Ha Long Bay has many caves on different islands, one of the biggest cave systems is Hang Sung Sot on Bo Hon island..
Hang Sung Sot cave on Bo Hon island was discovered by French explorers in 1901 and they named it “Grotte des surprises-the surprise cave”sin French. The name persists, but now in Vietnamese. The cave system has two chambers and it is outfitted with easy to walk trails and steps, so it is mostly easy walking after you climb up the stairs from the pier to reach the entrance to the caves.
The caves are full of both stalactites (extends from the cave ceiling downward) and stalagmites (from the bottom up). There are also formations called flowstone which is a more sheet like formation of calcite and other minerals left when water flows down the walls or on he floor of the cave.
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, was made the capital on April 21, 1782. It replaced Ayutthaya as the capital. Ayutthaya is located about 85km North of Bangkok, about an hour drive. Today only the ruins remain of the former capital. The first kingdom in Thailand was known as Sukhothai. It was founded in 1238 and was the most powerful under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14:th century. Sukhothai later became part of the Kingdom of Ayuttaya which ruled Thailand and most of S/E Asia including Laos and Cambodia at the time. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya also later came to include the Northern Kingdom of Lanna.
In 1765 the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was attacked by Burma and the two kingdoms were at war until the Burmese had to withdraw to fight a Chinese incursion into Burma by the end of 1767. The Thai King, Taksin could then regroup, regain control of the country and form a new capital, Thonburi. The successor of King Taksin, General Chakri later moved the capital to Bankgok and became King Rama I.
The house of Chakri still rules the Kingdom of Thailand and today it is through the ancestor of King Rama I, Maha Vajiralongkorn, known as Rama X. Thailand was named Siam until 1937 when the name was changed to the Kingdom of Thailand.
Home of the Kings since 1782, Grand Palace is a sprawling compound that also used to house the King’s court and his majesty’s government as late as 1925.
The temple “Wat Pho”, or as it’s official name is “Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan” is located just South of the Grand Palace and is also known as “the Temple of the reclining Buddha”. This temple is one of the temples on a list of six Royal temples that are of the highest class of the Royal temples. The temple has the most Buddha images of any temple in Thailand and one of them is the 46m long reclining Buddha. It is also one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and is believed to have been built sometime during the rule of King Petratcha 1688-1703.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is the home of Thai Airways International Public Co., ltd. doing business as Thai. The airline was formed in 1960 and it was a joint venture between the domestic carrier Thai Airways Company and Scandinavian Airlines (founded in 1946), SAS which owned a 30% stake in the joint venture. SAS was providing assistance with personnel training, operations, management and marketing – all with the intent of building a national Thai airline within the shortest timeframe possible. SAS held a stake in Thai until 1971 when the the Thai government bought out the remaining 15% and the carrier became a governmentally controlled National airline.
MahaNakhon or as it has now been renamed “King Power MahaNakhon” was designed by a team that included German Architect Ole Scheeren. When it was completed in 2016 it was the tallest building in Thailand, topping out at 314 m. It has since been pushed down to the second tallest building by another building in Bangkok, Magnolias Waterfront Residences at ICONSIAM finished in 2018 and topping out at 317 m.
If you spring for the ticket to go up in MahaNhakon a stunning view of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya river awaits you.
Sukhumvit area of Bangkok is nowadays an upscale neighborhood with many foreigners having made it their home. Thea area has plenty of upscale shopping malls, top notch hotels and restaurants. Sukhumvit Road is one of the longest road in Thailand as well as one of the longest roads in the world.
Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Vietnamese legend has it that the bay was formed when a Dragon fell to earth. There are just under 2,000 islands and rock formations in the bay and most all are uninhabited. Halong Bay is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. You can easily get there from Ha Noi and most of the companies that are allowed to operate boats in the bay also include transportation from Ha Noi.
The cruise company does a pretty good job of entertaining the guests when nature alone is not enough to fill the time. One popular event is the “make your own spring roll”. There is a demonstration to follow along in to show you how to roll it and then you may try your hand at making a spring roll.
Once you have mastered the technique of spring rolling, you get to eat your creation as an appetizer at dinner.
Being a vegetarian or even vegan in Vietnam, is in my experience easy. The pork is of course used a lot here, as in most S/E Asian countries, but good vegetarian options are readily available. If they are not on the menu, most kitchens will change dishes so as to be vegetarian/vegan if you just ask. For the Ha Long Cruise companies, just notify them in advance and they will have your options available.
One of the excursions takes you to The beach on Ti top island (named for Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov). This is one of the few beaches in Ha Long Bay that is now open to visitors. It used to be a “free for all” but the local government had to step in to make sure that the area was not totally destroyed by tourists that had no regard for the fragile environment. Today there are only a few beaches where the boats are allowed to take tourists that want to go swimming. This restriction obviously mean that the most accessible beaches get overrun by people and the obviously takes away ,most of the enjoyment of the beach trip. The boats are also only allowed to anchor up in certain areas and after an accident in 2010 they are put in the same areas so as to have help nearby should anything go wrong.
Long way to Ha Long…
Long way to Ha Long, is if the company that takes you there from Ha Noi doesn’t take the toll road to get there. The long way (about 190km with lower speed limits) adds a lot of time and may take as long as three to four hours. The toll road (150km) is much faster, about two hours. The scenic value of the slow road does not make up for the added time. I did not know this in advance, so I wound up on the slow road going there. Going back I changed to the toll road which is a better choice.
Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) in the central Ha Noi’s Hoàn Kiếm Lake is dedicated to Confucian and Taoist philosophers and to the Vietnamese national hero Trần Hưng Đạo (b 1228 – d 1300). When the temple was built sometime in the 18th century it was just a small temple, but after an expansion in 1865 more buildings were added.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake (the name of the lake in English means something along the lines of “Lake of the returned sword”), the lake has had different names over time, one of them in English was the “Green water lake” which refers to the color of the water in the shallow lake, the depth is between 1.2 and 2 meters.
Today the centrally located lake and it’s surroundings is a gathering place for locals as well as for tourists. The lake is also a part of a legend that includes Vietnam’s greatest hero and one of the most famous persons in Vietnamese history Emperor Lê Lợi.
The legend starts in the Thanh Hóa province, some 150 km south of Ha Noi. During his evening fishing expedition on the local lake, fisherman Lê Thận caught something heavy in his nets and felt excited about such a big catch. The catch turned out not to be a big fish, but just a piece of metal. Disappointed, he threw the piece of metal back into the water and cast his net again. When he pulled the net in, he found that the piece of metal had yet again made its way back into his net. He mustered all his strength and threw the piece of metal back into the water, this time far away enough that he felt certain that it could not make it’s way into his net again. However, after casting his net again with the same result – the piece of metal was once again in his net, he shun his light on the piece of metal and then he realized that it was in fact the blade of a sword. He brought the blade with him home after his fishing expedition ended and put it away in a corner in his house.
A few years later Lê Thận joined the army of the rebel leader Lê Lợi to fight against the Chinese incursion into Vietnam, he was very successful on the battlefield and quickly rose through the ranks. The warrior Lê Thận caught the eye of the general and the two became friends. When general Lê Lợi visited Lê Thận at his home, the dark home suddenly became lit up from the glow of the sword blade that was sitting in the corner where Lê Thận had placed it after he brought it home. Lê Lợi felt that this had somehow come about as a result of his presence in the home and he grabbed the blade and held it up to look at it. Before his eyes the words “Thuận Thiên” (Will of Heaven) appeared on the blade. With the permission of Lê Thận, general Lê Lợi brought the blade with him when he left.
One day while fighting the Chinese enemies, general Lê Lợi saw a Banyan tree up on a hill that was emitting a strange glow from it’s branches. He climbed the hill and under the Banyan tree he found the hilt of a sword. It was beautifully decorated with precious gem stones. He immediately thought of the sword blade he had brought from the home of Lê Thận, and brought it out and placed the hilt on the blade. It was a perfect fit. Lê Lợi thought this was a sign from heaven that he had been chosen to free the land, so he rallied his troops and went to war to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. The sword helped them win many battles against the Chinese and they finally drove them out of Vietnam. Lê Lợi ascended the throne as emperor of Vietnam in 1428 (Emperor Lê Lợi ruled Vietnam 1428–1433).
Later when emperor Lê Lợi was in a dragon boat on the Hồ Lục Thủy (Green water lake). The lake was located just in front of the emperor’s palace, and according to the legend, a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) came to him and asked him for his magic sword. Lê Lợi assumed that the Golden Turtle God was acting on orders from the Dragon King who was seeking to reclaim the sword that he had given to Lê Lợi during his fight against the Chinese. When the emperor looked down at the sword in his belt he saw it starting to move on its own. The Golden Turtle God came up next to to the emperor in the boat and with a human voice asked him to give the sword back to the Dragon King. Emperor Lê Lợi then realized that the sword had just been lent to him to free the land and that it should be returned to the Dragon King who lives under water in the lake. He then threw the sword towards the golden turtle and the turtle caught it in his mouth and disappeared. In commemoration of this event the lake was renamed from Luc Thuy “Green Water Lake” to the current Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Lake of the returned sword).
The turtles in the lake are likely of the species Rafetus Swinhoe (Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle) , although some Vietnamese biologists claim that the turtles in the Hoan Kiem lake is a distinct species separate from the Rafetus Swinhoei species. If it is a separate species it is at this time extinct since the last known turtle in the lake died in 2016 and is embalmed and on display in the temple. Of Rafetus Swinhoei there are only three known specimen in the world that are known to be alive.