by Female Abroad

According to legend, a great dragon landed on the shores of northern Vietnam, lashing its tail until the coast was crushed into fragments which in turn created the 3,000 islands that now dot the waters of Halong / Alighting Dragon Bay. This bay is one of the great wonders of Asia with UNESCO recognized, natural heritage. At 600 sq. mi, this massive Bay connects to the South China Sea with hundreds of cruise boats making their way through the clear turquoise waters and through the thousands of islands that have formed over millions of years (or at the lash of a dragons tail which is more fun to believe).

Current Political State of Halong Bay

While no one really wants to get too political while on vacation, it is good to know a bit about the industry of the area as it can sometimes help shine light on the way things may be done.

Since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, the country has been working to rebuild its infrastructure and create confidence in the tourism industry. The country has done such a great job at the tourist aspect that a lot of people love this country due to its mixture of architectural beauty, cultural heritage, and scenic magnificence. It is also the reason why Halong bay is currently ground zero for a battle between developers that want to create an entire new landscape and those that want to keep the area natural. If the developers win then the locals and their fishing villages will be squeezed out by deluxe resorts which will lead to an abundance of tourists.

The mining industry is already starting to destroy the area although it is providing jobs to the locals so they are some what used to the tourist, developer threat to the area more than most realize. For example, in 1969, over 40% of the area was forested but now it has dropped down to 15%. On top of that 300,000 tons of slurry (a very toxic liquid waste from mining) is dumped into rivers that lead to the ocean. However as Vietnam is a communist country and the largest mining company is state owned plus Vietnam is the largest exporter of anthracite (a highly sought after form of coal that 92% pure carbon and burns clean with no smoke), there is no end to this environmentally damaging activity.

While this information does shine a bit of a dim light on the area, I hope that it will have you wanting to spend money in the local villages on things like textiles and tours so hopefully tourism can start to supliment the wages of those that do not want to work in the mines.

What to Do in Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a great weekend escape from Hanoi (roughly a 5 hour drive) where you can climb aboard traditional junks (boats) where you will sail through limestone islets, swim with schools of fish, explore mysterious caves, and more depending on what tour you book.

If you are just going to head to the Bay and catch a junk instead of pre-booking (if it is high season, make sure to pre-book!), one big tradition is to buy a basket of freshly caught crabs and prawns from the fishermen who tie up at the various launch wharfs and then provide it to the crew on your boat who will then prepare it for everyone to feast on during your trip.

Best Time to Visit Halong Bay

Most junks will offer early morning Yoga on the top deck and the reason for this is because the mist filled mornings will make you feel like you have travelled to a magical location. The white mist floats along the water, hiding the sea, cooling the air, and adding to the mystery as the islands slowly start to appear out of the mist as it wears off. In the Spring the mist hangs around the most and the trees are extremely lush as the 50 different evergreen trees thrive in these damp conditions, keeping the area green year round. It is in the spring that the winter Jasmine blooms, adding grey-blue blooms mixed in with the vibrant greens. It is these misty Spring mornings that fishermen love, especially the ones that fish for squid as the squid found in Halong Bay are fleshier and carry more ink than those found elsewhere in the country.

If you are headed to Halong Bay for a hot, sunny holiday there is a good chance that you will be able to enjoy one but you are also just as lucky to have a cooler day due to the location of the bay and the breeze from the Sea. Clear days with blue skies and hot sunshine can be absolutely breathtaking but cooler days where you can get out on the deck to enjoy the bay's scenic beauty are also worth the trip as it is this scenic beauty that makes the bay a memorable sight so no matter what weather you get, just remember where you are, breathe deep, and take it all in. After all you are in one of the best natural wonders of Asia and who knows how much longer it will look like this.