Dragons rising from the sea

Halong Bay is located on the north east area of Vietnam.  It is near China (170kms from the border crossing).  It is an extremely popular travel destination for tourists and locals alike.  With over 1900 islands and over 1500 square kilometers of space it is not hard to get lost in this bay of dragons!  Historians have traced culture back to as far as 18,000 BC to the Halong region, and much more recent history involving China and wars between big clans during the 13th century.  As recent as the Vietnam War, there were mines placed in spots in the harbor by the American Military and some maritime personnel still fear some mines are hiding, waiting to be bumped into.

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Gives an idea of the size of the bay – those are some mountain islands in the distance

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The bay and some tour boats

There are many ways to see Ha Long Bay.  On your own by getting a boat (very spendy) or jumping on a tourist boat to see the harbor – I opted for the latter.  It was a 6 hour boat tour of the bay where I got to see Dau Go Cave, a cave that got its name when in the 13th century the fighters had wooden stakes they placed in the cave and hid them in preparation for battle to keep them out of site from the Mongol invaders.

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This kid was enjoying the ride.  I think he was curious by either my messy beard or that there was a white guy next to him.

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Inside the cave.  There was a lot of artificial colored lighting places throughout the cave, and a fake water fountain…kind of ruined the cave in my opinion – but still a stunning cave.

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At the mouth of the cave, a very lush and green place!

From the cave its a boat ride around some islands and off to a floating seafood market in what felt like the middle of nowhere.  Fish, eel, crab, crawfish and so much more was available for purchase – all still fresh and swimming around!

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This is the low season? I dont want to be here at the high season!

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The legendary kick! In sandals!

I opted for kayaking as well on my boat.  It was either ride around in a bamboo boat with a bunch of other people and have someone else control the boat, or a kayak and go on your own!  I explored some small caves and tunnels in the bay for around an hour before continuing on.  Quite the exciting experience – especially in the water that I was in – it was very shallow, maybe 3-4 feet deep but the mud at the bottom was very fine and very sticky.  In this area as well there was what I call “boat houses” that people were living on.  It was a series of 2-3 boats tied together with them cooking, washing clothes and just living on the water and off the sea.  Very simple lives, but Im sure tough ones at times as well.

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Kayaking around and exploring the area!

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Clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, crawfish, fish and so much more!

At the very end of the tour there is a beach to go swimming or climb countless number of stairs to the top of the viewing pagoda and see a beautiful panorama of the bay.  Its exhausting and hot and there is no water at the top so go up prepared!  But its worth it in the end.  After you get down you can run into the bay and take a dip if you like.  I did this and wish I had not!  The water was murkier than many other places in Vietnam, plus as I was getting out a fish decided to take a bite out of my scab where I burned myself on my exhaust – not only once, but two bites! At least its not a shark!

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The view at the top

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Another angle

The boat tour was great fun.  The bay is an amazing place to visit – personally I felt it was very commercialized and for this fact it took away from the experience and excitement.  With so many tour boats and so many people going around the place, then adding in the souvenir shops and little trinkets that are all the same from Singapore to Hanoi, it takes away from the natural fun the place used to have.  But its a double edged sword, you can’t keep a nice place like this hidden just for yourself – the world will come and see and the place will become commercialized as a result of the large groups defending upon the city and bay.

That’s it for dragons – did not see a single dragon, bummer!  147 km shot to Hanoi in about 3hrs and I will be able to see the 1,000 year old city along with the war relics and “Hanoi Hilton” – the old prison that the french used for political prisoner and it was also used during the Vietnam War to hold Americans – and it also held our own senator John McCain and a series of other big characters.


PS. This guy is such an inspiration for two wheeled travel.  From Australia to London and now all around Asia and India – on two wheels!  http://pathlessridden.com/

And apparently the most traveled motorcycle in the world is a 1994 Harley Davidson – it has been to 193 countries!  I have some work to do!

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