The legend goes that the islands of Halong Bay were formed by dragons who spit out jade and jewels into the sea to help the Vietnamese build a barrier to defend against would be invaders. After attempts to conquer the area were thwarted, the dragons fell in love with the bay and took eternal residence there. One look at these giant, limestone karsts, and I couldn’t help but be overtaken with the sense that we were sailing among the sleeping beasts.
Traveling three hours east of Hanoi, we arrived in Halong City and boarded a traditional Vietnamese junk for a three day, two night tour of Halong Bay. Words can’t described how ethereal the bay is – emerald waters… giant, jungle topped islands… ancient boats… it was a different world.
Off the boat, we got to explore the bay and travel to island caves by kayak. Our main boat pulled into a small sheltered “lagoon” between the karsts that served as protection for some floating homes that had kayaks available for us.
Swimming in the Pacific, on the other side of the world, proved absolutely magical. Splashing around in Halong Bay, I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was swimming on the other side of the world. And that I was swimming with dragons. Words really can’t explain how out-of-this-world it was. And the salinity of the water was so strong that you couldn’t sink if you tried (and I tried… so much so that I got a double ear infection – but prepared travelers that we were, the antibiotics we brought cleared them right up).
The second day had us heading off to a different section of the bay for more exploration in kayaks. Halong Bay is huge, and we would just as easily run across a small fishing boat as we would a globe trotting cargo ship. Being in the middle of it made the current tensions that are arising that much more real. Still, it was easier to turn off the current events and just enjoy being in this different world.
We toured secluded lagoons that were straight out of a “best-of” tourism book. One can really see why Halong Bay was recently voted one of the “new seven wonders of nature.” I am so grateful that we got to experience it firsthand. And as if that wasn’t enough, we spent the rest of the day on a secluded island, complete with a view of the bay, and a white sandy beach to lounge upon. Then we still had the sunset to enjoy back on the boat.
Our final day on the bay was spent visiting a floating village. Four villages dot the area, totaling about 1600 residents that sustain themselves on fishing, and now with a boon from the tourism industry (the government subsidizes the villages, and our floating village tour guides were employees of the national park system).
Though we were less than a week into our trip, I had an inkling at the time that Halong Bay was to be my favorite part of Vietnam. Reflecting upon, and writing about, the entire experience now, Halong Bay really was my favorite part of the trip. Though I have yet to tell, all of our amazing adventures, Halong really set my spirit right. It turned out to be a really deep connection to something that was beyond imagination that I, personally, needed.