The only way to start this post is simply to say that if you’re ever in Vietnam you HAVE to go to Ha Long Bay.* On the UNESCO World Heritage list, Ha Long Bay really is one of the natural wonders of the world. It’s in the Gulf of Tonkin (those of you up on your Vietnam War history will know its significance) and is made up of thousands of tiny islands jutting out of the water like an underwater mountain range. The legend is that the gods sent dragons to the bay to protect the mainland and they spit jewels. The jewels became the islands so invaders couldn’t navigate the waters and therefore, the mainland was protected. The legend has it that the dragons were so happy there that they stayed and lived in the bay. Ha Long Bay literally translates to “bay of descending dragons.” Pretty cool, huh?
I actually love the legend. I feel like it adds to the beauty of the bay and the fantasy of it all. The photos really don’t do it justice, either. Gliding through the water with views like this really makes you think you’re on a movie set. My brain had a hard time computing that all this natural beauty could even be real. It’s one of those places where you really stop and feel how small we all are in the world. Being next to these giant rocks jutting out of the vast ocean gives you a real perspective and even more respect for the planet and our place in it.
We were lucky enough to spend one night and two days aboard a junk with Bhaya Cruises, which runs a series of different cruise options. Part of the cruise was to explore a local floating fishing village, which was like going back in time. All of the houses are floating, anchored down, or tied together and the whole village lives like that. There’s no land. People get around by boat, or any other sort of flotation device (I saw a kid going to visit neighbors by surf board). The families fish for a living, and that’s about it.
Our guide told us the village is subsidized by the government, and that the government had offered to relocate everyone to the mainland and cities instead, but they refused. The reasoning, according to our guide, was that none of them know how to drive or even ride a bike, and that they didn’t know what they would do on the mainland. Some children go to the mainland for schooling, but most of the families continue in the tiny village as fishers.
The entire experience was just surreal and I highly recommend if you’re planning on spending any time in Vietnam that you work Ha Long Bay into your travel plans. After all, how often do you get to feel like you’re on a movie set? Or experience something so different from your daily life? I can say, as someone who spends the vast majority of my time in one giant city or another, having this adventure to see something so different from my normal life was a real eye opener.
And after all, isn’t that the point in traveling? Experiencing something so new and so different from what you know? Learning about different cultures in whatever limited amount of time you can, and respecting the differences between all of us? This planet never cease to amaze me.
Ha Long Bay was definitely one of the highlights of the trip that I am so glad we did it. The kayaking alone was enough to make you feel like a tiny spec in a giant world. And isn’t that just an awesome feeling?
*I still can’t figure out if it’s Ha Long or Halong. Bear with me.