Friday, 22 March 2013

Ha Long Bay - Vietnam

Looking out to the vast expanse of milky water, dotted with looming, foliage covered hills, the diversity of the breathtaking country that is Vietnam hit me. Only days before I had been in the beating metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and was now on a three-day boat trip in Ha Long bay, one of the most amazing sights I have seen. The odd-shaped mountains protruding from the calm waters are reminiscent of the limestone peaks of Yanshou in China or the sun-bleached mountains in Thailand. 

The reminders are reflective of Vietnam's concoction of cultures, a meeting of modern and medieval Asia with a sprinkling of Western touches and a clash between the calm beauty of nature and the fast-moving beat of city life.

Ha Long bay, located in the north east of Vietnam is the top tourist sight for the area, but still retains an untouched charm. The three thousand or so islands looming over the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin certainly live up to the hype -- recognised in 1994 as it was made into a world heritage site.

We arrived in the bay from Hanoi and stayed on the boat over night. This would be my advice for travelers as the reputation of Ha Long city is not the best.

Our first day was spent swimming in the clear, warm waters and sunning ourselves on the deck before kayaking through the gleaming bay. This is an amazing way to see the limestone peaks and obviously if you’ve never kayaked before it was a very easy task as the water is so calm. 

Dinner on board included steaming bowls of rice with various meat, vegetables and exotic sauces (all eaten with chopsticks of course), washed down with a cool glass of beer. The bay at night is mysterious and beautiful, if not a little tainted by the many boat lights of tourist ships.

What sets Ha Long apart from the mountains of China and Thailand are the hidden treasures within and around the hills. Our second day was spent exploring the caves and grottoes, many illuminated.

Legend has it the bay was created by a great dragon that lived in the mountains and the islands were whipped up by its huge tail. Consequently, the name Ha Long means ‘where the dragon descends into the sea,' our helpful tour guide Pipi informed us.

The islands are also dotted with various beaches, one of which we visited after climbing one of the great peaks of the bay. This is a must-do activity as the view is simply breathtaking.

Unfortunately there are often downsides to tourist success and this magnificent site is no exception. The bay is under threat as many people have removed rare coral and seashells from the seabed and also taken stalactites and stalagmites from the caves. These are often taken and made into trinkets such as key rings to be sold to visiting tourists, so be wary and try not to buy.

Whether it’s a break from the bustling cities or a tourist trip you wish for, Ha Long bay is a must.

1 comment:

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