Those who have never been to Ha Long or perhaps visited a few years ago will have been drawn to its extraordinary but equally alluring beauty. This time, my visit to Ha Long Bay was new and different and allowed me to wholly appreciate the magnificence and effulgence of my country.
As social distancing regulations in Vietnam come to an end, normal life has gradually returned albeit in a very new way. Travel enthusiasts are rejoicing and feeling exceedingly fortunate that Vietnam is renowned for its mesmerising natural landscapes. Domestic travel has become the best choice for those who are passionate about exploring after the strict lockdown. It is a fantastic idea to stick to travelling somewhere or taking a day trip to a local attraction. More than a trip, visiting another part of your country means you are contributing to the economy of a different community while international borders are temporarily restricted.
THE LAND OF MYSTERIES
When it comes to Vietnamese destinations, Ha Long Bay is always high up on any bucket list as it has long been one of the most sought-after sites for visitors to Vietnam. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Ha Long Bay is obviously the pride of both Vietnamese and international travellers. So what makes Ha Long Bay an inspiring and unforgettable attraction as travel resumes?
Ha Long Bay is a small bay on the western coast of the Gulf of Tonkin, covering the territorial waters of Ha Long City, Cam Pha City and a part of Van Don Island District in Quang Ninh Province. True to its name, Ha Long Bay has a close bond with an ancient mystical legend. “Long” meaning dragon and “Ha” meaning “low”, thus Ha Long means “Dragon descending into the sea”. Legend has it that as Vietnam started to develop into a country, Ngoc Hoang, the highest God in Heaven, sent a family of celestial dragons to protect the Vietnamese from foreign invaders. The dragons then gathered jewellery and pearls to form the islands and mountains that stopped enemy ﬂeets. Additionally, there are many legendary sights like Ha Long (the place where mother dragon landed), Bai Tu Long is the place baby dragon landed and the location where dragons wriggled their tails violently was named Bach Long Vi.
A MASTERPIECE OF NATURE
Ha Long Bay has people falling head over heels in love with its unique geographic features. This ethereal bay conjures a one-of-a-kind picture embodying the perfect combination of water, stone and sky. Discover Ha Long Bay, a glimpse of its deep emerald waters will allow a sense of safety and relaxation to fill your mind. Towering limestone pinnacles and schist islands rising from gentle emerald waters offer an insight into how majestic and dramatic the bay appear. Covering an area of nearly 1.600km2, Ha Long Bay is home to approximately 2,000 different islands and islets that form an otherworldly spectacular seascape of the crystalline sky, ﬂuffy white clouds and jungle-laden mountains.
Over the course of 500 million years, wind and seawaters have eroded Ha Long Bay’s islands into shapeless lumps of stone in an amazing variety of sizes. Dinh Huong, Trong Mai and Cho Da Islets are amongst the famous stone islands in Ha Long Bay. Dinh Huong Islet was selected to be printed on the VND note as a vivid symbol to signify its value for both Vietnam and its nationals. As one of the iconic and sacred images of Ha Long Bay, Dinh Huong Islet resembles an enormous incense burner standing out against magnificent nature. With such a spiritual meaning, this islet has become a holy symbol dedicated to national heroes who died to protect the country as well as expressing gratitude and respect to Vietnamese ancestors.
What’s more, Ha Long Bay is also famous for Trong Mai Islet, which represents the closeness and faithfulness between Vietnamese people. During my visit, I had the opportunity to take a closer look at Ha Long Bay’s famous islet from a boat. To me, Trong Mai Islet looked like a giant fish wriggling out of the water. In close proximity to Trong Mai Islet, I saw what I can only describe as a tremendous stone dog that momentarily staggered me. Every little island adds a sense of uniqueness and excellence to Ha Long Bay, making it a magical marvel of nature.
AN AMAZING VARIETY OF CAVES AND GROTTOES
Ha Long Bay bears a marvellous charisma as it is home to a vast array of attractive pinnacles and caves. Travelling through every cave offers visitors an interesting insight into its uniqueness and mysterious beauty. There is a whole host of magnificent caves closely associated with legendary stories, for instance, Thien Cung Cave, Tam Cung Cave, Dau Go Cave, Sung Sot Cave, Trinh Nu Cave, Trong Cave, Hanh Cave and Luon cave.
Located on Bo Hon Island in the heart of the World Heritage Site, Sung Sot is one of the most beautiful and largest caves in Ha Long. When French tourists first visited and discovered this natural structure in 1901, they were so amazed by its breathtaking beauty and huge expansion that they exclaimed: “La Grotte des Surprises” which means a cave of surprising things. Sung Sot Cave intrigues many travellers and explorers with its impressive entrance. After walking through a small passageway, you will enter a completely different space. Sung Sot Cave is home to an incredible variety of uniquely shaped chambers. The first one is akin to an expansive theatre as its ceiling is covered with glistering stalactites and stalagmites while the other looks like a royal garden with a crystal-clear lake, verdant greenery and wild birds. Visitors can both explore the cave and catch sight of ships offshore adorned with red sails representing a warm welcome to Ha Long Bay.
While Sung Sot Cave strongly attracts tourists thanks to its unique mountainous architecture, Luon Cave features an eye-catching bow-shaped arch. Luon Cave is also located on Bo Hon Island, 14km to the south of Bai Chay with an impressive length of nearly 60m, a width of 4m and a ceiling that ranges from 2.5m to 4m depending on the tide. The porch of Luon Cave is like a beautiful gate leading to a brackish lake surrounded by four mountains with a width of nearly 1km2. Taking a boat trip to this scenic cave, I was seemingly lost in the vibrant natural life with luxuriant vegetation, shady ancient trees, mischievous monkeys jumping up and down around the cliffs and charming blooming orchids. With its low porch, visitors can only access by small boat or kayak through Luon Cave to see its miraculous stalactites. As the water rises, you sometimes have to duck down to pass the gate, making it an adventurous travel experience.
Luon Cave is so beautiful and exotic, I always aim to take a picture in front of the cave’s entrance. I would not have been able to do everything that I wanted to do without Sea Captain Nguyen Hai Lam. With more than 18 years of particular experience in navigation at sea, he is not only very knowledgeable about natural conditions in the area such as weather and water level but also passionate about bringing joy, excitement and satisfaction to his guests.
With his careful preparation, he sent a supply boat to carry us from the cruise ship to the harbour area to explore Luon Cave by boat early in the morning. Thanks to his visionary management style, our group were the first lucky ones to arrive at the cave’s entrance and take the perfect pictures while the sun was gently shining in the morning. This was the first time I have seen such a dedicated and responsible sea captain, he took good care of us during our trip. With his professional attitude and attention to detail, Sea Captain Nguyen Hai Lam has left a lasting impression on me. The excellent experience we had is promising for the tourism industry in both the country and the locality.
It was a laid-back and relaxing voyage and I made the most of my time. I enjoyed watching the sunset, staying overnight on a luxury yacht and waking early for sunrise, all whilst revelling in the lavish services and well-appointed amenities. Thanks to all of this, my voyage to Ha Long Bay was utterly inspiring and fulfilled. Whether you have never been to this heavenly bay or visited a few years ago, Ha Long Bay is definitely the ideal destination for your lockdown escape, where you can both recharge your batteries and gain profound appreciation and love for beautiful Vietnam.