Ha Long Bay is a very popular destination in Northern Vietnam – a must see!
About three hours from Hanoi, it was easy to get there via bus. After paying the “tourist price” for my train ticket, a host family brother accompanied me to the bus station to help me buy a ticket for Ha Long Bay for the price the locals pay. The bus left almost immediately and off we went!
The legend of Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay is famous not only for uber fresh seafood, but for the limestone formations that eject from the water.
Legend has it that when Vietnam first started to become a country, it had to defend itself from many invaders. To assist with the defense, the gods sent a family of dragons down as protectors of the new nation.
To combat invading ships, the dragons would spit out jewels and jade, which would erect themselves from the sea, causing the ships to smash into them and the invaders to drown. These large jewels and jades are the current limestone formations that remain there today. It is said that the dragons have traveled the world and are now retired in Ha Long Bay, inspiring the design of some of the boats.
What to see in Ha Long Bay.
Naturally, the limestone formations are the biggest draw. Many of the formations have been given names based on interpretation of their shapes. I saw the dog, fighting chickens, “Vietnam Money” and the monkey.
Many of the tours in the area also offer a stop off at Thien Cung grotto, which is a beautiful cave with lite spelunking. No squeezing through tight walls, and no chance of the movie “the descent” happening (Mia that was some scary-ass shit). Instead it was a nice trek through a large, brilliantly lit cave. I’m a huge cave nerd!
Walking through the caves, I was saluted twice by older men, and had my picture taken multiple times by other tourists and by children. I rushed through the cave a bit just to get away from all the people.
There are many ways to get around the bay to see the formations and the cave. A half day cruise, or a cruise where you can sleep on the ship for a night or three!
I opted to take a half day boat cruise around to see these formations and the cave, but I’m sad to say it was a stressful experience for me. I was the only non-asian on the boat, resulting in a constant paparazzi of photo taking. From a distance, unabashed selfies (one girl even kissed me – joke’s on her, I was so sweaty), attempted-discreet selfies and really hard sells of the the items on board.
After my avoidance with the potential kidnapping at the airport, I admit I’m still a bit shaken and on high alert – even paranoid. Boarding the boat it seemed like everyone else knew each other and could have been plotting something. I eventually learned that I was the only tourist and everyone else were members of a family that owned and ran the ship. This is mostly due to the fact that it is ‘low season’ right now – not many tourists. This didn’t help my paranoia, and I just absolutely loath that I am paranoid.
I kept thinking “could I swim back if I jumped now? How about now? Is it too far yet?” The constant pictures didn’t help, and constantly being clumsily hit on by the men was annoying too. “How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend?” I’d heard that before – alert, alert!
The men would come and sit next to me and sit too close, leaning on me. One guy brushed my boob once (mistake?), twice (not a mistake), and on the third time I grabbed his arm and shoved him and screamed “NO!” pointed at the end of the ship for him to get away from me. He avoided me the rest of the duration. I hate my boobs being so obnoxious. If anyone wants some extra boob, let’s get a hose and I’m happy to donate!
From there, it was a race to get back to shore. Finally landing, I picked up some take out, found a hotel within walking distance and bunked up for the night. The hotel had A/C and good wifi with a bathtub! I bathed while listening to Netflix and turned the A/C on full blast – it was a great way to dissolve the anxiety of the day.
Despite the self-induced stressful ride, I am so glad I visited the bay. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or will see again …and I think I saw a dragon!