Named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Ha Long Bay is dotted with thousands of towering limestone islands. Ha long means “descending dragon” and Ha Long Bay is also known as The Bay of Descending Dragons.
Legend tells of a Jade Emperor that sent a Mother Dragon and her children to Earth to help the Vietnamese people defend their country from Northern invaders. The dragons breathed fire and emeralds that sunk enemy ships and formed into the islands we see today. The dragons stayed on earth and the spot where the Mother Dragon landed is now known as Ha Long Bay.
Located four hours from Hanoi, the Northern Vietnam weather in February is unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, it gets downright cold! Days before we arrived in Hanoi there was a record setting cold snap that brought snow to the hills of Sapa, killing many crops and livestock. We experienced gray days with weather in the upper 50’s and 60’s in Hanoi where we were eyeing the forecast for a nice day to cruise the bay.
We saw a peak of sun in the forecast and arranged a one night tour on V’Spirit Cruises which was recommended by our hotel in Hanoi. We were picked up by our guide “Frank” in Hanoi at 8:30 am and arrived at the dock around 12:30pm. A quick tender boat ride took us from the dock to the boat where we checked into our cabin. We were relieved to see it was clean and looked the same as the brochure.
We sat down to a delicious feast for lunch where the dishes just kept coming. I decided to go with the vegetarian option and over the next two days would eat more tofu than I’ve ever had in my life. That scene in Forest Gump comes to mind when Bubba is listing off the various forms of shrimp, “There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp…” Speaking of shrimp, at dinner, they brought out a pan of raw shrimp with some water and vodka and light it on fire and steamed it in such a way the shrimp was cooked in a minute. The six tables around the dining room were impressed.
After lunch, we had about an hour of free time to take pictures from the deck and enjoy the view en route to a cave.
We arrived at Sung Sot or “surprise” cave in the late afternoon. Our guide, Frank, took us inside to point out the mounds resembling turtles and dragons and some sexy stalagmite formations. The cave was massive and each room was more impressive than the last. I felt like I was in Hollywood about to get the Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios. Whether it was Mother Nature’s doing or Mother Dragon, the cave was a site to behold.
-Our kind of place!-
An hour later, we were back outside to see that the sun made an appearance just in time to sail off into the sunset.
Our boat dropped anchor for the evening where another feast was in store. The evening activities included making spring rolls, squid fishing and a group puzzle competition that had our table the majority of the passengers stumped.
We were up early the next morning to take to the waters in a kayak. There was a tranquil vibe looking out over the deck at the other junk boats anchored in the harbor. Our tender boat dropped us off at a floating house of a fisherman and his adorable family who set us up with a kayak.
After precariously wiggling off the dock into the kayak, we were off. We paddled past the towering limestone cliffs, pulled up to an ancestral altar, dipped our fingers in the chilly bay water and enjoyed the peaceful surrounds.
Back on the junk boat, we finished out the morning with a fruit cutting demonstration and our final lunch.
The time had come to say so long to Ha Long. By 12:30 we were back to shore where the next group of cruisers was arriving to experience what we had in the last 24 hours. Mother Dragon had been a kind and gracious host.