Halong Bay prepares for tourist invasion

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SaigonTimes English - 34 month(s) ago 7 readings

Halong Bay prepares for tourist invasion

It had been a long day, flying up from HCMC then the 3 hour drive down, we certainly hoped it would be worth it when we checked in to the hotel and grabbed some dinner. We had booked the Novotel Halong Bay for a two-day stay based on feedback we read on the hotel and we were not to be disappointed. We did comment that we could never recall a hotel where every member of staff had been so polite, courteous and helpful.

Halong Bay prepares for tourist invasion

By Greig Callan in Quang Ninh

Japanese tourists enjoy themselves on Ti Top Island - Photo: Greig Callan
It had been a long day, flying up from HCMC then the 3 hour drive down, we certainly hoped it would be worth it when we checked in to the hotel and grabbed some dinner. We had booked the Novotel Halong Bay for a two-day stay based on feedback we read on the hotel and we were not to be disappointed. We did comment that we could never recall a hotel where every member of staff had been so polite, courteous and helpful.

Over dinner we planned our short visit; the next day we would relax and take a walk around the town and the following day, take one of the six hour boat trips around the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Halong Bay which in English literally translates as “Descending Dragon Bay”. We made the arrangements with the hotel and got ourselves off to bed.

The next morning we headed off along the pleasant sea front, a very low key and quiet place, giving the impression of an out of season beach resort. The few restaurants and shops with their Chinese and Korean signage highlighting where the majority of the tourists come from. As you head into town and discover the construction and modernization work, it is clear Halong Bay intends to expand its popularity to a wider global audience.

Halong Bay has been voted onto the shortlist for one of the seven new wonders of the world. Certainly participation in this project should help enhance its global appeal. Everything pointed out to the cluster of 1,969 islands on the horizon, this is what we had come to see and tomorrow we would at last get to see what all the hype was about.

After breakfast we were picked up from our hotel and taken to the harbor to meet our boat. After a few formalities we boarded our boat and set sail. Like all the boats on the bay, it was an old boat of wooden construction. Probably with the capacity of about 70+ people, a crew of 4 and a tour guide we felt somewhat embarrassed being the only two tourists on board. However, the tour guide gave us an insight and history of the bay over some sliced pineapple as we sailed out into the limestone islands that started to tower above us the closer we got.

The first stop was a fishing village, a small community of floating, houses and shops where around 200 fishermen lived as they plied their business behind the imposing back drop that has featured in many aspects of popular culture, the most note worthy being a scene from the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. We meandered past the various rock structures, the guide pointing out the various shapes and associations, including the formation that is proudly displayed on the 200 dong note until we reached a particularly large island and descended into the cavities of its interior.

Within we discovered a system of three caves, leading to the largest, ‘Secret Cave’. One of the largest caves and grottos that lie within these marine invaded tower casts. Again the guide pointed out the formations and shapes created by the stalactites and stalagmites. Afterwards we enjoyed a wonderful sea food lunch, leaving us both packed before stopping off at Ti Top Island to spend some time on the man-made beach or climbing to the top for a view of the surrounding island. This island was named after the Russian astronaut Germane Ti Top who visited the bay in 1962 with Ho Chi Minh and stopped off at this island and the short sliver of man made beach.

After a short time on the island it was back to the boat and a gentle sail back to the mainland. Before setting off, we did think to ourselves, what will be do for six hours and here we were heading home after a long day sailing round one of the world’s natural wonders, it certainly is a breathtaking place.

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