In Vietnam there was one trip we knew we just had to do and that was the cruise to Ha Long Bay. Like most people we had the majority of our information about Ha Long from ‘that episode of Top Gear’, but that was enough to convince us.
So after some extensive research we chose to cruise with ‘A Class Cruises’. Opting for their ‘Legend’ boat for our two night, three day stay. At £170 per person this was one of the more expensive options available, but with the extensive itinerary and luxury nature of the boat we decided that one of the seventh wonders of the natural world deserved a little indulgence.
The first day ‘A Class’ pick you up from your hotel and drive you, along with your fellow guests, to the harbour which is located approximately three hours from the city of Hanoi. Here you board a small boat, which will take you to the main event, Ha Long Bay, where you will board the ‘Legend’ and begin your journey.
Sailing into Ha Long Bay for the first time was surreal. It is like nowhere else I have seen on earth. Vaster than I ever could of imagined and boasting near on 2000 islands, it truly is a spectacle. The towering mounds seem to drift along the surface of the azure water and take on the form and shape of mythical animals. They are imposing and spectacular with an eerie, unnatural edge that seems to outdo anything else I have yet to see in the natural world.
Over the three days we visited many of Ha Long Bay’s attractions. We took a trip to the floating pearl farm to see the artificial insemination of oysters and how a pearl is grown, and to the local fishing village by rowboats to witness first hand the art of squid fishing; a craft the locals have perfected over the years. We spent time at a beach on one of the islands, swimming in the calm salty waters, before we climbed the 300 steps to the cliff tops to look out at Hay Long as the sun began to set in the early evening sky.
We toured the many caves. Some small, dark and filled with bats, which could only be reached by kayak and others we explore by foot. Moving in and out of the vast chambers as our guide relayed the stories and legends. We took kayaks to jelly fish bay to float among thousands of brightly coloured jellyfish that are without their nasty sting and saw wild monkeys roaming the mountainous hillsides. To say it was otherworldly would be an understatement. There is something jurassic about Ha Long Bay – something mystical, that is made all the more real by the stories told by the local people here.
The legend of Ha Long Bay is that during a terrible war the people of Vietnam prayed to the gods for help to defeat an enemy who came and destroyed their homes. Fierce fire breathing dragons came down to earth to fight, setting a blaze the foe before sacrificing themselves by turning to stone to create Ha Long Bay and its 2000 islands, giving the people of Vietnam a home once more. The fairy tale makes for an eerie story of giants sleeping among us. Giants who one day may wake again should they be called.
By Sophie Maguire