Halong Bay Wonder on the Sea

One of the great natural wonders of Asia, Halong Bay, is the single most popular trip these days for tourists from China.

A hawker on a small sampan sell fresh seafood to passengers on cruise ships.

The beauty of the bay, known to Chinese as "Guilin on the Ocean", and its 3,000 islands is so awesome that an excursion there should be considered an essential part of any visit to Northern Viet Nam.

A one or two day trip also makes a delightful and inexpensive romantic getaway if you meet someone special.

After several hours on a bumpy road, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular and memorable sightseeing of your trip.

Hire a boat in Halong City to take you as far from shore as possible, and simply meander among the islands, fjords and inlets.

There is plenty to explore in the 4,000-square-kilometre body of water, and it is easy to find peaceful places to swim, fish or just relax without seeing another soul, yet surrounded by majestic scenery.

Despite what geologists may claim, the bay, a World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO, was actually created when an immense dragon plunged to Earth here before recorded history.

Its mighty tail carved the great stone seabed violently before the creature flew away to the place where legends are born.

This fable does not seem so far-fetched as you sail among thousands of limestone outcroppings, which look like so many blades thrust deep into the mist from below the sea.

Many are barren, weathered and rocky. Others are cloaked in vegetation so dense that it is impossible to see the stone beneath. At dusk, they all take on mysterious shades of gray, mauve and olive.

Several of the larger islands have extensive caves, which are open to visitors for about a dollar. Although they are poorly lit and have slippery pathways, they offer a little adventure to liven up a long, lazy day of boating.

The water is warm, clean and clear, so swimming is always a pleasure here. Be prepared with swimwear and a towel. The crew could cook your lunch aboard and serve you various beverages.

A small sampan will sail to you during the trip to sell you 10 different seafoods for as little as 300 yuan (about $36).

Travel tips

Tourists from China usually go on a cruise package from Hainan Island or China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

From Hanoi, you can also go for the bay tour after riding for several hours on a bus.

( China Daily March 14, 2002)

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