Legend has it that the mystical islands of Halong Bay were actually formed by a great dragon from the mountains. The ancient story says that when Vietnam was newly formed, its people had to fight fierce invaders from the North through the sea. The Jade Emperor felt sorry for the country and sent Mother Dragon and her children descending into the sea to defend them. The dragons helped to defeat their enemies with divine fire and giant emeralds (now the famous islands of Halong) that formed an invincible defensive wall. Thousands of years later, we now have one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
Whether you believe the legend is true or not, no one can deny that Halong Bay is a remarkable place. Awe-inspiring. Breathtaking. Magical. None of these words can really describe the image implanted in my mind of countless limestone pinnacles jutting out of the sea. It was instantly clear why this beautiful place was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
My time in Halong Bay was short and sweet. At the Bay Chay wharf I boarded a junk boat at noon on Canada Day just in time to avoid a torrential downpour. Initially worried that the rain would ruin the scenery, I was quickly distracted by the enormous seafood lunch provided on board. With the weather quickly forgotten, I devoured course after course of squid, crab, shrimp, fish, and more dishes than I could handle. After I was thoroughly stuffed I realized that the rain had subsided and the sun was even breaking through the clouds (cue squinty eyes). We cruised the bay and visited a small floating village where I was able to capture some of my favourite images of the trip.
Our final stop before heading back was the famous Thien Cung Grotto. The cave rises 20m above sea level and covers over 3000 square meters. Inside the cave you could wander up many levels where multi-coloured lights are projected onto the walls to illuminate the varied stalagmites and stalactites. That definitely conjured up some precious Geography 12 memories from high school.
Although everything about Halong Bay was impressive, it wasn’t the highlight of my trip. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe it seemed too obvious or possibly the overt tourism has diminished the wonder. I suppose that sometimes it is the simple and surprising that makes the biggest impact in the end. No matter, it was lovely, and I am grateful to have seen it for myself.