Winter Days in the Bay of the Descending Dragon

Winter isn’t always the best time to cruise Ha Long Bay, the best time usually falls around summer time, làm mái tôn chống nóng when the bay is warm and the days last longer then in the winter. However, my quick winter trip was wonderful and better then I expected when I went on a Ha Long Bay cruise in December.

We arrived in Hanoi at 8:00 a.m. and we got to Bai Chay port around 11:30 am. As I got out of the car, the salty sea air blew through my hair, the northeast monsoon covered the entire port with a fresh, cold breeze. Up in the air, there were some eagles flying by; this was the first time, I saw an eagle that close. It took about 1 hour on our junk (a Vietnamese cruise ship) to arrive at Ha Long Bay. There is no doubt in my mind why Halong Bay was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage site. My first thought of the junk ship we took out on our Ha Long Bay cruise was that it looked like a small floating hotel. Taking a look inside the rooms and other facilities, I was surprised by its modern, charming feel. The rooms on board the ship met the standards for a typical 4 star hotel, but we weren’t at a hotel, we were cruising out at sea on wooden vessel; I was amazed.

Our junk cruised slowly on the green water while we enjoyed lunch with deliciously fresh sea food. After lunch, I had some free time to relax before our kayaking trip on Ha Long bay in the afternoon. I took my favorite book and read it on the sundeck where I could receive a nice tan. Sitting on the lounge chair, a light breeze blew all around me, as I looked around; our junk was surrounded by towering karsts emerging out of the water. The sun shone over the karsts on a rare sunny day in winter.

Ha Long Bay has over 2,000 islets with thousands of limestone karsts. Long ago, the Vietnamese people decided the islets in Halong bay presented many great hidden treasures. Many of the islets were named according to their shape: Ga Chọi (Fighting cocks) islet, Dua (Chopsticks) islet, Cho Da islet (Stone dog) and many others. Since the French colonial period, the french discovered the primitive beauty of Ha Long Bay, they were amazed by it so much that the image of Ha Long Bay was used on the countries stamps, postcards and other documents. Ha Long Bay is also famous for its caves and grottos such as: Sung Sot (Surprised) cave and Thien Cung (Sky Place) grotto. In side each cave or grotto there are hidden chambers with stalactites dropping from the ceiling, creating an amazing experience as you kayaking through the caves.

During the afternoon, we kayaked through a floating village named Cua Vạn. Paddling around the village, observing the life of people who live every day in the floating village was an experience I can’t describe with words alone. In the floating village, if you want to visit your next-door neighbor, you have to use a boat to go visit him, otherwise your choice is to swim. That’s why the locals here say that the children can swim and row before they can even walk. Touring Ha Long Bay is a beautiful destination for exploring and experiencing as a tourist, but for fishermen here Halong bay is a blessing from above and their main source for earning a living. The variety of marine ecosystems in Ha Long Bay brings fishermen many types of seafood that only Halong has. We paddled by a fisherman while on our kayaks; he was on a small boat with his fresh catch of crab for the day. We purchased some of the freshly caught crab, put them in a bag in our kayak with plans to give them to the cruise ship’s chef for dinner tonight. As we continued our kayaking trip on the bay we kayaked into a series of caves. Despite the bright sun outside, it got darker and darker as we paddled deeper into the cave, hundreds of stalactites dropped down all around us.

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