Halong Bay: A Trip to Remember
By: Henrylito D. Tacio
In the last two years, I have been to places listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage.
Last year, I was in Beijing where I had the opportunity of scaling The Great Wall of China. This year, I had the pleasure of mesmerizing at the beauty of Halong Bay, some 165 kilometers away from the capital of Hanoi in Vietnam.
Both trips, by the way, were sponsored by the PMFTC, Inc,. which is behind the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards. As part of the prize, an Asian trip is given to all winners in all categories.
This year, only nine travelled to Hanoi – except of Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Anselmo Roque, who cannot come for health reasons. The photographers are well-represented: Mauricio Victa, who was elevated to the Hall of Fame for winning the contest five times, of Business Mirror; Franf Cimatu, winner of Tobacco Photo of the Year, of Baguio Chronicle; and Dave Leprozo, Jr., the man behind Agriculture Photo of the Year, of Manila Standard.
Only five winners of print media were present: Sun.Star Cebu’s Cherry All Lim (Agriculture Story of the Year), Sun.Star Pampanga’s Ian Ocampo (Tobacco Story of the year), Manila Bulletin’s Rizaldy Comanda (Agriculture News Story, National), and Baguio Midland Courier’s Hanna Lacsamana (Agriculture Feature Story, Regional). I won for Best Regional Feature Story for my 3-part series on food security which was punlished in Edge Davao.
The radio and television were represented by Ronde Alicaya of DXCC RMN in Cagayan De Oro City and Ruben Gonzaga, the host of ABS-CBN’s “Agri Tayo Dito” (a national television show but based from Davao City).
Most of us were first timers in Hanoi so almost everyone was excited. First, we toured the historic places in Hanoi. On our third day, we went to Halong Bay, which I first saw in the Discovery Channel when I was still in the United States.
According to a travel magazine. Halong Bay is a mature karst landscape developed during a warm, wet, tropical climate. The sequence of stages in the evolution of a karst landscape over a period of 20 million years requires a combination of several distinct elements including a massive thickness of limestone, a hot, wet climate and slow overall tectonic up lift.
Although we left Sofitel Metropole Hotel early in the morning, we qarrived at the seaport by 11:30. We did have two stopovers: the first one, where we had our snack and the second time was at the place where pearls are cultured.
Immediately after parking, all of us trooped to the building where our journey to Halong Bay would start. Our tour guide, Hung Nguyen, bought the tickets for us. And when we went out from the building, we were completely mesmerized.
The protruding mountains were too gorgeous to look at – though they were still far where we were standing. It was a little bit cloudy – sort of haze – and cooler (after all, it was still winter for me).
“It is either we go ahead climbing the Dong Thien Cung cave first or we eat lunch,” Hung asked the group. However, he suggested of doing the former before the latter so we won’t be heavy (courtesy of the meal) in scaling the 100-step stairs going up.
That was what we did. As soon as we boarded the deluxe boat that would bring us to one of the islands of the Halong Bay, all of us could only wonder. Most of them were already taking pictures as we approached one of the islands when I broke the silence: “Excuse me, excuse me.” And everyone allowed me to pass without any howl or protest.
I went straight to the upper portion of the boat and everyone followed me after that. We had fun taking photos of the several islands before us. “This is worth our trip,” said Ruben Gonzaga.
After hitting the shoreline of the island where the Dong Thien Cung was located, we stepped at the cemented stairs and proceeded immediately to the ticket booth. Then we took the steps going up. When we reached the 50th steps, we stopped and had our souvenir picture taken.
We took the remaining 50 steps and went inside the cave. I was totally captivated by what I saw inside. Colored lights were used to make the different forms of stalagmites truly enthralling.
“When the French left the country, they never told us that this cave existed,” Nguyen said. “It was a fisherman who discovered this place. He was trying to find a place where he could keep himself dry from the rain. He saw a small hole and went inside. And the rest is history.”
After conquering the cave, we went back to our boat. Feeling so hungry already, we had sumptuous lunch. We had steamed rice and the usual Vietnamese tea. But the viands were superb: steamed shrimp with ginger, fried fish with tomato sauce, fried squid with butter, steamed clams with lemongrass, seafood sprong roll, stir fried chicken with onion and mushroom and pumpkin soup with shrimp.
After eating, we went to the rooftop of the boat and took more photos. There are about 1,969 islands, according to our guide. Curiously enough, that was the year too when the country’s first president, Ho Chi Minh, died.
Selfie here and selfie there-that was what most of us were doing. Gonzaga, on the other hand, took some footages which he said he will use for his TV show. The three award-winning photographers were also doing their own thing.
In one of the rare moments, I took a photo of Ditas A. Atenor (food stylist who also writes for Philippines Graphic.) who was wearing a black dress and donning a Vietnamese military hat.
After an hour, all of us stood still. We were silent. The air was cooler (but we were wearing jackets anyway) and the sun was nowhere to be found. There was sort of a fog all over the bay but we can still marvel at God’s creation.
Ha Long Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, within Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast of Vietnam. Covering an area of 43,400 hectares and including over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, it forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The property’s exceptional scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.
Before the 19th century, the name Halong Bay had not been recorded in the old books of Vietnam. It had been called An Bang, Luc Thuy, and Van Don. It was not in the late 19th century that the name Halong Bay has appeared on the Maritime map of France.
Haiphong News, published in French, reported: “Dragon appears on Halong Bay.” According to the story, a certain Lieutenant Lagoredin captain of Avalangso met a couple of giant sea snake on Halong Bay three times in 1898. Not only the ieutenant but also many other sailorssaw those species. The European thought that those animals looked like Asian dragon. That appearance of strange animals led to the name of Quang Ninh sea area today: Halong Bay.
Even before we have visited Ha Long Bay, several Vietnamese writers have hailed it. “This wonder is ground raising up into the middle of the high sky,” wrote Nguyan Trai. Nguyen Ngoc penned: “…to form this first-rate wonder, nature only uses: stone and water…There are just only two materials themselves chosen from as much materials, in order to write, to draw, to sculpture, to create everything…It is quite possible that here is the image of the future world.”
“It is the wonder that one cannot impart to others,” Ho Chi Minh rhapsodized. Lord Trinh Cuong, overflowed with emotion, said: “Mountains are glistened by water shadow, water spills all over the sky.”
In 2000, UNESCO added Halong Bay in its World Heritage List, according to its outstanding examplesajor stages of the Earth’s history and its original limestone karstic geomorphologic features.
“Comprised of a multitude of limestone islands and islets rising from the sea, in a variety of sizes and shapes and presenting picturesque, unspoiled nature, Halong Bay is a spectacular seascape sculpted by nature,” UNESCO said. “The property retains a high level of naturalness, and despite its long history of human use, is not seriously degraded. Outstanding features of the property include the magnificent towering limestone pillars and associated notches, arches and caves, which are exceptionally well-developed and among the best presented of their type in the world.”