Buying hand-sewn crafts definitely placed everyone in our tour group in a happy mood.Â After filling our bags with unique souvenirs we decided to continue on our way.Â The tour guide informed us that we were only about an hour away from our destination but it might take us a bit longer to get there because of the heavy rains.Â Fortunately, it only took us about fifty minutes to reach the Ha Long Pier.
We immediately found ourselves in the midst of what appeared like hundreds of tourists, tour guides, and workers all trying to get on the right boats all at the same time.Â The unfolding scene was organized chaos.Â Everything was definitely confusing but fascinating nonetheless.Â From here, our tour guide ushered us to a small boat that was to bring us to our main boat for our Ha Long Bay Tour.
Ha Long Bay actually means Descending Dragon Bay when translated.Â It can be found in northeastern Vietnam and is surrounded by the Gulf of Tonkin, Cat Ba Island and to the north, China.Â As one of Vietnam’s pre-eminent UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is a very popular travel destination.
What makes Ha Long Bay special? Well for one, thousands of islets that vary in shape and size populate the bayâ€™s 120 km coastline.Â These small islands are made up of limestone and are concentrated in the southwest of Ha Long Bay and the southeast (actually Bai Tu Long Bay).Â It’s also interesting to note that these islets, which are now covered by lush vegetation, have undergone about 500 million years of evolution.Â Another extraordinary feature is the presence of numerous inland lakes on the islands themselves.Â In fact, one can find up to six lakes on just one island!
Our tour guide told us that Ha Long Bay is one huge natural work of art (an obvious bit of hyperbole, to say the least).Â If one looks closely, the islands take on unusual shapes and forms.Â There are islands that resemble dragons, roosters, incense burners, elephants and people.Â The shape of the island depends on the angle of the light source as well as your personal vantage point.
Hotels in Hanoi and other cities can easily arrange tours of Ha Long Bay to fit every taste and budget.Â Tours can last anywhere from one day up to a full week. Less expensive group tours tend to stop off at tourist traps to encourage the purchase of souvenirs (which can be just fine, if you like to shop), while more personal, intimate tours simply cut to the chase and invoke more cultural authenticity.
As for us, our hotel took care of all the arrangements for our Oriental Sails Halong Bay Tour.Â We paid a total of USD 100 per person for: pick-up from our hotel, land transportation to Ha Long, a visit to a souvenir shop, overnight stay onboard the Oriental Sails, meals for two days, cave exploration within Ha Long Bay, kayak excursion and land transportation back to our hotel.
For me, the best part of the Ha Long Bay tour was the opportunity to meet new people from different parts of the world.Â We swapped travel stories over meals and chatted about various cultures during our free time on the boat.Â The new friendships that I made as a result are something I will forever cherish.
Note:Â Back in 2009, New 7 Wonders Foundation included Ha Long Bay in its list of nominations for the Worldâ€™s 7 Natural Wonders.