Thursday, January 31, 2013
What Actually is in Ha Long Bay?
Ha Long Bay. In recent years we've all heard of it, but what do we really know about it? I know that I saw it on Top Gear, the original version. I know that it's off of the east coast of Vietnam. I know about it's characteristic rocks rising out of the water. What I wanted to know was what do you do there?
Here's what I found out. First off, it's a World Heritage Site. There are around 3,000 islands in the bay. The easiest way to visit it is to take a cruise that could be as short as a day or as long as two weeks out of Halong City.
The cruise ships are exotic looking, somewhat of a junk, only extremely modernized. If you take a multi day cruise, you will have a cabin on board that is just like a hotel room. All the modern amenities are there. It may look like a junk, but it's a small cruise ship.
For starters about what is in the bay, there are four pretty well known floating villages: Cửa Vạn, Ba Hang, Cống Tàu, and Vong Vieng. Ba Hang is the one that most people believe was visited by the Top Gear guys in their Vietnam special where they rode across Vietnam on motorcycles and scooters, then turned them amphibious to get to a bar in the middle of Ha Long Bay.
Cua Van is the biggest of the villages, and is home to the first ever cultural center for the group of villages. This is a great place to learn about their way of life. Remember, these people are born, live, work, go to school, get married, raise families, and die on the water. It is a unique way of life, so if you're looking for a stop at McDonald's, this is not for you. If you truly like to travel and learn about other cultures, this is for you.
Now, CatBa and Monkey Islands are the home to the famous Monkey Island resort. The resort is world class. CatBa is the only island in the bay with a town built on it. The town has many resorts and hotels. It's set up well for tourists, with activities and beaches. Monkey Island is pretty much a side trip. You can stay on the island with the resort. You can also just catch a boat for an afternoon and visit. There are around 20 monkeys who live on the island. You get to see them in their natural habitat. Remember, they are wild. Don't try to get too friendly with those locals.
One of the most beautiful things in Ha Long Bay that doesn't necessarily stick out at you are the grottoes. The islands being rock protrusions in and of themselves are riddled with caves. Some are more famous than others like Thien Cung Grotto or the Heavenly Grotto, and Trinh Nu Grotto or the Virgin Grotto. There are dozens of the grottoes around the bay though and a lot of them are easily accessible, beautiful, and an adventure for all. Some of them are colorfully lighted so that the experience is enhanced and the pictures are second to none.
So, if you want to visit somewhere that you've seen on TV a bit lately, this is one of those things. The best time to visit is in the cooler months from November to April. It gets hot and wet in the summer there. The best way to travel is with one of the cruise company's that will take you on a guided trip. There are 3,000 islands out there. Even if you have a super yacht of your own doesn't mean that you would be able to find your way around. Let the professionals take you. They know what they're doing.
So, visit a floating village, see some monkeys, take a cruise, and explore some amazing caves. Don't forget your camera, because if you do, you will regret it.