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People of ask me what my top destination recommendation would be and I find it such a hard question to answer. I love every place I have visited all for such different reasons, places so different I just could not compare them. So I decided to try thinking about it another way and recommend the place that is so different from my home town of London, a place that gives you an experience that I have not experienced anywhere else in the world that I have visited. A place I honestly believe everyone should visit at least once in their life – Halong Bay, Vietnam.
The legend of Halong Bay:
The legend says that during the old-time when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. Feeling sorry for the country, The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth to help ancient Vietnamese people defend the country.
While the mighty enemies were attacking the main land, The Mother Dragon and her children suddenly appeared and incinerated the enemies with their divine fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered around the battlefield on the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall that left enemy battleship fleet sinking. Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were finally swept away and the peace finally came back the South East Asian country once again. After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes.
After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children didn’t come back to the heaven, but stayed in the mortal world and turned into human form and help people planting, cropping, raising cattle, reclaiming, and expanding the country. To remember the help of Mother Dragon and her children, the people live there from generation to generation name the bay where the Mother Dragon descended “Ha Long or Halong” and the bay where her children descended “Bai Tu Long”, which means “Thanks to the Dragon’s children”.
Halong Bay Boat Cruise:
I visited Halong Bay last November during a trip travelling around Vietnam, it was on the itinerary from the very start of our plans, the famous limestone Islands are the first images that are conjured up when think of this beautifully strange country. We planned a two-day overnight stay with the Golden lotus tours, who had set out a jam-packed itinerary for our visit the UNESCO world heritage site. The tour picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi and we took set off in our cramped mini bus to Bai Chay harbour. Now I have to admit, when you arrive at the harbour it is flocked with tourists and I initially thought that Halong bay was going to be something beautiful ruined by tourism and the dreaded booze cruises. Bai Chay harbour itself is not much to look at all, it certainly does not look like a gate way to one of the seven new wonders of the world but once you are herded on to your allocated cruise boats the journey sets sail.
After being assigned our over night cabin we settled on the boats sun deck for the hour-long journey, the journey itself is nothing too exciting but just nice time to relax and meet the other guests sharing the cruise. It was incredibly over cast when we finally got to Halong Bay but nothing could mask the beauty of where we had just arrived, it was nothing short of stunning. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and genuinely had a mystical feel that is so hard to explain. Our first stop had us exploring the Sung Sot cave and following a trail that lead us to our first panoramic view of the bay, while this portion of our tour was particularly over crowded, the beauty of the place takes priority. However for me the real magic of Halong bay captured me as darkness fell and our boat was anchored still, there is no phone or internet reception out there, it literally just you, the people around you and nature, never in my life have I ever been so disconnected from technology and felt so incredibly comfortable with that. As night falls on Halong bay so does an incredible silence, despite the shear amount of cruise boats dotted around the bay, it is quiet apart from the sound of the sea, so different from what I know back home. For me, this is what I love the most about travelling to new countries, experiencing something so different, something that would not be possible in the place where I live and Halong bay captured this completely.
The next morning was our first experience of the people who live at Halong bay, a community of roughly 1600 people who live their lives on floating fishing villages, sustained by the fishing and marine aquaculture (and now the tourist industry!). Incredible people who have built a life here with no need for materialistic goods or internet connection, occasionally they would appear in boats next to our cabin window to try sell us their produce. Learning how other people live is something that will never stop fascinating me and I just found this community of people compelling.
We spent the morning kayaking around the bay spotting wild monkey before being dropped off at Ti Top Island, at this point you have the choice to sunbathe on the beach or climb to the top of Ti Top point. I advise you to not take the easy option but opt to climb to the view-point because it is so worth it. At the top is a complete 360 panoramic view of Halong bay, the shot you see on all the postcard and in all the guidebooks, it is simply breath-taking.
During our descent down we were treated to the most magnificent sunset over the bay, this is when I fully understood why Halong bay is one of the seven wonders of the new world. Since then whenever someone asks me where I recommend them to travel to, I always say Halong Bay as I really feel it is a place everyone needs to experience at least once. So if you are visiting Vietnam, please do not consider leaving Halong bay off of your itinerary for fear that it has become to commercialised; yes it is busy, yes at times it is over crowded, but the magic is still there and the legend lives on.
Golden Lotus tours:
I fully recommend the Golden Lotus tours, the staff could not help everyone on board enough and the boat was perfect for an over night stay. Although they do set a very rigid schedule, it is still relaxed and free time is allocated. All food is included in the price and trust me – you will not go hungry, I was incredibly impressed with their catering towards vegetarians I was provided with an array of fresh cooked dishes that even some of the meat eaters were jealous of.The company also have an option of a two night / three-day tour, which sails on to Cat Ba island after Halong bay, another place that is said to be incredibly beautiful.
Travelling to Vietnam? See my other post on Hoi An here
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