Winter days in Descending Dragon Bay

Winter is not always the best time to cruise Ha Long Bay, the best time is usually in summer when the bay is warm and the days are longer than in winter. However, my quick winter trip was wonderful and better than I expected when I went on a Ha Long Bay cruise in December.

We arrive in Hanoi at 8:00 am and arrive at Bai Chay port around 11:30 am. When I got out of the car, the salty sea air caressed my hair, the northeast monsoon blanketed the entire harbor with a cool, cool breeze. Up in the air, there were some eagles soaring; this was the first time I had seen an eagle so close. It took about 1 hour on our junk (a Vietnamese cruise) to reach Ha Long Bay. I have no doubt why Halong Bay was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage. My first thought about the junk ship we took out on our Ha Long Bay cruise was that it looked like a small floating hotel. Taking a look inside the rooms and other facilities, I was struck by its modern and charming atmosphere. The rooms on board the ship met the standards of a typical 4-star hotel, but we were not in a hotel, we were sailing on the sea in a wooden ship; I was impressed.

Our junk sailed slowly over the green water as we enjoyed lunch with delicious fresh seafood. After lunch, I had some free time to relax before our kayaking trip around Ha Long Bay in the afternoon. I took my favorite book and read it on the terrace where I got a good tan. Sitting in the armchair, a light breeze blew around me, as I looked around; our junk was surrounded by towering karsts jutting out of the water. The sun was shining on the karsts on a rare sunny day in winter.

Ha Long Bay has more than 2,000 islets with thousands of limestone karsts. Long ago, the Vietnamese decided that the islets in Halong Bay held many great hidden treasures. Many of the islets were named after their shape: Ga Chá»i (fighting cocks) islet, Dua (chopsticks) islet, Cho Da (stone dog) islet and many others. Since the French colonial period, the French discovered the primitive beauty of Ha Long Bay, they were so amazed that the image of Ha Long Bay was used on the countries’ stamps, postcards and other documents. Ha Long Bay is also famous for its caves and grottoes, such as Sung Sot (Amazed) Cave and Thien Cung (Place of Heaven) Grotto. Inside each cave or grotto are hidden chambers with stalactites falling from the ceiling, creating an incredible experience while kayaking through the caves.

During the afternoon we kayak through a floating village called Cua Vạn. Paddling through the village, watching the life of the people who live every day on the floating village was an experience that I cannot describe in words alone. In the floating village, if you want to visit your next-door neighbor, you have to use a boat to go visit him, otherwise your choice is to swim. That is why the locals here say that children know how to swim and row before they can walk. Touring Ha Long Bay is a beautiful destination to explore and experience as a tourist, but for the fishermen here, Halong Bay is a blessing from above and their main source of livelihood. The variety of marine ecosystems in Ha Long Bay provide fishermen with many types of seafood that only Halong has. We paddle alongside a fisherman in our kayaks; he was in a small boat with his fresh catch of crab for the day. We bought some of the freshly caught crabs, bagged them in our kayak with plans to give them to the cruise chef for dinner tonight. As we continue our kayak trip around the bay, we enter a series of caves. Despite the bright sun outside, it got darker and darker as we paddled deeper into the cave, hundreds of stalactites falling all around us.

After enjoying the caves, we decided to paddle back to the cruise ship for dinner. For dinner that night, our chef surprised us again with a variety of wonderful seafood prepared in the traditional Vietnamese and Western style, and of course, he prepared a delicious special dish with our fresh crabs that we brought to him earlier. After dinner, we enjoyed drinks at the ship’s bar and exchanged laughs between the ship’s staff and the day’s events. They shared their boat stories with us about their adventures sailing in Ha Long Bay.

The next morning I woke up early to see the beautiful sun rising on the deck of our cruise ship, which the staff told me was a must see. Waking up at 5:30 am, there was nothing but darkness, I was disappointed to think that the day would be cloudy and cool. Fully wrapped in my blanket, standing on the deck of the cruise ship, I looked out over Ha Long Bay and waited desperately. Finally, my patience paid off, directly in front of the ship’s bow, the sun slowly rose on two limestone pillars. Looking behind me at the stern, the full moon was still up in the sky and clearly visible, it was a magical moment to see both the aurora sky behind me and the red, yellow and pink sky in front of me. As I looked at the sunlight reflecting on the green water, iridescent like honey, I thought that I had never seen the sun and moon so big before, I felt that I could reach out and hold them with my hands. The black karsts gradually turned a deep green as the sun rose over them and the wildlife woke up as I watched the eagles fly overhead as they began to forage for breakfast. The birds around began to sing, taking a deep breath, I enjoyed the nature around us.

After breakfast, we leave Halong and return to Bai Chay port, once there we travel back to Hanoi.

Leaving Halong Bay with tons of photos and memories, we are excited by all that we got to see and experience during such a short trip. A cruise in Ha Long Bay offers people traveling to Vietnam many activities, from kayaking, swimming, fishing and diving. Ha Long Bay is a great destination for the adventurous traveler who enjoys getting out and seeing nature.

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