Seeing Ha Long Bay was one of the reasons why we flew all the way to Hanoi. The photographs of those boats hogging the bay’s stunning landscape has always haunted me, and it was a dream come true to finally see it!
It was cold and it was foggy. Still, the sight of those limestone isles appearing one after the other as we travelled through water in an old-fashioned boat took my breath away. God’s masterpiece at work! The bay has about 1,960 limestone karsts and isles that are followed only by Phi Phi island in Thailand and Guilin, China in terms of numbers. The formations took about 500 million years to evolve and because of its natural wonders, Halong Bay was listed twice in the book as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This was how the junks that dot Ha Long look like. It was kinda surreal seeing all of them as we began to embark for our tour. I felt like I was transported back to the 20s!
For lack of time, we only availed of a day trip to the bay, although you can very well stay overnight and dock ashore on one of the islets for a more expensive price. We paid $40 each for the whole tour which included an aircon bus to the site, the services of a tour guide, five hours of cruising with kayak and a six-course lunch. Not bad, and I later learned that at the tour desk of our hotel , the Hanoi Imperial, the Halong cruise came even cheaper at $35.
One of the highlights of our tour was a visit to the Hang Sung Sot Grotto, also known as the Cave of Surprises. Our guide explained how the stalactites and stalagmites developed here. I couldn’t help but notice how the cave was well-maintained because it was well-lit and guarded. There were even souvenir shops at the entrance.
Our delicious lunch of fresh seafood. Wish there was more! Halong Bay is populated by fishermen and our guide said “most of them cannot read or write, but they can count well!” (in reference to their being able to sell the day’s catch)
Boarding our bus again, I enjoyed our stopover in a ceramic factory ran by a cause-oriented group. This girl embroidered so fast and so well to make beautiful canvases that were put on sale at the factory. But the owner said girls like her were handicapped, being victims of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when the US government sprayed herbicides through large tracts of land to deprive guerrillas of cover and support from the farmers.