The Halong Bay is definitely one of the most touristic places in Vietnam. The Bay since 1994 is under UNESCO and is one of the new 7 world natural wonders. There are about 2000 limestone islands. The literal meaning of the word Ha Long is “the place where the dragon descends into the sea”.
How it was created?
I’ll tell you one of the many legends about Halong. In the past, when the country was newly formed, the Vietnamese people had to fight the enemy coming from the north across the sea. Feeling sorry for the land, the god of Paradise sent the Dragon Mother with her children down to help Vietnamese people to defend themselves. The mother and her children, when they appeared, they shot their enemies with their fire and giant emeralds.
The emeralds from the mouth of the dragon were scattered around the battlefield of the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall. Thanks to the dragons, the northern invaders were finally defeated. After thousands of years, emeralds scattered across the sea turned into islands of different sizes and shapes.
After the battle, the Mother Dragon and the children didn’t return to heaven, they turned into normal humans and remained to live on Earth. They stayed among people to help them in everyday matters, in a way to help them to return and expand their land. In order not to forget the Mother Dragon and her children, this legend is narrated and transmitted from generation to generation. This legend is part of the general belief of the Vietnamese people that they have origin from the Dragon.
How to get there?
The Halong Bay is about 160 km from Hanoi, and whether you go by car or bus you need about 3 hours of travel. Since we decided to go straight from the National Park of Pu Luong, we needed about 7 hours of travel. That means 7 hours of crazy driving on a “highway” where there were no rules.
Most of the agencies that sell the tours to Halong offer a one day trip from Hanoi. If you go on your own then you can find only a bus or private transfer.
Where to stay?
Our choice in Halong was a hostel in the city center (I do not recommend it because it was nothing special), about 10 km away from the main harbor from where usually are starting the tours.
We decided to stay in the city because the next morning we wanted to climb the mountain Bai Tho (The Poem Mountain). From where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of the bay.
A one-day or multi-day cruise?
Definitely one day. First of all, let me tell you that the tours across the Bay are super extra expensive. Our luxury (small group) one-day tour was around $47, with lunch included and a visit to the Ti-top island (an island that is not included in most of the daily cruises).
I wanted to visit this island because from there we could have another nice panoramic view of one part of the bay. The rest of the tour was a cruise through the islands, but nothing special, like watching the same scene all the time.
The prices for a multi-day cruise tour that includes two or more nights spent on a boat began from $150 per person and up.
What is happening on these tours? Literally the same story, the difference is that the boats have more time so they can go more further and you can see some different islands. You will have time to do a kayak, visit a beach, swim and practice a morning tai chi on the boat.
In the both cruises, one-day and multi-day tour, is included a visit to several caves (super touristic). Around the islets you can see some small floating villages and floating markets. Conclusion: If you are short with time, day and a half is enough for a one-day cruise and a visit to the Poem mountain.
The panoramic view from Bai Tho mountain
The place is still not very famous and there you will see mostly individual travelers or bloggers who find out this place from blogs or they heard from some other travelers. I have to admit that it is a bit complicated to find the entrance, first of all because there is no way to understand the locals.
We had the address but still we weren’t able to find it, because the houses were like stuck together, and on each house there was some advertising for something. So in the end we decided to show the image from the shop where the entrance was and finally we made it.
I will write you the exact directions how to get there. Before you climb the mountain there is a gate that can be opened only by people who are living there, in front of the entrance, and of course for a dollar or two
It takes about an hour to climb the mountain, if you are in good shape maybe less. I must warn you that the weather is terribly humid and this was the reason why for me it was really hard going up, but the view from the top was worth every step.
Directions – it is enough to find the street Le Thanh Tong, the entrance is nearby, on the crossroad of Le Thang Tong and Long Tien. Once you arrive there, show the following picture of the local people and they will show you where is the store. When you find it you will notice small narrow stairs going up, that’s the right way to the mountain.
As previously said, the weather here was super humid and warm, and on the other hand super foggy and cloudy. They say that the sunny days in the Halong Bay are really rare, you should be really happy to see Halong with sun and nice weather. Unfortunately our time was foggy and cloudy, but we were lucky because it didn’t start to rain.