|Ha Long Bay||Cat Ba Island||Hai Phong|
Halong Bay attracts approximately 90% of the tourists who enjoy Vietnam travel and take part in Vietnam tours. It's a beautiful bay comprising 1,500 square km situate on the Gulf of Tonkin Gulf on the East Sea. Though it forms part of the ocean, its waters are calm and unusually emerald. It has nearly 2,000 islands. The enchanting land masse of the Bay is of limestone and dolomite, and there are many grottos and caves for visitors to enjoy. Tourist who have visited Guilin (China) and Phuket (Thailand) often compare these sites with Halong Bay due to their similar shape and geographical structure. However, upon visiting this Vietnamese wonder, all agree that Halong Bay is much larger and more diversified.
It is so magnificent, that after a very short period of consideration, UNESCO acknowledged Halong Bay as a World Heritage site in December 1994. This is the 2nd of the four listed World Heritages of Vietnam.
In 1991 a scene of the French movie INDOCHINE was shot at Halong Bay. This very popular film is about the life of a French woman who lived in Vietnam during the French domination in Indochina from mid-19th to mid-20th century. The leading role is played by Catherine Deneuve. As the film made its way around the world, not only French-speaking tourists began to make the voyage to Halong Bay, but the world now includes this spectacular seascape on its itinerary.
Before it became so popular, it was pretty difficult to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi, 170 km away. In 1995, it took no less than 6-hours of driving with 2 river ferry crossings, with inconvenient getting in and out of busses. But still, despite this inconvenience, tourists always included Halong Bay as part of their itineraries for Vietnam holidays.
Today, you can drive directly to Halong Bay without the need to take any ferries and in three hours or even less if the traffic is not too heavy. But tourists love to stop along the way to look at the paddy fields, the daily life of farmers, the clay workmen, the greenbean town and the ceramic town that are now situate on the way.
There is a saying amongst Vietnamese about Halong Bay: "You have never really been to Vietnam if you have not visited Halong Bay." How true!
A trip to Cat Ba island can done separately or in combination with a visit to Halong Bay. Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago that consists of 350 limestone outcrops adjacent to Halong Bay. This is an oasis where you can be gone for one or for several days. If you start from the Halong Bay Wharf, it will take you four hours by boat, with stopovers for swimming, visiting spectacular karst and eating fresh seafood. You can contemplate the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay before reaching the island.
There is an alternative way of getting to Cat Ba Island if you are pressed for time and cannot take in Halong Bay on your tour. You can take an hydrofoil from the Hai Phong Seaport.
With an area of 356 square km, Cat Ba encompasses forested zones, coastal mangroves, freshwater swamps, beaches, caves and waterfalls. In 1986, the Northeast side of the island was designated a National Park and includes a protected marine zone. Cat Ba Island supports a population of over 20,000 inhabitants most of whom live off fishing or farming in and around Cat Ba Town. The town is small and ancient, with clusters of fishing boats. It is an ideal spot to watch inspiring sunsets across the harbor. You can even check out the catch-of-the-day in the early morning as the fishing boats return to port. See cuttlefish dried over hot charcoals, or stroll around the old town. It's a short hike from Cat Ba town through a tunnel to Cat Co Beach where mountains form a throne-like picture holding a marvelous sandy coast. You can even hike further along the beach to reach the rockier Cat Vang Beach.
As transportation in and around the town is not well-developed, the easiest and best way to get to the larger Trung Trang Cave with its many chambers, or to the National Park, or to discover other beaches around the island is by motorbike. A tour guide will be necessary to help you communicate with the local drivers and point out and explain the many beautiful sites.
The National Park is made up of stringy trees, thick undergrowth and slippery vines. In the Park there is also a great view of an old French, now Vietnamese, farming village from the top of the mountain and a wonderful lake in the middle of the Park that takes a half day to reach.
Unlike its two neighboring sites of Halong and Cat Ba, Hai Phong attracts less tourists unless, of course, they arrive in Northern Vietnam by sea. Nonetheless, this seaport city has many charming architectural buildings which were evidently influenced by the early 20th century French colonial style. The old French regime invested a lot of money to build this seaport attraction. Visiting Hai Phong is an exciting experience. You can go to the city to different ways. You can go there by crossing on the Cam River Ferry, you can reach the city overland from Halong Bay or you can take it will and run along the coast of Vietnam for 12 kilometers either from Halong or Cat Ba Island. Both sea ways offer wonderful views with plenty of islands along the Halong and Cat Ba archipelago. Quite a few tourists choose this way to avoid going over the same routes once more.
There are some remarkable ancient Vietnamese architectural sites in Hai Phong. Du Hang Pagoda, the centre of Buddhism in Hai Phong, is a very pure and graceful temple that was built in 17th century with some renovations being completed afterward. The pagoda contains a lot of amazing woodworks, bronze statues and a bonsai collection right on the front grounds. An array of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues highlight a circular pond of water lilies in a flowery garden and a tranquil towered-grave yard, where the monks who had resided in the pagoda are buried. If you should through luck, arrive on a new moon or a full, you will have a chance to take fascinating pictures of the religious women of Hai Phong with their black velvet scarves and long brown dresses in signs of respect as they sit in and around the main shrine of the pagoda while the monks pray or give lectures on Buddhism.
Not far from the pagoda, at the end of a very narrow market street is Hang Kenh Pavilion, which is dedicated to the Vietnamese hero Ngo Quyen who lived in 10th century. Being a Communal House of the Kenh village in the old time, the Pavillion is famous for its wooden bas-relieves, sculptures and special boat-shaped interior. If you would prefer to stroll into the city, your visit should start at the colonial quarter around Dien Bien Phu street and Tran Hung Dao street. From there you can go to the old Opera House and then walk around Tam Bac Lake. There are 5 roofed kiosks on the Eastern side of the lake with fresh flowers sold by smiling girls. On the Southern side of the lake is the exciting Hang Kenh Tapestry which produces woolen carpets for export.
|HALONG & CATBA ISLANDS|