I had to blink a few times when I half stepped, half tumbled out of the van that my bag and I had been crammed in the back of for almost five hours.
We had left Hanoi extremely early and I had slept for most of the 170 kilometer drive, making the people that were piling out of the van behind me still complete strangers.
Like lemers, we followed our tour guide to a long wooden dock and onto a creaky boat which would be our home for the night.
After dropping my bag in my room and splashing some cold water on my face, I headed up to the main deck to make some new friends.
I was surprised to discover that in the fifteen minutes I had been in my room, we had pulled out of the dock and were already surrounded by the majestic, tree covered limestone cliffs, rising mysteriously out of Halong Bay.
Considered to be one of the Natural Wonders of the World, Halong Bay consists of thousands of islands that rise out of the water in the Gulf of Tonkin on the east coast of Vietnam.
The name of the bay — Halong — literally means ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, which comes from a local legend that explains how the awe-inspiring islands were created. According to this legend, one day a great dragon came down from the mountains. As it charged towards the coast, it’s flailing tale gouged out valleys and crevasses. When the dragon finally plunged into the sea, the areas that it had gouged out filled with water, creating the bay.
In reality, the islands are the peaks of a vast underwater mountain range that are dotted with beaches, grottos and forested slopes filled with birds.
Visitors from all over the world come year round to visit this UNESCO world heritage site that boasts amazing coral reefs, mangrove forests and small freshwater lakes. They come to take boat cruises, explore the massive lime-stone caves, and kayak in the emerald waters.
While floating silently through the bay, the sun staining the sky pink, the wind and waves gently rocking the boat, it was easy to understand why these stunning rocky islands are often referred to as nature’s sculptures.