Discovering the Legend of Ha Long Bay

Discovering-the-legend-of-Ha-Long-Bay
AN ANCIENT LEGEND

Legend says that long ago, during the old time, when the country was newly formed, the Vietnamese forefathers had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North, by sea.

The gods from the heavens watched on before sending the Mother Dragon and her children to help the ancient Vietnamese people to defend their country. The dragons descended upon the earth, incinerated the invaders and spat jewels of emerald and jade that on hitting the land, turned into great islands and islets that formed invincible defensive walls that the invaders could not overcome. The enemies fled and peace finally returned to this South East Asian country.

After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children did not return to the heavens, but stayed in the mortal world. To this day, the dragons lay on the lands they helped protect. The seas rose but it is the dragons that form the bays iconic mountainous landscape. The dragon children lay on the lands that are known as Bai Tu Long which literally means ‘Thanks to the Dragon children’ and their tails form the area of Bach Long Vi. The great Mother Dragon forms Ha Long Bay, which literally translates as ‘Descending Dragon Bay’.

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It was this legend that was told to me on route to Ha Long Bay. I could’t think of a better way to be prepared for my 36 hours in these lands. This story still makes me feel like a child. A child who can’t wait to hear each new page of their bedtime story. Excited? I was counting the seconds!

VOTING FOR ADVENTURE

I visited Ha Long Bay in November 2010 when I was travelling on a Gap Adventures tour of South East Asia. It was whilst on the Reunification Express sleeper train that we were given an alternative option for our stay in Ha Long. Instead of spending the day out on the bay and the night back on land, we could change the itinerary. The change would mean we could spend 24 hours out on Ha Long Bay with an overnight stay at anchor. This was a no brainer surely but it was subject to a group vote that had to be unanimous in order for us to do so (this was due to it being a change in itinerary that not everyone may like). The unanimous verdict would be the decider.

Result…. UNANIMOUS! 

This was the part of the trip I was most excited about so had the vote not been unanimous, I would probably have been off on my own at this point. Thankfully though, this wasn’t the case and I would have the company of my new friends to share this awesome experience with.

HOW TO GET THERE

Unfortunately the train line to Ha Long (which  I took) was sadly discontinued in 2011. This means that the best and most popular way to travel to Ha Long is by road. If you book a cruise of the bay then most companies offer a transfer service to and from Hanoi. This journey will take roughly 4 hours each way but hey, it’s not like you won’t have much to take in along the way and I can guarantee its worth the trip.

Ha Long Bay

ARRIVING IN HA LONG BAY

Arriving in Ha Long Bay reminded me of a scene out of an Indiana Jones film. There were sites and sounds everywhere. In the words of the great Karl Pilkington, ‘my ears have never been so busy.’ 

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Ha-Long-Bay

Ha-Long-Bay

We located the junk boat that would be our guide across the bay and through the maze of limestone islands. We took to our cabins. Well, we certainly landed on our feet. Pristine, air-conditioned cabins with en-suites for all and the dining area was even more impressive.

Ha-Long-Bay

Ha-Long-Bay

After meeting the crew and going through a basic ….. very basic health and safety breifing, we were off! We pushed away from the dock and immediately entered what seemed like a wall of fog. The fog was a mix of low cloud, mist and fumes from the hundreds of junk boats all pumping their engines full of diesel.

This wall of fog continued for a number of miles before out of nowhere, one by one, the limestone forms finally showed themselves to us for the very first time.

Ha Long Bay Fog

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Ha-Long-Bay

If you have ever seen the remake of King Kong then picture the part when Skull Island appears out of the deep fog. This was the real life version….. minus skull island … or the cannibal’s…. or the massive f**k off gorilla. Otherwise, this was it! 

On seeing the limestone mountains for the first time it was immediately apparent how junk boat was definitely the best way to explore the bay. Helicopter trips are available and although I’m sure that is an amazing experience, I can’t imagine feeling dwarfed by the landscape when soaring above it. Maybe I am wrong but I can certainly say this feeling is guaranteed when on the water.

Ha-Long-Bay

Ha-Long-Bay

There are many cruises you can choose from in Ha Long, all with varying prices. You can opt for a private charter or join a group. The boat I took was one of many similar trips. If you’re unsure which to chose, I’d check out Trip Advisor and travel companies such STA Travel to find inspiration and seek advice that will help you find the cruise most suited for you.

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DELVING DEEPER INTO THE BAY

Over the next few hours we would meander between the mountains whilst making our way to lookouts, caves and lagoons. Ha Long Bay has so much to offer tourists and adventurers. Some more adrenaline filled than others but all impressive and spectacular in only a way Ha Long Bay delivers. Check out my Top 5 things to do in Ha Long Bay. 

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SUNSET TO SUNRISE

I am lucky enough to say that I have witnessed some great sunsets and sunrises in many amazing places. Ha Long Bay is up there in the top 5.

We had anchored away from the majority of the other junk boats. This was where we’d be spending the night but not before a spectacular sunset. The sun sets very quickly here, at least it soon fades out of sight behind the limestone forms. The sky turned orange, red, pink and finally black.

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We sat with the crew as they spent a few hours night fishing. They sat on the edge of the boat with lines wrapped around their toes, catching fish after fish. Myself and a few of the other guys had makeshift rods and were nowhere near as impressive as the crew. I sat there for an hour and 20 minutes before finally giving up, hanging my head in shame. I reckon the fish were having a right laugh at us as we walked away waving a white flag in defeat.

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Next, dinner. The crew rustled up a meal fit for royalty. Fish dishes galore, fresh shrimp and beautiful vietnamese flavours, complete with vegetable flowers to garnish…. but of course. It’s true to say they produced a meal above and beyond any of our expectations. For the price of the cruise, this was an absolute steal!

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After dinner I took to the roof of the junk. I lay on my back for hours, watching the stars above me. The little light pollution in the bay makes star gazing a real treat. These skies were unlike any I had seen before. It was here that the legend of Ha Long Bay felt more fact than myth.

It was off to bed as an early morning was awaiting us. I stirred around 6am, rolled to my side and saw the light beginning to peak through the window. I didn’t make it to the roof to witness the sunrise but that was ok. Instead I stood outside my bedroom door and watched as the sun broke the peaks of the mountains before light flooded the bay inch by inch, making its way across the water toward the boat, before the warmth of the sun finally hit me. I felt once again, like I was in an Indiana Jones film, in fact I felt like Indi’ himself. Alone, in unexplored territory, on a wooden boat with nobody else in sight…. well nobody insight until I turned around…. Inside my bedroom window I could see my room-mate. He stood up, as naked as the day he was born and sauntered into the bathroom for his morning god only knows what. This is a scene out of Indiana Jones I don’t remember…. Perhaps it didn’t make the final cut.

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THERE & BACK AGAIN, A VIETNAMESE TALE

We sat for breakfast (another culinary treat) before anchor’s away.

We took a different route this time and although we were making our way to back to the mainland we did have time to make one more stop. Ti Top Island. Ti Top island is unique to many of the islands in Ha Long Bay. It has a man made beach and a lookout that boasts spectacular views across the bay. A must for any keen photographer. Find out more here.

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We arrived back in Ha Long shortly after lunch time, bid farewell to the crew and stepped back onto dry land.

If you visit Vietnam and don’t make time for Ha Long Bay it would be sacriledge. This fascinating place has so much to offer. If you are a fan of unique geography, ancient history, myths and legend, a foodie or photographer, explorer or adventurer, there is something for each and every one of you.

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