By Mary Jo Plouf
Halong Bay, or Ha Long, Bay as it is known in Vietnamese is a popular tourist destination in Quang Ninh Province in northeastern Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that should be included on every travel itinerary in Vietnam. It is a bit out of the way but our Gate 1 Travel group reached it by bus from Hanoi. We spent a half day on the bay and it was pure magic. We left fairly early in the morning when the fog shrouded many of the limestone formations and the old wooden fishing boat in which we were traveling gave us the feeling that we were alone in an eerie seascape. The fog soon cleared however and we were able to photograph the massive limestone formations.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation rising spectacularly from the ocean. Some of the islands are hollow. Some have caves and towards the end of our trip we climbed above sea level to visit one of the caves which was lit with a variety of soft lights. It was not a difficult climb and all of our group was able to enjoy the beauty of the natural caverns.
A community of approximately 2,000 inhabitants live in four fishing villages in the Bay. They make their living from the large variety of fish and mollusks in the waters. The climate is hot and humid in the summer and can be quite cold in the dry winter. Spring or Fall is the best time to visit.
Many tours, because of its slightly out of the way location, do not include this magnificent area on their schedule. I am most grateful that Gate 1 Travel recognized the unique beauty of this site. It was well worth the bus trip. It was another highlight on a great trip full of highlights.