Ha Long means “Descending Dragon” in Vietnamese. The famously picturesque bay was named after the Vietnamese tale of the dragon descending from the heavens to save Vietnam from the Chinese during the war. According to the tale, the dragons descended down and incinerated the enemy with fire and emeralds. The emeralds scattered, creating the islands we know today, making it impossible for the Chinese to navigate with their ships, in turn winning the war for the Vietnamese. Or evolution created the natural beauty that is Ha Long Bay, either or.
Our tour guide, Tom, picked us up outside our hostel in Hanoi, and we drove four hours to Ha Long Bay City. After a long morning of hurry up and wait, we boarded our little cruise boat and took off for a two hour ride to the farthest bay where only 45 of the 545 cruise boats are allowed to go. Our boat was smaller than most other cruises, holding a maximum of nine people in overnight cabins. The rooms are on the first floor of the boat, with windows by the bed so you wake up in the morning with the breathtaking view of the limestone islands popping out of the sparkling water. The dining room is on the second floor, and the roof (third floor) is a lounge area.
After checking out the boat, all the passengers met for a welcome drink and lunch. The food was surprisingly good. But, we must have gained 10 pounds each with the amount of food they serve. They don’t stop bringing you plates of food until you can’t breathe… After our comatose-inducing lunch, we hopped on some kayaks and paddled through the island, and since it was the afternoon and the tide was high, we paddled through some pretty hefty waves. Even the beach we were supposed to hang around at was underwater, so we found a tiny stretch of white sand, and waded in the water for an hour or so.
The rest of the evening was spent on the roof deck with the other passengers, drinking cold beer, and chowing down.
The next day we were greeted with bacon, eggs, and pancakes (their pancakes here are more like crepes). The one-nighters left, and we joined people hailing from other ships, and day cruised through the bay. We kayaked some more. The scenery doesn’t get much prettier. In fact, Ha Long Bay is a natural wonder of the world, and deservingly so.
After swimming and relaxing on the day boat some more, we joined some local fisherman on their boat and went fishing. However, not in the traditional manner that you’re probably thinking of. They dropped nets into the water, and we circled around the net while we smacked wooden sticks on a plank that was nailed to the boat’s ground. We caused a huge racket. Supposedly, the sound attracts the fish? They probably wanted the tourists to look silly, and told us to play pretend drums for 20 minutes. Either way, it was fun.
Sandwiched in between fishing and more relaxing, we stopped at a floating pearl farm. The locals taught us how to make a pearl (which is insanely time consuming). Turns out, it takes 5-10 years to make a pearl, depending upon the size, and only about 20 percent are usable…
The rest of our evening was spent lounging, admiring our spectacular scenery, and eating some more. Our tour guide, Kien, (who was hilarious) got the night going by offering free beer to anyone who can successfully complete a variety of party tricks. The first—that I won by the way—was a balancing act using limes, toothpicks, forks, and a beer bottle. I won two free beers. 🙂
The next day, the trip was over. However, instead of driving back to Hanoi, we extended our trip in Ha Long by heading to Cat Ba Island (which is smack dab in the middle of Ha Long Bay).
After a snakey woman tried to scam us into buying expensive speed boat tickets (we didn’t give in), we hopped on the cheap, but very enjoyable 45 minute ferry ride.
We don’t have a lot planned in Cat Ba yet, so stay tuned!