Halong Bay in Vietnam was voted as one of the New7Wonders of Nature in 2011, so this our timing to come here seems to be perfect. We visited Halong Bay with a 1-day tour from Hanoi and it was something special. We experienced the good and the bad – the wonderful limestone karsts and caves as well as the ignorance of the Vietnamese farmers and the awful ride on the bus.
Well, lets start with the awful ride on the bus.
Vietnamese highways or who needs rules?
We were supposed to get picked up at 8 am at the hotel. In Vietnam that is more of a guideline. We got picked up at 8.40 and regrettably chose the seats in the back of the bus, which turned out to be a big mistake. The guide told us we will arrive in Halong Bay at noon, because there is a speed limit of 80 kph on the highway.
The road was as bumpy as any road we have ever traveled. If the driver would have kept the speed limit, it probably wouldn’t have been as bad. But with the bus going 120 kph and us sitting in the back of the bus, our entire bodies were thrown up to 30 cm up in the air whenever the bus hit a pothole. It wasn’t so much to flying through the air as the crashing back down that really made an impression on our butts and backs.
Halong Bay Delight
The tour included a 4 hour boat ride on a junk including Vietnamese lunch on the boat. So while we were eating we moved past magnificent limestone rocks rising out of the water. All the rocks are named after animals or whatever it reminded the locals of. So there are dog, fighting chicken or elephant rock. I barely could see the resemblance, but that didn’t matter. The landscape was so beautiful, so I didn’t really care, what the rocks were named after.
We stopped for a 20 minute canoeing tour which allowed us to get closer to the rocks and even go into a little lagoon surrounded by limestone on all sides. After the canoeing we even saw a couple of pretty big birds. I guess they were eagles, but I am not really sure.
Maybe the most beautiful stalactite cave in the world
Part of our tour was a short visit to the Dau Go Cave (Cave of Wonders) which lies in Halong Bay. I’ve been to a few caves before so I didn’t expect to be that impressed. But the Dau Go Cave did just that.
The cave is one of the largest caves in Halong Bay. It is said that more than 3000 people fit in the outer chamber of the cave and its height of up to 25m is equally impressive. The cave has been prepped for tourism with different colored lights which might appear a bit kitschy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the beauty of the cave. It is very hard to describe the sight of the stalagmites and stalactites and the beams of sunlight which are the only sign of an outside world in this cave.
Thankfully there is photography to help us show you the beauty of the Dau Go Cave.
Grading the tour guide
The brochure said “English speaking tour guide included”. Well I guess knowing the sentence “Come everybody, lets go” already means you are speaking English. At first we were all trying to understand what the guide was saying, but after a while we just couldn’t stop smiling. Nobody understood him. There was even a Japanese girl that asked us if her English is just too bad to understand him or if it is him. We smiled and ensured her that her English was fine.
When we went canoeing the guide clearly didn’t know anything about canoes and so he didn’t even try to explain how to steer a canoe. When he tried to put me in the front of the canoe on Soni in the back it took me about two minutes to explain him that I weigh twice as much as her and know how to steer and should therefore sit in the back. After he tried to push me in the front seat a couple of times I just sat down on the back seat and heard him yell “tenty milits”, guessing that meant we had to be back in either ten or twenty minutes. We decided that it probably meant twenty.
So when you are planning on going on a Halong Bay tour, be prepared to either pay a little more. I think a good guide would have made this trip even better.
Is the Halong Bay really one of the 1000 places?
To make it short. Yes. Even though the limestone near Krabi, Thailand is almost equally impressive, the Dau Go Cave really makes this a place that everyone should see at least once in their life. It is a shame though that the visibility was so bad. It dampened the experience a lot since we could only see the limestone karsts right in front of us.
The bad visibility probably comes from the rice farmers who burn rice straw. On our way back the visibility was less than 100 meters for more than 100 km and the air smelled as if we were standing next to a burning house. I found out that there are other ways of dealing with rice straw. They require a bit more effort, but are almost equally as economic.
I really hope that the Vietnamese rice farmers realize that there are better ways of dealing with the rice straw and that the money that comes with tourism can be easier and more sustainable income. This would make their life better and make this places even more beautiful.
What about the New7Wonders of Nature?
I do not agree with the vote of the New7Wonders of Nature. Not just the fact that the vote itself is bogus, because the vote wasn’t decided by a group of experts. It was decided by a group of marketing experts. The places that wanted it bad enough spent enough money on marketing this vote to change the result in their favor. Even in Hoi An there were banners encouraging people to vote for Halong Bay, even though it is almost 500km away.
Halong Bay is surely one of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die, but not one of the 7 most beautiful wonders of nature. I alone can come up with 7 natural wonders that are more fascinating and amazing than Halong Bay. Fortunately, Soni and I will see them all and then we can come up with our own New 7 Wonders of Nature.