Dragons descend

Dragons descend

Dragons descend

Ancient Vietnamese myth of descending dragons spitting out jewels and jade to protect the country from foreign invaders may seem a little far-fetched to many, but the surreal beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Halong Bay presents a spectacular reality for the naked eye.

As the myth goes, the jewels turned into islands and islets dotting the seascape and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders.

The dragon family sent from heavens by gods to protect the Vietnamese people fell so much in love with the breathtaking beauty of the place that they never left the Earth.

And the place came to be called Halong, Vietnamese word for ‘descending dragons’.
Located 170 km to the east of Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi, it takes a little over three hours’ bus ride to reach Halong Bay.

Tourists from all over the world started flocking here after the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1994.

“More than two million tourists visit this natural wonder every year,” informs our young Vietnamese tourist guide Kwong, not without a hint of pride.

It is not for nothing the place was voted amongst the New Seven Wonders of Nature by more than a million people across the world in 2011.

Halong Bay features about two thousand limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes, and its scenic ocean karsts topography is simply amazing.

The magical landscape of limestone pillars is often compared to Guilin in China or Krabi in southern Thailand, but Halong Bay is considered much more stunning.

Wind- and wave-eroded grottoes and caves also abundantly dot the islands.

The spectacular pillars with a variety of coastal erosional features such as arches and caves form a natural scenery, which inspires awe as well as serenity.

One wonders at the artistic working of nature over centuries that created a majestic landscape of clusters of conical peaks and isolated pillars.

“I always dreamt of coming here and I’m so excited,” says Liza from Canada, as she is busy recording the scenery in her camera.

“I had seen the pictures of Halong Bay in magazines, but seeing them in real beats it any time. The place is so heavenly.”

Although the best time to visit Halong Bay is from March to June, and during the peak season of October to November, a clouded weather greeted us when we visited it in November.

But the overcast skies somehow made the scenery more dramatic, with the skinny islands emerging as ghostly figures veiled in mist.

Sharp limestone pillars rose dramatically, towering over the sea and forming exotic silhouettes in the distance.

This otherworldly scenic beauty makes you awestruck.

Apart from the boat trip around the Halong Bay, most tourists also explore the caves surrounding the area.

The must-see spot is Thien Cung Cave, meaning the ‘heavenly palace cave’. It is considered the most beautiful and primitive cave around. Exploring Thien Cung Cave’s craggy cliffs with its unique stalactites and stalagmites is a living lesson in Geology, akin to visiting a living natural museum.

The local tourist guides never tire of relating Vietnamese legends or folk tales to interpret the cave’s history.

As you enter this huge cave you witness above your head amazing rows of stalagmites, existing through millions of years, which create colourful patterns owing to the light and the wind coming in from different openings in the cave.

A day’s boat cruise gives you a fairly good glimpse of Halong Bay, but if you want to relax amidst the serene environment and take it easy, you may probably like to consider spending at least a night in the bay.

The comfortable boats are well designed and equipped to meet the tourists’ varied needs and provide excellent Vietnamese cuisine, including seafood and vegetarian food.

“It was really romantic,” says Tara, a tourist from the US, who spent two nights on the boat.

“Lovely dinner, the wine on the deck under the stars, it was just fabulous. I had a great time and the experience was definitely worth it.”

You are sure to carry with you memories of this beautiful place to cherish for years. As you cruise back towards the harbour amid hundreds of boats with dragon signs carrying thousands of tourists, a prayer naturally comes on your lips that human beings with their commercial obsession won’t disappoint the descending dragons’ families who once abandoned heavens to live at the Halong Bay.

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