Alcantara: Hallo, Halong!

Wet market vendor (Jojie Alcantara)
Wet market vendor (Jojie Alcantara)

HA LONG City in Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam is a quiet but blossoming town right in the heart of the Unesco World Heritage Site Halong Bay.

Quite laid back from other touristy cities, the roads are wide and without traffic (maybe peak season is different). Apart from Ha Long Bay cruises which is the major attraction, it also offers beach activities, nature treks, local food, and night markets.

Divided into two main areas, there is Hon Gai on the other side of the bridge where local life, culture and food can be experienced.

Bai Chay is the central tourist area on the other side where Ha Long Bay is dotted with luxury cruises or replicas of Chinese junk boat tours. An artificial beach, restaurants, cafes, and varying structures from high end resorts to boutique hotels are lined along the bay. Many building constructions are on the way, preparing Ha Long to become the next busy destination.

Ha Long Bay is a popular destination for many reasons. The name Ha Long means "descending dragon", with a bay that features thousands (1,969 as of record) of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes protruding around the waters. Famous for its attractive rock formations, bays, uninhabited islets, limestone pillars and cave formations, it leads to an overall stunning landscape that makes it a traveler’s bucket list.

Some islets are named after shapes of objects or animals like the iconic fighting cocks.

In 1962, the Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism designated Ha Long Bay a “Renowned National Landscape Monument.” First listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994 in recognition of its outstanding, universal aesthetic value, its World Heritage Listing was updated in 2000 for its outstanding geological and geomorphological value.

In October 2011, World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats to the site that must be addressed. In 2012, New Seven Wonders Foundation officially named Ha Long Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

A must-see spot to explore is the beautiful Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave), a beautiful primitive cave with a complicated interior structure, high ceilings and a unique system of stalactites and stalagmites in different forms and shapes that tickle your imagination.

They say it is best to visit Ha Long between October to December as weather is most pleasant in fall with less rain. April is also tourist season and an ideal time to cruise Halong Bay because it is not as hot in summer or as bitterly cold in winter when the whole bay is shrouded in mist. In my visit this January, though, I was hit with a chilly blast for the rest of my stay.

Halong City is approximately three hours away from the international airport in Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, which has a direct flight from Manila, Philippines via Cebu Pacific. While we came as hosted media courtesy of TTG Asia, organizers of the Asean Tourism Forum (ATF 2019), I had the option to choose my airline for convenience in connecting flights.

I was billeted in Royal Lotus Hotel, located in the bay area where most of the high rises and top hotels stood. I stayed for the ATF Convention as a Philippine delegate together with colleague Ian Garcia of Mindanao Times, and we have bonded with other foreign travel agents and international media.

Special thanks to partners who have supported me in my trip: PLDT-Smart, AromacologySensi Philippines, Bioskin and MX3 who have shared proudly Davao products to give away to fellow delegates.


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