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Halong Bay - spectacularly crowded but uniquely beautiful

The view of Halong Bay from the peak of Ti Top Island; Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the number 1 tourist destination in northern Vietnam

The view of Halong Bay from the peak of Ti Top Island; Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the number 1 tourist destination in northern Vietnam

The macaques were very entertaining but largely ignored the tourists except when they got too close; they knew the kayakers couldn't get onto their island

The macaques were very entertaining but largely ignored the tourists except when they got too close; they knew the kayakers couldn't get onto their island

Kayaking into Ba Trai Dao lagoon was the highlight of my visit to Halong Bay; there is no camping or other accommodation on land available in the bay

Kayaking into Ba Trai Dao lagoon was the highlight of my visit to Halong Bay; there is no camping or other accommodation on land available in the bay

The Chinese tourists were constantly taking photos and acting like they owned the place; they would not queue and were often pushy and irritating

The Chinese tourists were constantly taking photos and acting like they owned the place; they would not queue and were often pushy and irritating

The chef on our boat made fish nets out of large Vietnamese carrots; it was unreal watching the precision required to create such a perfect work of art

The chef on our boat made fish nets out of large Vietnamese carrots; it was unreal watching the precision required to create such a perfect work of art

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means descending dragon; dragons play a prominent role in Vietnamese culture, and the most popular legend has it that one such creature and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means descending dragon; dragons play a prominent role in Vietnamese culture, and the most popular legend has it that one such creature and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders

Hardly anyone was swimming in the water but we had 5 brave souls venture into the water on Ti Top Island; it was at least a nice cool-off after hiking up the hill

Hardly anyone was swimming in the water but we had 5 brave souls venture into the water on Ti Top Island; it was at least a nice cool-off after hiking up the hill

The port area of Halong Bay was non-stop construction as local companies take advantage of the tourist boom; most boats go out at noon one day and return noon the next day

The port area of Halong Bay was non-stop construction as local companies take advantage of the tourist boom; most boats go out at noon one day and return noon the next day

Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi but a wonderful escape from the big city; Vietnam needs to better manage the thousands of boats on the bay to preserve this unique destination

Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi but a wonderful escape from the big city; Vietnam needs to better manage the thousands of boats on the bay to preserve this unique destination

The macaques would come down to the water line to look for mollusks to eat; there were large macaque families present at different places around the lagoon

The macaques would come down to the water line to look for mollusks to eat; there were large macaque families present at different places around the lagoon

There were thousands of people waiting to kayak or take a rowboat but we were able to bypass the line; Halong Bay was just way too crowded!

There were thousands of people waiting to kayak or take a rowboat but we were able to bypass the line; Halong Bay was just way too crowded!

Most of the limestone monoliths had no beaches but Ti Top Island had the largest (and most popular) beach we saw; I read where there is coral around the bay but didn't see evidence

Most of the limestone monoliths had no beaches but Ti Top Island had the largest (and most popular) beach we saw; I read where there is coral around the bay but didn't see evidence

We could either opt to kayak or to go on a boat that would be rowed for us; both options were about $10 but the kayaking allowed us to better explore the lagoon

We could either opt to kayak or to go on a boat that would be rowed for us; both options were about $10 but the kayaking allowed us to better explore the lagoon

Halong Bay has an area of around 600 sq mi, including 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone; the evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate

Halong Bay has an area of around 600 sq mi, including 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone; the evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate

This view at the top of Ti Top Island was the best in Halong Bay; the bay was probably fantastic 20 years ago before mass tourism arrived

This view at the top of Ti Top Island was the best in Halong Bay; the bay was probably fantastic 20 years ago before mass tourism arrived

At night, Halong Bay seemed like a floating city with the many boats all lit up; the boats ranged from barely seaworthy to luxurious with ours in between

At night, Halong Bay seemed like a floating city with the many boats all lit up; the boats ranged from barely seaworthy to luxurious with ours in between

Ti Top Island is named for a Russian cosmonaut who came here to visit with Ho Chi Minh; the island crowds bore a striking resemblance to Grand Central Station at rush hour

Ti Top Island is named for a Russian cosmonaut who came here to visit with Ho Chi Minh; the island crowds bore a striking resemblance to Grand Central Station at rush hour

In February 2011 a charter vessel sank, killing 12 people; witnesses said a plank simply tore away from the vessel's side; adding to worries about shoddy standards and un-seaworthiness, another vessel sank just 2 months later

In February 2011 a charter vessel sank, killing 12 people; witnesses said a plank simply tore away from the vessel's side; adding to worries about shoddy standards and un-seaworthiness, another vessel sank just 2 months later

The acrobatic jumps of the macaques made us nervous but they never missed a branch; the food on our boat was excellent and professionally presented

The acrobatic jumps of the macaques made us nervous but they never missed a branch; the food on our boat was excellent and professionally presented

Located inside Bo Hon Island, in the middle Halong Bay, Surprise Cave is considered the most magnificent cave in the bay; it can hold 1000 people but is a dead cave

Located inside Bo Hon Island, in the middle Halong Bay, Surprise Cave is considered the most magnificent cave in the bay; it can hold 1000 people but is a dead cave

The monoliths had intricate designs with arches, caves, lakes and unique shapes; I tried to imagine the bay with blue skies and turquoise waters

The monoliths had intricate designs with arches, caves, lakes and unique shapes; I tried to imagine the bay with blue skies and turquoise waters

One of the benefits of visiting Surprise Cave was this great view from the exit; one problem is there aren't enough activities for the masses on the tour boats so the few that exist are overcrowded

One of the benefits of visiting Surprise Cave was this great view from the exit; one problem is there aren't enough activities for the masses on the tour boats so the few that exist are overcrowded

Our cabin was better than I expected but the ship was pretty worn; our group had the ship to ourselves which was ideal since many would not have appreciated our karaoke performances

Our cabin was better than I expected but the ship was pretty worn; our group had the ship to ourselves which was ideal since many would not have appreciated our karaoke performances

The view of Surprise Cave as we approached; the name arose as early visitors were surprised at how large the cave was as they went further and further into it

The view of Surprise Cave as we approached; the name arose as early visitors were surprised at how large the cave was as they went further and further into it

We went to Surprise Cave when it opened at 7:30am to avoid the many other tourists which made our visit more enjoyable; most of the caves in the bay are, wisely, not open to the public

We went to Surprise Cave when it opened at 7:30am to avoid the many other tourists which made our visit more enjoyable; most of the caves in the bay are, wisely, not open to the public

There are multiple pearl farms in Halong Bay so we stopped to see how the pearls are made and had the opportunity to buy expensive pearl jewelry

There are multiple pearl farms in Halong Bay so we stopped to see how the pearls are made and had the opportunity to buy expensive pearl jewelry

Vietnam is one of the most important places on earth for primates, with at least 24 species, many of which occur only in Vietnam; Vietnam holds 5 of the top 25 most threatened primates species globally

Vietnam is one of the most important places on earth for primates, with at least 24 species, many of which occur only in Vietnam; Vietnam holds 5 of the top 25 most threatened primates species globally

I thought this looked like a huge boulder had just tumbled out of the middle of the monolith; I found it surprising that so many in Vietnam speak little to no English, even those in tourist jobs

I thought this looked like a huge boulder had just tumbled out of the middle of the monolith; I found it surprising that so many in Vietnam speak little to no English, even those in tourist jobs

There were hundreds of boats all headed out into Halong Bay at the same time;  all of these boats contribute to the bad pollution and hazy skies

There were hundreds of boats all headed out into Halong Bay at the same time; all of these boats contribute to the bad pollution and hazy skies

The scenery was spectacular but I was extremely distressed at the large amount of trash and pollution in the water; I never saw any fish or signs of aquatic life

The scenery was spectacular but I was extremely distressed at the large amount of trash and pollution in the water; I never saw any fish or signs of aquatic life

World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats; the goal of watch-listing is to promote strategies of responsible heritage-driven development for a sustainable future

World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats; the goal of watch-listing is to promote strategies of responsible heritage-driven development for a sustainable future

It looked like an entire new city was being built midway between Hanoi and Halong Bay; there were brand new freeways and lots of growth in this area only 3 hours from the Chinese border

It looked like an entire new city was being built midway between Hanoi and Halong Bay; there were brand new freeways and lots of growth in this area only 3 hours from the Chinese border

Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay; most Asian tourists prefer to stay in hotels and just go out into the bay for day trips; the Chinese are also buying up real estate to get their money out of China

Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay; most Asian tourists prefer to stay in hotels and just go out into the bay for day trips; the Chinese are also buying up real estate to get their money out of China

A growing number of tourists are skipping crowded Halong Bay and going to equally alluring Lan Ha Bay; I would have opted for either a longer trip or a trip to Lan Ha to avoid the masses here

A growing number of tourists are skipping crowded Halong Bay and going to equally alluring Lan Ha Bay; I would have opted for either a longer trip or a trip to Lan Ha to avoid the masses here

In 2012, New 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Halong Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World; the drive from Hanoi took us past lots of rice paddies

In 2012, New 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Halong Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World; the drive from Hanoi took us past lots of rice paddies

Posted by VagabondCowboy 01:24

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