Ha Long Bay – Bay of the descending dragon

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A trip to Vietnam would not be complete if you did not take the opportunity to explore the Ha Long Bay area. Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site 20 years ago and is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist attractions.

Departure from Can Tho

It was not easy for us to leave the Mekong Delta, in particular our accommodation Nguyen Shack. We had immediately felt attached to this place and the surrounding village. The lifestyle at the riverside and the hospitality of the people we had experienced for three days have deeply impressed us.

As we had decided to continue our journey from the north of the country, starting with a trip to Ha Long Bay, we took a plane from Can Tho Airport to Hanoi. Domestic flights can be easily booked just a few days in advance for an adequate price (€67 p.p. flying with Vietnam Airlines). The travel time to the airport was 30 minutes and the flying time was about two hours.

Stopover in Hanoi

On our arrival in Hanoi in the evening, the weather was not on our side. It was raining while we made our way to the hotel. This time we were not that lucky with our accommodation: the room’s furnishings were meagre and the breakfast was poor, but it was okay for the one night. The hotel was located opposite the Ethnic Travel office from where we needed to depart for our Ha Long Bay tour the next morning. We had planned a sightseeing tour through Hanoi after our cruise so that we just went for a short walk and some beers this night.

3 days Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay with Ethnic Travel

There are various cruises with different price tags to explore the bay by boat. We had chosen Ethnic Travel on the basis of the excellent tripadvisor reviews and the fact that they also enter the less touristy area of Bai Tu Long Bay.

The tour option included a three day cruise to Ha Long Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay, all activities and transportation as well as the accommodation (one night on the boat and the other in a homestay on Quan Lan) and meals. The tour was about €160 per person.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, deck, sea, cruise

Transportation to Ha Long City

Our trip started on a Sunday morning in front of the Ethnic Travel office in 35 Hang Giay Street, Hanoi. We were picked up by a van which brought us to Ha Long City. With us were nine other tourists, the driver and our guide, Tran, who accompanied us throughout the entire trip.

Three and a half hours later we arrived at the harbour and our group was split, as we had booked different packages. Just a few minutes later further travellers arrived to join us on the three days cruise and we headed to the docks.

Let the cruise begin

We boarded a smaller boat that brought us to our junk. On board we were introduced to the crew and the itinerary. The junk was leaving the harbour while we checked in to our rooms.

Afterwards we had lunch and got to know each other better. We were a group of 12 people including our guide, with different nationalities and age groups represented. The eldest passenger was an Australian lady in her seventies, but she had the energy of a twenty-year-old, took part in all the activities and made us laugh so much. Soon we noticed that we were extremely lucky with our travel buddies and it promised to be an exciting journey.

Legend of Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay covers an area of around 1,553 square kilometres, including 1,960 – 2,000 islands in various sizes and shapes, most of which are limestone. Locals claim it to be exactly 1,969 islands, as it happens, this is the year of Ho Chi Minh’s death.

The name is derived from an early state of the Vietnamese language, meaning “descending dragon”. According to local legend when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese people had to fight invaders coming from the sea. The Jade Emperor (King of Heaven) sent the Vietnamese people a family of dragons to help them defend their country. The dragons descended from the sky and spitted out emeralds. These jewels turned into islands and islets, building an invincible defensive wall against the battleship fleet of the enemies. Once the invaders were actually beaten off, the mother dragon and her children decided to stay in the bay. The area where the mother dragon landed was called Ha Long and the bay where the children descended was named Bai Tu Long.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Floating village Cua Van

The Ha Long Bay area was not as crowded as we had expected it to be and we enjoyed the stunning panoramic landscape, while our junk was heading to the floating fishing village Cua Van. Sitting on the ship’s deck engaging in conversations with the others and taking in the splendid nature setting was one of these travel moments you will remember for a long time.

Once we arrived at the floating houses we left the boat and climbed into kayaks. Our kayaking trip took us along the karst landscape to a floating museum where we were introduced to the bay as homeland of Ha Long’s fishing people. As the largest fishing village in Ha Long Bay, Cua Van is situated on a calm bay in an impressive natural scenery. The local people live on floating houses and fishing as well as aquaculture are the dominant activities.

Afternoon swim, dinner and overnight stay on the junk

After our little kayaking experience we went back on board of our junk to make our way to a designated anchorage area for the night. As the majority of us wanted to take a swim before dinner our guide arranged another stop along the way. That was the moment when we lost our GoPro which had served as so well during our trip so far. Luckily we had imported the film material shot in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta stay on our laptop.

We were pretty exhausted after dinner so it did not long until we went to bed. It had been an amazing first day on the cruise and we were overwhelmed by all the impressions.

Day 2 of our cruise – Bai Tu Long Bay and the island of Quan Lan

The following morning we went kayaking to a cave after breakfast, before heading back to the harbour.

Once arrived at the docks the Ethnic Travel bus brought us to the harbour town Cai Rong, located one and a half hours away. From there we took another boat, cruising through Bai Tu Long Bay. This time the only boats that passed us were some small fishing boats. We had three hours to enjoy the beautiful surrounding and the great company of our fellow travellers.

Then we arrived at the island of Quan Lan. The very charm of this place is that there are not more than just a few guesthouses in the two larger villages and that its deserted beaches are claimed to be some of the best in the north of Vietnam. At the port we took some bicycles to explore the island. Excepct of trucks carrying sand for constructions and straying dogs nearly no one was seen until we arrived at our homestay, situated in a tiny settlement.

At the accommodation we were invited to join a cooking class, preparing our own dinner. So we made some Vietnamese spring rolls while the local ladies took care about the rest in the kitchen. At the end of the day we had a really tasty dinner.

Day 3 – Back to Hanoi

The next morning two tuk tuks brought us back to the pier from where we made our way to the Cai Rong harbour. On the way we stopped for a last kayaking exercise, visiting a Oyster farm. Three hours later we got on the bus to drive back to Hanoi, which took us five hours this time. So in the late afternoon we were dropped off in front of the Ethnic Travel office and needed to say good bye to our group.

It had been a fantastic cruise through Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bay with Ethnic Travel. The people we spent these three days with were lovely and we had so much fun together. The organisation of the trip was really good and our guide Tran did everything to make us feel comfortable. We were so pleased with Ethnic Travel that we also booked the Sa Pa Tour with them.

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