May 24, 2023
It has been 6 years since we visited Ha Long Bay (on our 2019 trip we bypassed Vietnam to take our 10 day trip to Nepal and Bhutan) so we were eager to see how much had changed. On our sail in, I was reminded that I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I have not changed that opinion!
We have an Around the World event in the afternoon, so we decided to take a taxi for a tour around the city, stop somewhere for lunch and then be back to get ready for the afternoon event.
We got a cab out on the street after taking an electric cart to the port entrance. We can walk in the port since it is not a commercial port (that is in another location), but it is almost a mile out to the street. When we were here in 2017, we were anchored and had to take the tender to shore. I am not sure if that was because another ship was at the dock or if the dock wasn’t completed then.
The taxi driver was a young man who spoke English but not too well. He took us all around the town. We noticed how many new buildings there are, and they are mostly unoccupied. Our driver said that COVID made a big difference here but now more tourists and people moving in to the city are helping. He said that mostly Chinese and Japanese people buy here. Later we heard that people may not own land here but can buy houses or condos. But if the government later wants the land you must relinquish it. Here are some of the sights – you will see that the condos and even the storefronts are new and empty.
There are beautiful beaches but they are mostly empty during the day. Vietnamese people are almost all covered up from head to toe with masks on because they don’t want to be in the sun. Our driver said that the beaches start to get busy about 7 PM.
We stopped at a market and browsed but didn’t buy anything. Yes, they had many bananas!
After our drive around town, we asked the driver to drop us off at a restaurant for lunch – one not too far from the port entrance. We were surprised and delighted that it was the SAME ONE that we chose to eat lunch at in 2017! I had a picture of the two women who were there then and the current staff knew them! I am no sure if they are still working there because I didn’t understand the Vietnamese.
We had a greaat lunch and the bill came to $10 in US money. We again gave them $20 (same as 6 years ago when the bill was $7 – different food and drink though) and the young man’s face lit up like that never happened before!
We walked the whole way back to the ship and got ready for our evening event.
Everything here is so much less expensive than almost anywhere else that we visit. One of our friends had a dental issue and went to the dentist here. She had full mouth xrays and they needed to pull the tooth. That was done and she was given a bag of meds for both pain and the antibiotics. The entire bill for everything was $71 US. She did have to be taken by motorbike to an ATM to get Vietnamese money – her first trip on that kind of vehicle!
When it was time for the trip to the Around the World event, we were taken by bus and our guide on the bus had a long Vietnamese name. So he told us to call him Steven, his name in English. He gave us a lot of information about Ha Long Bay and even a print out of three common sayings.
Ha Long Bay consists of a dense cluster of 1969 limestone islands that rise spectacularly from the ocean, each topped with thick jungle vegetation. Some of the islands are hollow with enormous caves. Some support floating villages of fishermen – there are 200 species of fish to be found here and 450 types of mollusks.
The bay was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994. Ha Long Bay means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” because of local legend which says that long ago when their forefathers were fighting foreign invaders, the gods from heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long Bay and began spitting out jewels and jade. When the jewels and jade hit the sea, they turned into the various islands and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders.
Steven told us that we are the last of the cruise ships to come here until October. This is the hot and rainy season so we were lucky not to have rain. But it is quite hot.
When we arrived at the cave (the only one that is allowed to host events like this), we were greeted by local young people playing drums and lined up to greet us at the entrance. Dragons and Lions were also there and Norm had to greet THEM!
We walked through a long entrance where a huge bar was set up and plates of appetizers were placed on cocktail tables. There were many types of drinks offered. I had a Mai Tai which was delicious.
Here is the menu and information about the evening.
With almost 400 around the world travelers, it is probably quite hard to do an event like this, but it was very special. We were entertained by musicians and dancers and the evening ended with a DJ and dancing. We also each got a gift of a model of the islands.
The city was beautiful at night.
Now on to Chan May where we arrive at 3:30 PM and stay overnight. We visited Hue when we were here last time. This time we will go to Da Nang and Hoi An on a full day trip.
Amazing! Friends said the city is beautiful. Sounds like a special day. Don & Jan
Thank you for this simply amazing post and pictures. This is one of the most beautiful world events I have seen. Juanita
Thank you for such a beautifully written concise commentary on Ha Long Bay. We visited and sailed the Bay in 2008. They have gone leaps and bounds to make the city what it is today. What a tremendous change! We will get to see the place in our 2024 ATW next April when Insignia will stop for two days.
I really appreciate the efforts you put into writing this Blog, thank you again Pat.