Limestone mountains, topped with lush greenery, many reaching well over 400 feet & rising from Emerald waters greeted us as we arrived at Halong Bay. In the Gulf of Tonkin, 4 bays are home to over 3000 islands. Fishing villages dot the waterways with floating markets selling everything from seafood, fruits & vegetables to cigarettes & beer. The beauty is breathtaking & home to many wave-eroded grottos.
According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands & islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. With magic, numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of the invaders’ ships; the forward ships struck the rocks & each other. After winning the battle, the dragons were interested in a peaceful existence & decided to live in this bay. The place where the mother dragon descended is called Hạ Long, the place where the dragon’s children assisted their mother is called Bái Tử Long island, & the place where the dragon’s children wriggled their tails violently is called Bạch Long Vỹ island.
We where a small group & our cruise mates hailed from Dubai, Israel, Singapore, Scotland & Australia. After setting sail we cruised the karsts of Lan Ha Bay to one of the many villages & transferred from tender to rowboat in order to get a closer look at the islands, smaller grottos & the many floating houses. Returning to the boat we had a spring roll making lesson (delicious & will definitely be making these again) that were later served as appetizers. An enjoyable evening was spent chatting with this international group. An early breakfast followed by Tai Chi on the upper deck at 7 a.m. was a great way to start the day. We then headed out to visit one of the larger grottos & after a moderate hike entered a huge illuminated cavern & spent over an hour marvelling at the stalagmites, stalactites & marvels of Mother Nature.