by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Vietnam
This past weekend, I visited Ha Long Bay, one of the most famous sites in all of Southeast Asia. It is located in Northern Vietnam, in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven new wonders of nature. More importantly for me, it was a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of the city and a chance to breathe some fresh air (a constant smog envelops Hanoi and blue skies and stars at night are rare).
My friend and I booked a boat tour for 2 days and 1 night through a travel agency for a little less than $100. (I learned, after my trip, that tours can actually be booked for $50 for similar travel packages.) We left the volunteer guest house early Saturday morning at 7am for the Old Quarter, the city center, to catch the bus for Ha Long Bay. Along with 8 other foreigners, we rode for 4, rather bumpy, hours to our destination. Then, we hopped on a small boat to ride out to our cruise boat, the Ha Long Dolphin, to begin our awesome trip.
As the Ha Long Dolphin drifted into the gulf, the first thing that I noticed was the peaceful silence. There were no buzzing of crowds or constant honking from motorbikes, taxis, and buses. There were no buildings, traffic, or smog, but just the calm, open waters with no disturbances. The weather was pretty cloudy and overcast, but this just added to the mystique of the bay. The fog shrouded and muffled everything and the visibility was limited so that only the outlines of distant figures were visible.
And then we saw the islets. As the boat got closer, the large structures that irregularly protruded from the smooth waters towered over us like rock and green giants. At first, only one or two were visible, but then many islets came into view.
As the boat slipped between them, I was struck in awe by their sheer size and intimidating presence. Their sides near the bottom were rock worn smooth by the water, but higher up they were covered with trees and foliage. They reminded me of the Hallelujah Mountains in the Avatar movie. My pictures do not do justice to their immensity.
In the rest of the trip, I saw a fishing village that consisted entirely of little houses built on floating docks. Sellers, with their individual boats full of goods, were seen paddling among the cruise boats selling items. I had a chance to go kayaking around the islets and toured a large cave known as the Surprising Cave (which was named as so because of a giant rock structure in the cave that closely resembled a penis). In the morning of the next day, I climbed about 400 steps to the top of an islet for a 360o view of the bay. Overall, the weekend trip was amazing and was a much needed break from Hanoi.