"Ha Long" is literally translated as "Bay of Descending Dragons." In 1898 a sub-lieutenant named Lagredin, captaining the Avalanse reported seeing a huge sea snake on Ha Long
Bay. This was also witnessed by many of the crews. Thus emerged the European image of the Asian dragon. Whether this appearance of a strange animal looking like a dragon resulted the name of Ha Long Bay is not known. (source: Wikitravel.org)
In Hanoi I booked a three day, two night trip to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. The trip included one night of accommodation on a boat and one night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island. After boarding I sat down on a table of mostly Chinese, and another foreigner that was living in China. The table was dubbed 'Chinese Table' shortly thereafter. I'm talking more Chinese in Vietnam than in China, I should stay here if I want to learn more ;-)! The scenery of the bay was amazing, again reminiscent toYangshuo in China, huge karst hills in the sea. During the boat trip we would visit one large cave. As our boat approached the dock of the small island the cave is
on, our boat hit something... Could there be dragons? Nay, it was the dock itself!
Due to either a human error or mechanical error (which surely would lead back to an earlier human error) the captain was unable to reverse the engine and the boat hit the dock full speed. People fell, the water tanks on top of the boat spewed liters of water soaking several travelers on the roof. Luckily no one on board was hurt except for some bruises, most people were inside. Also, 'luckily', I just moved my position from the stairs to an area were a piece of the boat could stop my fall... Ouch! The boat started drifting of the dock and since the controls of the boat were broken (see picture) we had to move to another boat that brought us to safe land. When we left our boat the crew called on their mobile phones in despair and tried to fix the controls and engine. After we visited the cave they managed to fix one of the engines and we could go on. When a German fellow traveler asked the tour guide if there were some life jackets on board, our guide
said confidently 'yes' and looked under the benches only to discover there weren't any. He looked apologetically to us, shrugged, and said 'we'll be fine'.
Even though the captain could drink all he wanted while steering the boat, we passengers weren't allowed to bring our own alcohol unless paying a hefty surcharge per bottle (effectively doubling the price). I managed to smuggle a bottle of whiskey on board, and my Korean roommate some soju, so in the evening we made a small party on the rooftop of the boat. Later we were joined with two New Yorkers and after some drunk discussions that flowed seamlessly from political issues, personal life and all kind of other subjects; we went back to our cabins.
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba is an island close to Halong Bay, and is becoming getting more and more a weekend tourist destination for the middle-class Hanoians. Since it was low-season, and certainly no weather to lie on the beach, the island was next to deserted. Included in the trip was a 3 hour hike in the nature reserve that covers most of the island. Some parts of the trek were more climbing than hiking,
broken after the 'crash'and finally on top of one of the largest hills we could see some amazing views of the island. After the hike we sat down in front of a very small local cafe for refreshments (read: several glasses of Bia
In the evening I joined an Austrian/Welsh couple and a Dutch girl to a bar in which girls sang Karaoke and us guys drank some beers; afterwards we went to a club to do some dancing. When I got back in my hotel room I found out that my MP3 player was gone... Without much hope I walked to the club; upon asking one of the bartenders said 'don't worry', he went to the back of the club and returned with my MP3 player! Great to see that much honesty!
After spending one night on the island we boarded the boat again. On our way to the mainland we had the option to take a small boat tour of two caves and a fishing village. In the first cave the small boat had a leakage, forcing the boat driver to loan a pump from another boat. Most of the passengers had to sit on one side of
the boat in order to keep the leakage from going too deep under. Seems like the Vietnamese don't take care of their boats as much as they should... I heard similar stories of other travelers, apparently there are enough crew's not maintaining ships and captain's too drunk to drive.
Source: Travel Blogs