Throughout the UNESO World Heritage site in northern Vietnam, tours navigate the crystal waters around Halong Bay where over 3,000 islets, clad in a cloak of green, stand erect. Many travelers agree a mystical ambience spreads through the cloudless sky above Halong Bay: limestone cliffs jut from the azure sea as junk boats weave the coast, their sails hungry for the warm breeze.
Handcrafted by Mother Nature, this mosaic is enough to thrill any seasoned traveller on a holiday to Vietnam. Tours take in this natural wonder daily, departing from nearby Halong City and meandering through the islands, caves and the back gardens of the junk boat dwellers.
Junk Boat People
Halong Bay has a community of floating houses that serenade the cliffs with the sounds of their fishing activities. About 1,600 people are inhabitants of four floating fishing villages throughout the area, their homes loaded up with fishing nets and paraphernalia. The local people make their living by fishing for a variety of marine life, including crabs. They are a private people and it’s not possible to go directly onto their communities, and, as such, visitors to the area should respect their wish of privacy. (All tour boats pass by these unique junk boats which have been home to the local population for years.)
Dungeons and Dragons
According to legend, dragons protected the area from invaders. As they drew breaths of fire, the mythical creatures created islands in the sea – known today as Halong Bay (which means descending into the sea). Thankfully the dragons have long since departed the area, but not without leaving the monoliths as a reminder they are not far from Vietnam (tours in the bay recount this tale with gusto). Among the limestone islets are caves with stalagmites and stalactites and deep chambers where echoes eerily reverberate. Walkways throughout the caverns make the islands accessible to visitors, however, tourists should not touch anything inside the caves in order to preserve them. (Reports of people removing pieces of stalagmites have been met with horror among reputable tour operators in Vietnam. Tours to Halong Bay should reinforce the need to observe AND preserve).
What to bring to Halong Bay, Vietnam (tours vary and not all allow swimming):
• Swimming gear and towel
• Torch for the caves
• Flip flops and trainers (the inside of the caves may be slippery and trainers will give more grip)
• Suncream with a minimum SPF of 15
• Camera (a waterproof one if you want to take underwater photos)
• A sense of respect – don’t remove anything from the sea or the caves