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Hallo, Halong!

Witerary by Jojie Alcantara (column name in SunStar Davao)

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.

View of downtown from my hotel window at night © Jojie Alcantara

View of downtown from my hotel window at night © Jojie Alcantara

Ha Long Bay (Vietnamese: Vịnh Hạ Long) is a popular destination for many reasons. The name Hạ 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.

Ha Long city and Ha Long Bay backdrop © Jojie Alcantara
Ha Long city and Ha Long Bay backdrop © Jojie Alcantara

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.

Ha Long city and Ha Long Bay backdrop © Jojie Alcantara
Ha Long city and Ha Long Bay backdrop © Jojie Alcantara

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.

Vietnamese girls in traditional dress called “ao dai”, in a backdrop of Ha Long Bay. © Jojie Alcantara
Vietnamese girls in traditional dress called “ao dai”, in a backdrop of Ha Long Bay. © Jojie Alcantara

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 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Ha Long Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave) © Jojie Alcantara
Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave) © Jojie Alcantara

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.

Halong Bay boat tours © Jojie Alcantara

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.

Feeling the winter chill in Halong Bay!

Halong City is approximately 3 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.

Royal Lotus Halong Hotel © Jojie Alcantara

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.

My room in Royal Lotus Halong Hotel © Jojie Alcantara

Special thanks to partners who have supported me in my trip: PLDT Home for my Fibr connection here at home enabling me quick access to my cloud files anywhere as well as communication matters; Printlife Official for my printed cards, AromacologySensi Philippines, Bioskin and MX3 for the proudly Davao products I gave away to fellow delegates.

This article was published in SunStar Davao on January 22, 2019 entitled “Hallo, Halong!” and posted on its news website.

Published in SunStar Davao on January 22, 2019 © Jojie Alcantara

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The author is a multi-awarded photographer, journalist, and artist whose works are featured in tourism campaigns (It's More Fun in the Philippines), covers and spreads of books and international magazines. A long time columnist of SunStar Davao, she is a frequent traveler in search of inspirational heartwarming stories of human interest. She is also an  influencer and motivational speaker who gives photography workshops in universities and organizations. A former TV personality, she has done several print and TV commercials, event hosting and speaking engagements. In 2013, she has received an award from the City Government of Davao for her significant contribution in the social media. She was one of the speakers in Photo World Asia 2017.  A web designer/blogger since the 90s, she has seen the evolution of the internet and social media transition from the perspective of a traditional media person.

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