Back in the 1400s, Vietnam’s Emperor, Le Thanh Tong was leisurely sailing through Ha Long Bay and decided to have a rest stop. He came across a mountain and was so blown away by the magnificent views and jaw-dropping scenery it offered, he decided to carve a poem on the southern side of the mountain. Ever since, the mountain has been known as Bài Thơ or Poem Mountain.
Today Bài Thơ Mountain is a towering limestone mountain slap bang in the middle of Ha Long’s city centre. Sitting at a height of 200 m, it isn’t the tallest of mountains however it’s position is what really sets it apart. Overlooking Ha Long Bay, it is the most ideal spot for appreciating its mind blowing scenery.
When we visited, there were rumours that access to the mountain had been closed due to a fire (sadly caused by tourists). Nevertheless we decided to hope for the best and give it a shot.
We hopped in a taxi and made our way into Ha Long‘s city centre. The taxi stopped off on one of Ha Long‘s bustling streets crammed with shops and market stalls. Slightly confused as to where a mountain could be hidden on this street, we were initially reluctant to get out the taxi. The driver kept pointing at a small opening on the street leading us to the most unassuming entrance.
We ventured up the staircase into a narrow alley crammed with overflowing clothes lines, cages of noisy chickens and residential entrances. Our uncertainty growing with each step, we eventually reached a locked gate. I can’t say this did much to appease any of the doubts we had until an old Vietnamese lady seemed to appear from nowhere. It turned out that the mountain was indeed closed to tourists but being Vietnam nothing is really closed if you have a little bribe money handy.
After paying about 20,000 VND each we were granted access through the gate and continued up the staircase. We turned a corner and much to our surprise we found ourselves faced with another locked gate. We looked back to the lady who let us in who proceeded to mime climbing over the gate. Obliging, we took turns to clamber over.
Thankfully there were no more gates to hurdle for the rest of the climb to the top. The path is primarily a winding set of steps through a sparse (in some places blackened) forest. The higher you climb, the less frequent the steps are. Towards the top, the steps cease and are replaced with steep rocks to scramble over.
When you reach the top, there is a plinth engraved with the mountain’s namesake: Emperor Le Thanh Tong‘s poem.
At the top of Bài Thơ Mountain there is also a massive radio tower and Vietnamese flag flying high in the sky.
Clambering past, you are presented with out of this world, panoramic views of the extraordinary bay.
In English, Ha Long Bay translates to mean “Bay of the Descending Dragon”. Legend has it that back when Vietnam was establishing itself as a country, the gods sent down a family of dragons to protect against invaders. The dragons spat out emeralds and jades which transformed into the islands and islets of Ha Long Bay forming a protective wall to deter invading ships. The mother dragon descended under Ha Long Bay, hence the name.
The views of Ha Long Bay are completely magical. I have no idea how long we sat up there transfixed and mesmerised by what we saw.
As the sun began to lower in the sky we managed to draw ourselves away from the bewitching views and tranquil atmosphere and headed back down to reality.
For anyone looking for a unique and cheap way to experience Ha Long Bay, I couldn’t recommend this enough. Climb on up, maybe even take a picnic and write a poem of your own… just try not to light any more fires.