Bai Tu Long Bay

28 Nov

Like Sapa, the final stop on our Vietnam adventure also involved gorgeous scenery, and had the added bonus of also involving boats! (I love a good boat). Halong Bay is a designated UNESCO site, whose name means “descending dragon bay” in Vietnamese. Legend has it that a big mama dragon settled down in the bay, and her fire breathing and her wiggly children created the many cliffs and limestone karsts that fill the bay. An alternative explanation would be that a sizable earthquake plus years of water erosion created the karsts, but the dragon story is more fun. Whatever the source, the end result is quite picturesque. The many tiny islands that dot the bay seem to pop up out of nowhere. Some are IMG_5356large enough to boast a small beach, while others are so thin they seem ready to topple over at the slightest breeze. Southern Thailand has some karst formations as well, but nothing like the scale of Halong Bay. There are over 1,600 islands in Halong Bay, and many more in the surrounding area. Halong Bay is part of a larger area that includes several inhabited islands, and Bai Tu Long Bay, the adjacent bay that we spent most of our time in. (Bai Tu Long means “attend upon children dragon”; in other words, the place where the mama dragon took care of her babies ~ their wriggling tails made the karsts.)

Bai Tu Long Bay was lovely because the majority of the tourist boats that cruise Halong Bay do not have permission for Bai Tu Long, so we got to enjoy the landscape in peace and quiet. The only other boats we saw were small fishing craft, and those were scenic rather than intrusive. Our boat, the Dragon Legend, left Halong City and sailed into Bai Tu Long. We spent part of the first afternoon kayaking among the karsts. The water at low tide was quite tranquil, and it felt amazing floating about with the cliffs looming above. Tiny crabs, barnacles, and kelp cling to the base of the karsts, and we got a good view of the little nooks and crannies in the limestone. At one point, our guide instructed us to turn right; “If we go straight, we’ll be in China!” Towards the end of the kayaking, we paused on the tiny beach on one of the islets. We enjoyed the sunset, and a bit of a photo shoot as well. 😉

In the morning, I managed to arise early enough to catch the first rays of the sun, and some rejuvenating tai chi. Alas, there are no photos of my tai chi practice but I can sum it up for you: I’m good at balancing but dreadful at choreographed hand motions (and there are a zillion in tai chi). After breakfast, we made a stop at Thien Canh Son Cave and its adjoining beach. Due to the limestone geology and erosion, the Halong/Bai Tu Long area is riddled with caves of all sizes. Thien Cahn Son is fairly large, large enough that people used to live it in. They were resettled by the government when the area was UNESCO designated, but the cave is still snazzy to visit.

Other highlights/events of our boat cruise in Bai Tu Long were:

  • Our Vietnamese waiter, with the self-selected name Tom Cruise, who played traditional tunes on the flute after dinner.
  • Squid fishing! After dinner, bright lights were shone off the back of the boat, and we tried unsuccessfully to mimic the jerky movements of fish with our lures. It’s common in Thailand to see neon green lights on the horizon when one is at the beach; I call them squid lights since they belong to deep sea squid boats. I was perhaps more entertained than seems reasonable given how uneventful our fishing was.
  • Water puppets ~ Water puppet theatre is a Vietnamese tradition, and it may indeed be fascinating, but the version we were treated to was rather anticlimactic. The theatre served as a rest stop on our van ride back to Hanoi, and the musicians seemed rather bored. Water puppets are amusing for five minutes, less so for thirty.
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