If you browse through aerial pictures of the bay with its limestone karsts and those ancient Chinese ships, you’ll fall for the myth about the descending dragon (the very meaning of Ha Long Bay)...
Ha Long Bay is the most popular tourist attraction of Vietnam. Though I know that I’m gonna find out about the said attraction eventually, credit still goes to my Japanese student Yusuke for sharing it first with me. Apparently, he’s keen on checking the UNESCO world heritage sites whenever he travels and since then I made sure to put this in my checklist too. :P
To get to Quang Ninh province (170km northeast of Hanoi) where the bay is located, a travel time of atleast 4 hrs is needed. There are numerous tours offered that entail different activities but my friend Randolph (who I was with in Coron, Palawan and had been to the bay prior to my trip) recommended me to just go on a day cruise. The hostel booked me with the tour agency where I was the absolutely the only representative from Asia among the tourists.
If you browse through aerial pictures of the bay with its limestone karsts and those ancient Chinese ships, you’ll fall for the myth about the descending dragon (the very meaning of Ha Long Bay). In a gist, the dragons sent by the gods to assist the Vietnamese in defending their country spitted jewels and jade that turned into the islands in the bay. After the success of the battle, the dragons decided to live in the bay to maintain peace.
After lunch was served on the ship, we cruised for some 30 minutes or more taking in the different shapes and sizes of limestone formations and then reached the place where we can do the first agenda - kayaking. And this is where the disappointment came about.
It wasn’t surprising that when I checked the review in tripadvisor before I made this post, some reviewers mentioned about the need to start looking at protecting the bay from dirt since commercialism has already taken its toll on the bodies of water. I thought that my perspective was limited because I’ve only gone to perhaps the nearest kayaking area where boat houses can be found and that the most pristine part could be found if you’ve gone on a 3 or 4-day cruise. But some did the overnighter and mentioned the same thing. To be honest I didn’t enjoy much the kayaking part as everytime water would drip from the ends of my paddle, I’d squirm at the dirty water splashing onto my clothes or getting inside the boat. All of a sudden I remembered our very own Coron in Palawan. Yes, you’ll see karsts similar here (we’re just outnumbered) but there I wouldn’t worry if the kayak drowned or something. Heck, I could even jump from the kayak just to snorkel and enjoy the clean water. That time, I was ashamed not to paddle because my boat partner was from another cruise ship and it’s his first time to try kayaking. After doing the activity for 30 minutes, I felt like changing outfit but I didn’t have any spare. It didn’t help that someone’s getting to know ya during the cruise ya know. Aaargh! P.S. I know I was dressed inappropriately again this time with a maxi dress. Haha!
A few more karsts and then we were doing some docking to explore some caves. This is the Thien Cung Cave where they illuminated the caves with different color of fluorescent lights. Though yeah it was pretty with colorful interiors, I’m not sure if I appreciate it entirely. I remember liking the thrill of spelunking a dark cave in our very own Sagada. Nevertheless, this is my favorite part of the cave - the natural light source.
There was another cave to explore after this but it didn't look that much interesting so
we I never bothered to get inside. I just spent it getting to know someone and it didn't stop until we parted ways when the van reached my hostel. Turns out not only did I get a tour of Hanoi that day, I also had a really good picture of Slovenia and its neighboring countries. =)