Centuries few travels ventured into the maze of islands strewn across Ha Long Bay. Today, visitors from all over the world cruise the bay’s water on boats designed to evoke times gone by
Many generations ago, Halong Bay was virtually deserted, a few traders or fish-ermine sailing their brown-sailed junks through its misty waters. The mysterious islands were full of legends but free of footprints, only a few artists or poets taking the trouble to hire a fishing boat and explore the bay, drinking chrysanthemum wine and composing verses about its beauty.
When the French colonized Indochina in the mid-19th century, the stillness of Halong was torn by metal-hulled steamship owned by French business- men. The first merchant chips traveled between Mong Cai and Ha Long or Ha Long and Hai Phong. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the bay’s spectacular beauty became known to the wider world through postcard, many of which now lie in private collections and libraries, or rest in old book shops along the Seine. At the start of the 29th century, only a few merchant ships cruised through Ha Long’s clear waters.
Change came quickly. White Ha Long’s caves still contain traces of the pre-historical residents, and the sea is as blue it was when the continents were formed million of years ago, the bay is now crisscrossed by all sails, the steamships and the narrow, blue-painted boats have been replaced by hundreds of tour boats. Some of them resemble four- star hotels, their crews dressed on crisp white uniforms and their captains’ jackets trimmed with gold. Their names conjure up images of beauty an luxury – Lagoon, Princess, Emeraude or refer to the legendary dragon said to have created Ha Long – Red Dragon, Hai Phong (Sea Dragon)…
Dragon decorations abound, many wooden junks adorned with dragon-shaped figureheads, their bodies stretching down the handrails. Inside, these luxurious boats typically feature antique flourishes such as carved with dragons and clouds traditional symbols of aristocratic beauty. Guest can lie on the decks and gaze up at the colorful sails, although the Lagoon Explorer is the only boat that can actually operate under wind-power.
Some of the tour boats are built to resemble vessels from days gone by. The recently launched Red Dragon. A joint venture between Indochina Junk and Footprint Travel was modeled after a junk that once sailed between Singapore and northern China. With its bronze and crystal decorations, intricate woodcarving and antique-style furnishings, no expense has been spared. Guests on the Emeraude, a recreation of a metal-hulled early 20th century French steamship, can experience another chapter in the bay’s history.
No doubt, those who made the then-rate Journey through Ha long Bay many centuries ago would be amazed by the luxurious craft now plying its waters. What hasn’t changed is the bay’s beauty.
Ha Long a wonder of nature
Thanks to its stunning scenery, Ha Long Bay is expected to draw 2.5 million annual visitors by 2010.
A long with natural beauty, the area offers a wealth of economic opportunities, plus a rich culture and history. Covering more than 1,500 square kilometers, Ha Long Bay is reportedly dotted with 1,969 islets of varying sizes. As well as being strikingly beautiful, the archipelago is of great interest to geologists, botanists and other scientists. Formed at least 500 million years ago, the area also an important cradle of the Viet civilization. From the 12th to the 18th century the bay hosted Vietnam’s first international trading port.
Ha Long was also the site of various historic battles, the names of places like Bach Dang, and Van Don forever linked with these of national heroes like Ngo Quyen (938AD), Le Hoan (981AD), Tran Huang Dao and Tran Khanh Du (1288AD), all of whom fought to free Vietnam of northern invaders.
Along with its Historic value, Ha Long is home to a unique culture that exists to this day. The people who inhabit the bay’s floating fishing villages have a wealth of folk verses, songs, proverbs and expressions that reflect many generations’ experience in this area.
Cultural wealth is joined by actually wealth. This bio-diverse is a rich source of aquatic products, like fish and seafood. Being protected from high winds and currents, the erea is made for deep sea ports like those of Cai Lan (Ha Long) and Cua Ong (Cam Pha), as well as smaller ports like Mui Chua, Van Gia and Cau Trang. It is also popular with tourists, who come to bathe in the clear water, kayak or cruise through the maze is islands, sample the local cuisine and sightsee.
Due to its many economic opportunities, Ha Long city is experiencing rapid urbanization. It now has 300 hotels ranked between one and five stars, or 4.500 hotel rooms, plus many mini-hotels. Some 300 tourist ships ply the bay, many of them offering overnight accommodations. Lately, Ha Long has seen the highest growth in tourist arrivals of nay destination in Vietnam. Up to 2.5 million annual visitors are expected by 2010.
According to Mr. Ngo Van Hung, Head of many important projects to meet visitors’ demands. Key projects include Thien Cung Cave, Dau Go Cave, Ti-top beach, Phase 1 of the recreation pack on Soi Sim Island, high speed speedboats and rescue boats. The Government has approved a number of projects conserve and promotes Ha Long Bay’s heritage up until the year 2020, including the Center for Tourism Services, International Entertainment Park, Van Canh Park, Sports Center, Sun Paradise, Ecotourism Park, Cultural Historical Park, and Virgin Forest Park.
With its Islands strewn like scattered pearls across emerald waters, Ha Long Is a natural wonder, its beauty by people all around the world.