After breakfast, we left our Hotel at about 7:15 and walked to the Handspan travel agencyâ€™s office at 80 MY May Street for our 2 day / 1 night trip to Halong Bay. On the way there we saw the busy Vietnamese on there motorbikes and practicing Tai Chi. At around 8:00 we were on our way on a 4 hour bus ride.
Halong Bay is a body of water of approximately 1,500 square km in North Vietnam with a 120 km coastline, in the Gulf of Tonkin near the border with China, and 170 km from Hanoi.
Halong Bay means "Bay of the Descending Dragon" in the Vietnamese language. Háº¡ means "descending" and Long means "dragon" in Sino-Vietnamese.
Our boat the Dragon's Pearl
The bay consists of a dense cluster of 1,969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, which rise spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Dau Go (Wooden stakes Cave) is the largest grotto in the Halong area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th century French graffiti). There are two bigger islands, Tuan Chau and Cat Ba that have permanent inhabitants. Both of them have tourist facilities, including hotels and beaches. There are a number of wonderful beaches on the smaller islands.
Some of the islands support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks.
Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes: such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof). 989 of the islands have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and iguanas also live on some of the islands.
Our group on the deck of the Dragon's Pearl
The bay was World Heritage listed by UNESCO at the 18th meeting of the Committee of the World Heritages of UNESCO (in Thailand on December 17th, 1994). It is one of Vietnam's most popular tourist destinations.
Local legend says that long ago when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long Bay (hence the name "Bay of Descending Dragons") and began spitting out jewels and jade.
These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form barriers against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. A modern legend claims that a creature named the tarasque still lives in the bay.
Halong Bay in the mist
History shows that Halong Bay has been the setting for local naval battles against Vietnam's coastal neighbors. On three occasions in the labyrinth of channels in Bach Dang River near the islands the Vietnamese army stopped the Chinese from landing. In 1288 General Tran Hung Dao stopped Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang River by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Dubhai Khan's fleet.
During the Vietnam War, many of the channels between the islands were heavily mined by the navy of the United States, some of which pose a threat to shipping to this day.
A Halong Bay fishing village
Our 2 days at Halong Bay were spent on a Chinese Junk called the Dragonâ€™s Pearl. We spent our days seeing the beautiful and mysterious Halong Bay islands, resting on the Junkâ€™s top deck, reading, playing cards, taking pictures and visiting Sung Sot cavern. The weather was misty and breezy which made the bay look mysterious and very romantic.
It was at the bay that most of us started to feel sick. Leonor had caught a fever while we were in Cambodia, but now started to feel better. The rest of us started to feel tired and sick.
Our bodies began to ache, some of us started to get high fevers and perspire during the night. Rute, Elsa, Pedro and Daniel, were the only ones who were ok. Pedro however became sick, but the only part of his body that was affected was his stomach. The rest of us spent the next 4 days trying to get cured. JoÃ£o and I even had to take some antibiotics which his father had miraculously recommended. It reached a point where we started to think we were infected with Bird Flue because our fever wouldnâ€™t stop. I even thought of going to a Vietnamese Hospital! These dayâ€™s werenâ€™t that great, but fortunately didnâ€™t stop our trip.
A Halong Bay fishing village