The land sat still while the rain beat down. Rivers flowed and carved, chiseling the land into tall, narrow hills. Sea came up and sea settled down and the Limestone hills, karsts, became islands. If you love time-tables and details, here’s a summary and a chart of the geology.
Legend says, it was dragons that formed Ha Long. Ancient Vietnam was under attack by invaders. A mother dragon came to their defense. She spat rocks- jade and emerald into the sea an they rose up to become a wall of defense. The invaders were killed as they crashed and sank. Vietnam was free. The wall became to islands and the bay keeps its name Ha Long: Descending Dragon.
Nearly two thousand islands and islets fill the bay. It’s fertile and there are communities who thrive on the sea still. Don’t buy it though when they take you to a “fishing village” on floating docks, that’s not how they live anymore. They moor their crafts close to the city, near the market. In the evenings they grab something to float with and lounge in the water at a swimming spot not far from there.
If you’ve been to Ha Long Bay, your trip probably went something like this: Depart from Hanoi, bus for four hours, board a ship, cruise for 2-4 days, disembark, bus back to Hanoi and move on. This is the itinerary that is ideal for cruise relaxation. If you’re on vacation, do this, everyone loves it.
We’re not on vacation. I know, with the many locations and the abundance of photos it may look like it, but no. We’ve moved internationally, but T keeps up a business full time and we keep our cost of living lower than we could in Portland or Denver. So, we improvise.
We stayed in the city of Ha Long. It’s not much to look at and there’s no view until you make the 2km walk to the beach, but $15 usd will get you a room with A/C. A street food meal goes for $1-1.50 restaurants are more. From there, you can get a day cruise for less than half the cost of the each day on an overnight cruise.
On the Water
Once you’re on the water, the view is the same for everyone. Islands jut out of the water and into the sky. Some have green hills, other have sheer cliffs with treed tops and some are almost barren. Inside of some are caves- elaborate and beautiful. On the shores of a few are beaches with monkeys. There are “fishing villages” and tourist stops. In the sky black kites (falcons) soar, searching for food. You could get lost in all the little islets and islands; if the sea is calm and the weather is fine, you just might want to.