There are approximately 500 tourist boats which operate on the 1500 sq km of Hạ Long Bay. One-third of them take overnight cruises, and the rest are for day-trippers. Parts of this World Heritage Area are crowded, but it doesn’t matter. The landscape is so amazing that you can just look past everyone else and immerse yourself in the dramatic outlines of 2,000 islands and islets rising vertically to heights of 100 metres, straight out of the calm waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
A local legend says that the islands were made by a dragon sent by the gods to defend the countryside against invaders from the sea. The dragons spat out gemstones and jade which fell into the ocean and formed the islands that acted as a barrier against the marauding ships.
But the invaders came, and they keep coming—from Australia and Germany, Britain and Switzerland, France and Canada, the USA and Japan, China and just about everywhere else besides. And they will keep on coming, because in an international poll of over 100 million people taken in 2012, Hạ Long Bay was voted as one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the Natural World’. The listing is great for the tourist industry, but may not be so good for the long-term survival of some of the more popular areas.
The region is also the home to almost 2000 people, fishermen and their families, who live in houses built on floating pontoons. What makes these dwellings so remarkable is their ordinariness. They look just like any other small rural or suburban houses, with wooden walls and windows and pitched tin roofs. There are plants in pots and washing hanging on lines, barbecues on patios and dogs sleeping in doorways. There is even the occasional television antenna, though the reception may not be so good amongst the limestone peaks.