Awarded ‘50 Tours of a Lifetime’ by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
In Northern Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin washes through thousands of islands and islets to settle on the shores of Ha Long Bay. Boats will take adventurers across the chilly seascape, between limestone towers, into underground caves and among mangrove forests. This is the famed bay of descending dragons, a gem of a getaway for anyone taking a tour of Vietnam.
Jewels of the dragon
Ha Long Bay is populated by thousands of lush and varied limestone pillars of land, known as karsts. Legend has it that the Vietnamese were once embattled with tenacious invaders and so, pitying the Vietnamese, their divine ruler sent forth a powerful dragon who destroyed the invading forces with fire. Emeralds from the dragon's breath were scattered about the sea, forming the towering karsts that today filter out the yawning ocean.
An entrancing cityscape
The story may be myth, but the concluding visual is apt for this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thrusting defiantly of the water, these gorgeous, 100-foot tall landforms have been shaped, smoothed and otherwise hollowed since their rebellion. Within the bases of many of the karsts?, the gulf waters have deposited large lakes, accessible by passing under the low-hanging entrances of caves. Arches and notches, too, have bitten into the bases of the karsts, making for beautiful awnings in this natural city of half-drowned limestone skyscrapers.
Shore to shore
The view of the bay from gently sloping sands beckons a long and relaxing day on the shores, but the best means of appreciating this seascape is by boat, which will take travelers amongst the karsts and into the caves. Indeed, a day can easily be made just by exploring the extensive inlets and grottoes that shade and obscure from the tropical sunlight. In colder months the rain drizzles and fog settles, another ethereal ocean through which the boats paddle forth. If the day is not long enough, wearied travelers can rent a boat tour that includes a gently rocking sleep on the water.
The boats will go further than just caves. There is also Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the bay. Across its length Cat Ba offers swimming, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing by beaches, lakes and mangrove forests. Once reached, Cat Ba is also an excellent stepping stone to the sand-laden coves of Lan Ha Bay.
As your small motorboat slides onto the sandy bank of a deserted beach and your attentive guides set up a gourmet seaside picnic, all that’s left to do is allow the turquoise waters of this remote paradise wash away your stresses.
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