distance of approximately 1.5 km . After we finished the tour we were driven back to the entrance and our original guide took charge .

We were quite tired and hungry and everyone started nibbling at the left overs of the breakfast and some other goodies provided by the tour company.

Our next destination was The Horseshoe Bend.... a horseshoe shaped turn of the Colorado river near Page in Arizona.

We were dropped off at the parking area and we had to walk around 2 km to the cliff from where you get a view of the river. The initial part of the climb is steep but it gradually settles to level ground and you reach a cliff side from where you can look down to this dramatic bend of the river. From the cliff we could see the dramatic sweep of the river around a sandstone escarpment. Kayaking on the river at horse shoe bend is another option for the more adventurous!!

The Horse shoe bend is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation area and a few miles away from the Grand Canyon National park.

The Horseshoe bend       

After the   trek back to the van, most of us were tired and once the drive started, we were all busy admiring the pictures that we had clicked….reliving those moments…

Must tell you all this too….some coincidence this is!!!…its exactly two years to the date….that we were at this amazing destination.

Next week I take you to yet another canyon….the land of HOODOS…

See you then….may have to look for me among the hoodos!!!!!. 

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