Ha Long Bay is a New World Wonders and should be a stop for anyone visiting Vietnam. After polling other travelers and hostel staff I decided to go with a 3D2N excursion called Castaways; it was slightly more expensive than the other options but I already knew a handful of the people signed up and it turned out to be a great choice!
As the bus from our hostel in Hanoi got closer to the coast we began seeing the iconic mountains scattered among the land. Perhaps they too were at one point surrounded by water but now formed the basis for a beautiful port. We boarded a small boat to transfer to Mama’s party cruise ship. From the outside it certainly looks like the Chinese Junk Boat that it is but the cabins and interior were great. We had a sun deck to hang out on as we passed the remarkable green islands filling the bay on this cloudy day.
The further we got into the bay the fewer ships we sailed past while the scenery continued to amaze us all. Each tall pillar formed thousands of years ago in a Vietnamese tale of dragons giving way to the name Halong which translates to “descending dragon.” The myth states that the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and the sons to help defend Vietnam from invaders.
The dragons breathed divine fire and cast divine emeralds onto the onslaught defeating the invaders and creating an impenetrable wall. Over the years this wall of emeralds turned into thousands of small islands that we now passed between. Another interesting anecdote is that Vietnamese believe themselves to be descended from dragons through legends like this.
Mama dropped anchor and we were all instructed to head to the back of the boat and grab a kayak. Our tour included a few hours of paddling in and out of these secluded tropical wonderlands. Along the way we could spot fish and the occasional jellyfish, although not as large as the ones we spotted from Mama’s boat it was enough of a deterrent to keep me from jumping in right away.
Paddling through a cave and around bends it became apparent that we were in a well protected cove, the waters calmed down and jellyfish fewer and farther between I jumped in for a swim in the pristine waters. The glistening viridian waters were as warm as the air above and felt amazing as I glided through the bay. I called to my new friends to keep jellyfish watch as a few others joined me.
After climbing back into the boat we linked up as a small raft and headed through another small cave. Upon passing through the damp darkness we emerged to a peaceful water-filled grotto. Trees covered every wall around us enclosing us with the greenest nature I’ve ever seen. Deciding to have a little fun I invited a few others to link up and form a larger raft; challenging any takers to walk the length. Although no one took the dare we had a grand old time splashing each other and jumping in and out of the water. Until another jellyfish showed up!
Okay, so maybe the jellyfish got us all back in our boats but when someone produced a plastic bag I used my paddle to try and corral the creature into the bag. The effort appeared to be futile with the jellyfish floating just under the bag and to the far side of our boats each time when suddenly I managed to scoop it into the bag. Lifting the bag filled with a gallon or two of water and the live jellyfish we all got a chance to view this magnificent creature up close!
Kayaking back to our boats would normally have been a cause for sadness to leave this lush paradise but awaiting us back at Mama’s boat was an afternoon of diving into the warm waters and a lunch party as another vessel linked up to form a larger barge.
The rest of the evening was spent bouncing between the boats making friends and enjoying drinking games. Although only 2 boats joined for our barge the inlet was filled with a dozen setups like our own, and rightfully so. The first day in Ha Long Bay proved to be one of my favorite travel excursions I’ve ever taken!