When we visited Halong Bay on the second day of Intrepid Travel’s “Explore Vietnam” tour, I didn’t really know what to expect. I have to admit, it was a pleasant surprise.
“Halong” roughly means “descending dragon” in ancient Vietnamese, leading to the mythological story of the creation of the nearly 2,000 limestone peaks rising out of the water. The entire area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Archeological findings show humans lived in the area as early as 18,000 BC.
We left for Halong Bay during Hanoi’s morning rush hour. High taxes on automobiles make scooters and motorbikes the preferred mode of transportation among the nearly 3 million Hanoians.
Along the way, we stopped for coffee and a quick tour of a small pottery and ceramics manufacturing company. A small area in the shade of the large vases was set aside as a break area. A low, narrow bench provided a place to sit and have tea or a smoke from a điếu cày (farmer’s pipe), basically a giant bong used with very powerful tobacco.
Inside, a woman puts the finishing touches on one of the ceramic bowls. She worked quickly and precisely, creating a unique scene on each piece.
Immediately upon arriving in Halong City, we boarded a boat and set course for a harbor on Bo Hon Island. The view back to the city over the Gulf of Tonkin was magnificent.
Inside the limestone was a surprise… Sung Sot Cave (literally Surprise Cave). After climbing several stairs in Vietnam humidity, we descended a few steps inside the cave, when the area opened up into a theater of geology. Stalactites and stalagmites, natural hot springs and rock formations capturing the imagination (“doesn’t that one look like like a lion?”). In the late 1990s, the Chinese helped to install a pathway and colorful lighting to “enhance” the experience for tourists.
From the overlook near the cave exit, many other tour boats joined us at the cave. A older Japanese man asked me in English where I was from. He really got a kick out of it when I answered him in Japanese and told him we lived there. Fortunately he was more interested in practicing his English than testing my Japanese!
Fiddling with the nighttime settings on our new camera, I managed to capture the moon over the gulf on a cloudy evening.
More Photo of the Day posts from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Vietnam