Sail through emerald waters, kayak through ancient grottos and catch some rays on white, white sands
Thousands of limestone mountains, topped with lush tropical jungle, jaggedly project out of clear, emerald waters. Halong Bay looks like the computer-generated backdrop to a James Cameron movie. It’s breathtakingly beautiful with junk boats carving lines in the tranquil bay as sunset colours bounce off the water.
For centuries Halong bay has been a muse for poets and painters. People have flocked here to see this natural wonder and, while there might be a few more tourists and a lot more boats today, it still has retained its sense of wonder. It’s easy to while away a few days in Halong Bay watching sunsets and absorbing the 20-million-year-old karsts.
The Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, is very near the Chinese border and the thousands of natural caves and grottos that today witness tourist visits, used to be a base for pirates and smugglers to hide and transport their booty. Many of these caves are open to the public, well illuminated and provide guided tours that can help point our various rock formations that look invariably like roaring lions, entwined lovers or Buddha sitting in uncomfortably looking poses. The rocks may have some wonderful mythological tales but it’s the incredible natural beauty that inspires us.
Sung Sot Cave is one of the biggest cave networks and the views from Pelican cave are stunning. Take a boat or, if you’re feeling brave, kayak through the Dark and Bright Cave, where you’ll dodge stalactites and hear bats preparing for the evening hunt above you. All but 40 of the islands are uninhabited and the fishing villages and farmers that do live on these isolated outcrops have hardly changed their living habits for centuries.
There are plenty of opportunities to do some hill walking and cliff climbing, to get a better view of the sea-scape. The protected nearby national park of Cat Ba is home to most of the world’s remaining golden-headed langur population. Some of northern Vietnam’s best beaches are hidden away in the regions around here. Lan Ha Bay is further away than the busy Halong Bay and is covered in white sandy beaches. As well as a great spot for diving, often seals and dolphins can be spotted here.
A boat cruise is certainly the best way to ensure you get to see all that the area has to offer and most will arrange food either on the boat or in one of the fishing villages in the area. However, if you’re feeling very James Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies was filmed here after all) then you can also see the Bay from a helicopter or seaplane.