Thursday, April 30, 2009
(Conclusion, Saigon-Siem Reap-Hanoi-Halong vacation)
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located at Halong City at the northeastern part of Vietnam. Going to Halong City from Hanoi takes around 3 hours by van, on surprisingly well-paved roads.
Halong City itself is a singularly charmless place, with the usual mix of hotels, casinos and shopping places. Located just 90 minutes away from Vietnam's border with China, i'm willing to bet that most of these developments in the city were funded by Chinese investors. Some establishments seem to cater primarily to Chinese clients,
being fronted by Mandarin-speaking staff and quoting prices in RMB.
Halong Bay is also known by the more dramatic name [drumroll, please] "Bay of the Descending Dragon." Legend has it that dragons once descended from heaven and spouted streams of jade droplets that fell into the waters of Halong Bay, forming thousands of islands and islets, and helping defend Vietnam against attacking armies.
Of course, the truth is a bit more prosaic. The islands are limestone rock formations, with caves, lakes, etc. for exploring in the bigger ones.
Truth be told, this was the part of the trip i was looking forward to the most, and was quite happy as we boarded the Chinese-style "junk" for our tour. I had heard instances wherein the junks and sampans are not allowed to depart for the Halong Bay cruise, due to fog and inclement weather. Thankfully, the sky was all clear today.
The view from the upper deck of the junk was lovely. It was quite a sight to see the various shapes and sizes of the limestone karsts and isles, with the sails of the boats silhouetted against the horizon. We dropped by a cave (for some fairly rigorous spelunking), and checked out a 'typical' fishing boat as well.
Of course, the preferred (in)activity of a certain grumpy slacker i know is just to stretch back and relax, like so:
On board, we partook of an excellent seafood lunch, before turning back to return to shore.
Aside from the daytrip cruise we took, there are tour operators offering overnight and even 3D/2N Halong Bay cruises, on board junks which are fitted with cabins and other amenities.
Halong Bay is one of the candidates for the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign. Click here if you want to check the official site and vote for it.