In Vietnamese, “halong” means “descending dragon.” Legend has it that Halong Bay was formed thousands of years ago by dragons who came down from the heavens to protect local inhabitants from invaders. The Dragon Mother and her children spat giant emeralds into the sea battlefield, which created a defensive barricade against the invaders. The emeralds eventually turned into the islands and islets that majestically dot the ocean landscape off the northern Vietnam coast.
But if you’re more into science and geography than mythology, the islands are actually karst limestone pillars that formed more than 20 million years ago. There are approximately 2,000 islands and islets. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
When planning a trip to Halong Bay, you will find that you have about as many options as there are islands. You can do a boat trip of varying lengths; a combination boat/island bungalow trip; an island-only trip; a party cruise; a party island; and a wide variety of day trips. If you decide to do a boat tour, you will find hundreds of options, all of them with very different prices and reviews. I found the task of choosing a tour extremely daunting. So, in the end, we decided to go with a boat tour that was recommended by another travel friend of ours who had done it a few weeks before us. It was definitely on the more expensive end of the spectrum, but we felt it would be worth it since our friend recommended it. We chose the 3-day, 2-night tour on the Glory Legend.
The facilities were posh, the rooms were fantastic, and the food was delicious. Every meal (except breakfast) was a seven-course spread, and the excursions included in our itinerary were quite good. However, we were the ONLY people on the boat that weren’t there with their husband/wife/partner. It was like a honeymoon tour, and we were pretty out of place. Regardless, we had a really nice time. The only complaint I have is that no drinks were included in the tour price, not even water. And of course, everything you had to buy was extremely expensive. Thank god for the daily happy hour when all drinks were BOGO!