Visiting An Amazing Cave in Halong Bay, and a Bit About The Four Sacred Animals Of Vietnam

Visiting An Amazing Cave in Halong Bay, and a Bit About The Four Sacred Animals Of Vietnam

Most tourists visiting Hanoi City make a day trip to Halong Bay.
It is the most popular day trip outside of the city, and the amazing landscape justifies the inconvenience of joining a tour group.

The reason I don’t like traveling in a group is because many people do not behave well.
They push ahead when it is time to get on and off the bus when they should wait their turn, and some secretly vape inside the bus, despite requests to stop.

There are many limousine bus tours taking people to Halong Bay.
The tour usually includes a bus ride from your hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi, a boat ride which cruises around the lime rock formations, numerous stops at some bigger islands in the bay, and a visit to the amazing caves that naturally formed inside these limestone mountains over tens of thousands of years.
The trip also includes a lunch on the boat and kayaking and swimming in the bay.

I wasn’t excited to join a bus tour and a cruise, but there isn’t really another way to see the bay, except to cruise around the limestone formations inside the bay.

The bus ride was everything I had worried about.
A person vaped secretly inside the bus despite requests not to smoke inside, and pushy people who pushed before us to get in and out of the bus also pushed their way into the line to get a drink.
We stopped to see how they cultivate pearls in the bay, and then we got settled for the day on one of the flat cruising boats.

It was a rainy morning and the beautiful cliffs jutting vertically from the sea were covered by misty clouds.
I got excited when we docked and entered the amazing “Surprising Cave.”

Home to about 1,600 islands and inlets, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Quang Ninh Province.
It is also home to many unique and beautiful caves.
These caves are a real gift of Mother Nature.

We visited the largest (not the oldest) discovered cave in Halong Bay.
According to my research, there are about eight caves that are really amazing in Halong Bay.

The entrance to Surprise Cave is through a small opening in one of the rock walls.
After passing through a narrow slot in the rocks, we entered a big and beautiful cave chamber.
Then came the surprise, (hence the name “Surprise Cave.”)
After passing again through another rocky slot in the rocks, the cave that we entered was so huge, it stretched for about 10,000 square meters in size.

The cave is called “Sung Sot Cave” or “Surprising Cave”.
The cave is divided into 2 main areas.
The first one gives you an impression of entering an immense theatre whose ceiling is covered by stalactites and stalagmites.
The second area is covered by many stalactites and stalagmites, which looks like a silky “velvet carpet” with a myriad of glistering chandeliers. 

Walking around the cave we climbed up and down slippery wet steps, while our guide pointed to formations that reminded him of male and female sex organs.
He was laughing and pointing repeatedly, making sure that everyone understood his impossible to understand Vietnamese accented English.

It was a bit annoying, especially since it was hard to get away from him, as the cave was full of other groups of visitors who came from different boats.
Still, I was happy to see this amazing cave inside a Karst in the middle of the bay.

Not far from the Surprise Cave, the Dark and Bright cave is only accessible by rowboating or kayaking.
Normally I would be delighted to kayak, but I observed the number of people who chose to kayak through the small cave opening, and decided against it.

Some of those people clearly had no kayaking skills.
They rowed backwards when they tried to go forwards and kept going in circles.
Two kayaks collided, resulting in wet and scared people who clung to their turned over kayaks, unable to right them again.
The situation was made worse by the fact that many big boats and dozens of other tipsy kayaks were also trying to make their way through the narrow and dark cave. Some were being rowed sideways and were clearly out of control.

Our big bamboo boat was rowed by a strong young man who finally helped the inexperienced and very frightened kayakers back into their kayaks.
My guess is that they also did not know how to swim.

In the afternoon, the weather improved and it became sunny.
Our boat stopped at an island which had a small beach, and hundreds of people stripped down to their bathing suite and swam in the water.
It was the opposite of a deserted, clean tropical beach, which is my preferred swimming beach environment.

We returned to Hanoi very late in the evening.
Most of our favorite vegan restaurants were already closing, so we ate vegan vegetable noodle bowls at a corner restaurant near our hotel.
It was lovely and tasty.

Our hotel feels like a real sanctuary from the crowded streets and noise.
Beautifully designed in the old French Colonial style in Vietnam, we had a huge balcony with a spacious outdoor bed, and a great hotel room.

The name Halong Bay translates to the Land Of The Descending Dragon.
Yesterday we visited the land of the Ascending Dragon, and today we visited the land of the Descending Dragon.
I was too tired to try to figure out the symbolic meaning….
Anywhere where there are dragons, I am happy.

The dragon images are everywhere in Vietnam.
A dragon is one of the four sacred animals in the country, along with the Turtle, the Unicorn and the Phoenix.

The dragon reflects people’s desires to free themselves from restrictions and limitations.
The dragon can fly in the sky, hide in the clouds, swim, walk and crawl.
The dragon symbolizes human aspirations for strength and freedom to live a better life.

The phoenix is a beautiful and noble bird.
The phoenix is a combination of a dragon and a bird, representing longevity, power, lasting happiness, good luck, position and fame.

The unicorn represents prestige, peace and good luck. The unicorn is a half dragon-half mammal mystical creature, with only one horn.
The unicorn never butts anybody with its horn, and it symbolizes mercy, gentleness, sweetness, love, mystery, and hope.
The Vietnamese believe that the unicorn is a strong and faithful animal, suitable for guarding pagodas and places of worship.

The tortoise is the symbol of strength and longevity.

From Vietnam with love,

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