Halong Bay from Titop Mount
Halong Bay – an enchanted world of water, rocks, and legends!
One of the most memorable activities for your journey to Vietnam is to sail around Halong Bay and its 3,000 island on a junk. This enigmatic tranquil landscape of emerald waters, islands, caves, and grottoes inspires dreams. Here, the legend of the dragon that created the bay by flicking its tail – or strewing a handful of pearls – soon transmutes into a personal fairy tale, for the teller can select a suitable ending. The Vietnamese have two versions of dragon story, one pugnacious and dynamic, the other tranquil and rarefied.
Whichever version you prefer, it’s the ideal setting in which to luxuriate in the peace and tranquility of the water world as the junk glides through the beautiful landscape. Over one thousand species of fish and 160 types of coral live in the river along which you sail, in a nature reservation declared by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. To protect the fragile environment, mooring for excursion boats is restricted to specific location in this natural paradise, where swimming and kayaking are also permitted.
Halong Bay and its Legends
The official report goes like this: Halong Bay ii the Northeast part of Vietnam was created 300 to 500 million years ago when the Asia seabed began to rise. Deposits of coral from the depths of the ocean were pushed to the surface, solidifying in the sun and air into the typical cone-shaped hills of this bizarre, mysterious landscape strewn with over 2,000 rocky crags and limestone islets, numerous stalactite caves, and equally numerous legends.
Unofficially, so the story goes, Ha Long, the “descending dragon” was sent by the Gods to bring order to the east coast. The Chinese were again hungry to acquire the Viets’ fertile country and planned to invade it with their huge navy. At this, Mother Dragon became so angry that she strode from the far north across the Tonkinese. Alps, thrashing her long tail and destroying all the cliffs in the area. As the tumbling rocks destroyed the great ships, she drove the remainder of the fleet to flight by breathing fire.
Since those times, Halong Bay has been lined with lofty cliffs and crags like watchtowers and no ship can now sneak in undetected. There is a milder version, however. Instead of flying into a rage, Mother Dragon is said to have scattered a handful of pearls over the bay, which was transFormed into the 2,000 crags and islets tat make the bay one of the most beautiful places on earth. Many Vietnamese prefer the peaceful, poetic version of the origins of a paradise which is by no means free from danger. Although the Chinese fleet is no longer an imminent hazard, the bay is lashed several times a year by typhoons roaring in from the South China Sea and causing considerable damage. It’s the signal for the 300 fishing families that have lived for centuries in their floating houses in the middle of the bay to seek out the caves and grottoes on the islets, which offer effective protection and security and often shield them better than hiding-places on the nearby coast.
Since Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Nature Heritage Site, environmental protection plans have prohibited further families from settling from the Bay. However these regulations are almost futile as the bay’s UNESCO status attracts increasing number of visitors, who represent further environmental risks. Over the long term, the bay’s popularity may have a more serious impact on the environment than the regular annual typhoons.
Yet the first signs of enlightenment are already in evidence, together with active environmental protection measures. The number of junks and boats will not be increased, and a new harbor will be constructed to handle thousands of passengers from all over the world more efficiently. A further hope is that waste disposal problems on the junks will be treated with more environmental responsibility than has hitherto been the case – and initial progress has already been made.
Sailors, staff, and passengers on the junks have definitely begun to exercise more care in disposing of plastic bag of garbage, and certainly have nothing to do with the bluish oil patches shimmering on the surface of the emerald water.
Halong bay lies on a major shipping route, and is also the site of large-scale industrial plants, where coal mines produce endless quantities of waste water and dirt. Since UNESCO threatened to withdraw the title of World Natural Heritage Site from the Vietnamese, ships are being rerouted and sewage and waste disposal plants constructed. This could be seen as the modern version of the “descending dragon”, today called UNESCO, which has rapped the Vietnamese firmly on the knuckles.
At sunrise the paddle-steamer Emeraude awaits its passengers. It’s a ship which, at first glance, appears to be as much a part of Halong Bay as champagne and caviar is a part of the fishermen’s table. But the Emeraude is actually a traditional ship from the French colonial era. Three brothers from the south of France had made their fortunes by trading foodstuffs and opium in Indochina and established a small fleet in Halong Bay. The ships were named Emeraude, Rubin, Perle, and Saphir, and were truly the jewels of that era’s tourism. The Emeraude sank off Hai Phong in 1937; the other ships did not survive the end of the colonial era. In 1999 the new Emeraude was recreated at Hai Phong shipyards from an old postcard, the began its new and successful life as an exclusive cruise ship in Halong Bay in 2002.