One of the great natural wonders of Asia, and northern
Vietnam’s biggest attraction, Halong Bay is a must see. Not wanting to
miss out on experiencing this spectacular beauty, we researched prices for
two day, one night tours aboard a Vietnamese Junk. We were quoted prices
ranging from $25 to $55 US for this tour, and since our hotel, the
had treated us so well, we decided to book through them. We were not
The sixteen seat tour bus was on time
at 7:30AM, picking us up at our hotel. Three and one half hours we drove
due east from Hanoi to Halong City, where the scenery was filled with bright green
rice paddies in various stages of planting. It was fascinating to watch
the workers, calf deep in mud, planting rice seedlings one by one in
neat rows. Water was being scooped out one bucketful at a time to fill
the orderly squares sectioned off to grow the rice.
Arriving in Halong City, the weather was foggy. Still, we were filled
with anticipation as our guide directed us through a maze of Vietnamese
Junks, boarding each one on the way to the next. We reached ours, aptly
named Bien Mo, meaning Open Seas. How enchanting!
Once aboard, the junk set off and lunch
was promptly served. Bountiful plates of steamed fish, rice, vegetables,
a sautéed pork dish, spring rolls, and fresh pineapple appeared. It was
time to meet our fellow shipmates and have a cold beer.
Afterwards, we eagerly went out from the beautiful dining room to enjoy
the mystical fog that enveloped the bay. There are thousands of
limestone islands that make up this World Heritage Site, and we had
hours ahead of us to view them. Our guide, Tuan, made sure everyone was
comfortable, and showed us our room for the night.
Tuan, catching us mesmerized by Halong’s beauty, asked if we had ever
heard the legend that accompanies this bay. Although there are many
renditions, this is the tale he told us while cruising one of the
world’s most beautiful waterways.
THE STORY OF HALONG BAY
In Vietnamese, ha
means water and long means dragon. However the fable of Halong Bay is more
than that simple translation. It is a cherished legend.
Long ago, the body of water that is now called Halong, or “dragon descending
from heaven into the water” was like any other bay. It had clear waters and
was easily navigable.
However, at this geographical point
of Vietnam, enemies were close by. There were the Chinese, the Monguls, and
also the “opponent” to the east in what is now known as Hong Kong. Because
this bay was open and attractive, and had no natural defense, the Vietnamese
were always being invaded. So the native people did what any people would
do; they prayed to the heavens for protection.
In answer to these pleas,
a dragon from celestial heights descended into the waters to protect the
Vietnamese from invaders. The only thing visible to the eye was the
dragon’s sharp scales on his back. Soon, the dragon’s children also came,
went deep into the waters, and allowed their sharp scaled backs to
When the enemy came
again, they arrived in the dark of night to overtake the local people.
They had no idea that the dragons had come to the bay in heavenly
assistance. So, since they did not see the dragons' scales, they wrecked
their boats on them, and sank to the bottom.
When the tide went out, the Vietnamese, emboldened by the dragons’ help,
placed sharpened bamboo poles into the bottom of the bay. Then the tide
returned. Meanwhile, more of the enemy arrived to help their fallen
troops, sailing in during the day this time. They cautiously navigated
around the dangerous dragon scales and were successful. However, the tide
began to go out again, exposing the sharpened bamboo poles, and these
poles then ripped into the bottom of the enemy’s boats again sinking them.
The enemy became so discouraged with these events, that they never
returned, and this northern point of Vietnam became safe from invasions.
The huge limestone protrusions that remain to this day, are proof of the
dragons’ help and continuing protection.
Filled with the fantasy of this ancient legend, the
countless islands took on new meaning. With the sun breaking from the fog,
the land and sea changed with every shaft of light and around every turn.
Stunning is a word that barely describes the
Stopping to visit some caves, we chose to stay onboard. The simple boat life
appeals to us, and various scenes of local buying and trading provided a
peaceful foreground to the fabulous scascape. Fresh fruit, fish and
vegetables were being sold from boat to boat, and our captain shopped for
our evening meal.
The sound of
water quietly lapping at our junk was interrupted by the return of
passengers from their cave excursion. The serene spell was broken.
Soon we were off again, weaving in and out amid the islands, watching the
play of light upon water and rock. We thought we would never tire of this
Anchoring off the coast of Cat Ba Island, the captain chose this as our
safe harbor for the night.
Cat Ba means “Woman Island”. During the various recent wars, the
men left to fight, leaving only women and small children on the island,
hence, the name. Now, many people live here, yet the name stayed.
another abundant meal, and exciting conversation with fellow shipmates.
Returning above deck for a final look at the stars, we savored the many
images of the day before turning in for the night.
Arising early, the fog had returned. Wisps of white weaving in and around
the dragons‘ scales brought the legend back to life, making an entrancing trip back to Halong City.
This two day, one night boat
excursion cost $25, booked through our Hotel, the Prince II. The
price included aircon bus pickup and drop off at our hotel, all meals
(excluding beverages), the tour through Halong Bay, and night's lodging
either on board Bien Mo, or at a hotel on Cat Ba.