As I Stood On My Board Paddling Through The Massive Green Limestone Karsts Jutting Into The Red-Sunned Sky Of Northern Vietnam, I Couldn’t Help But Think, “Here Be Dragons”.
Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are known for the towering karsts dotting the bays, creating a surreal experience for paddlers. Vietnamese legend suggests thousands of years ago the people of the Vietnam region were fighting invaders from the north and called upon dragons to help them fight the enemy’s navy. When the dragons destroyed the attacking ships, emeralds are said to have fallen from their mouths and these created the 2,000 karsts which make Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay famous.
I Was Lucky Enough To Explore Lan Ha Bay-The less touristy of the two bays, paddling amongst floating homes from which locals catch fish. I also kept an eye on shore hoping to spot one of the 60 remaining Cát Bà langurs—one of the world’s most endangered primates.
When Ha Long Bay became a protected area several years ago, all of the floating homes of the bay were forced to pack up and move or give up their way of life. This exodus led to a massive influx of floating homes in neighboring Lan Ha Bay. The bay has had issues with garbage over several years as currents bring trash from China in the north and from southern Vietnam, and now the higher numbers of floating homes have added to the problem. Several tour companies now work with the locals to clean the area. I tried to do my part as I paddled along picking up the odd plastic bottle or soda can.
After Returning To The Transport Boat After A Glorious Day Of Paddling Amongst The Dragons’ Emeralds, I Headed Back To My Hotel On Cát Bà Island.
Cát Bà Island is one of the largest karsts in the bays and has a town with several hotels, a national park and fantastic beaches. This is the place to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunsets over the harbor.
What To Do In Ha Long Bay
Take a short boat trip from Cát Bà Island into the heart of Lan Ha Bay. Spend your morning or afternoon paddling through the maze of karst islands dotting the area, and explore hidden lagoons, limestone caves and floating villages.
Take another boat trip in the heart of Lan Ha Bay. A full day trip offers time to land on shore to relax on the many small, deserted sandy beaches in the bay. Enjoy lunch on your support boat before heading to another area of the bay to experience more of the impressive karst archipelago.
While most jellyfish in the bay are harmless, the fire jellyfish will give a good sting. They’re most common in the summer months, so consider swimming with a rashguard. If you’re lucky, you might spot a Cát Bà langur.
Because of the many karsts surrounding the area, the bay is usually calm. And no matter where you are in the bay, you are always close to some type of shore. The Vietnamese sun is not so forgiving. Pack plenty of sunscreen and drinking water.
Asia Outdoors (www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn) runs half day and full day paddling tours of Lan Ha Bay. They are environmentally conscious and work with local fisherman to help clean up the area and create sustainable tourism.
Cát Bà Island is the place to stay. With hotels for every budget, prices range from $5 to $150 a night. Just be sure to choose a place with air conditioning.