Adventures in Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam. The scenery of the bay is simply breathtaking and really makes one feel small and humbled. The bay is dominated by the roughly 2000 towering limestone mountains which jut spectacularly out of the ocean with tops of dense jungle vegetation. According to wikipedia these limestone mountains have been in the making for the past 500 million years and is geologically a karst topography (please don’t ask me what that means. To me it means pretty.)

Bernice and Me on our 'romantic' cruise of Halong Bay.

Bernice and Me on our 'romantic' cruise of Halong Bay.

After not working for the previous week due to the failure of my translator being available, I decided to do some traveling. My fellow Kiva Fellow in Vietnam, Bernice, opted to come along with me! She met me in Hanoi on Friday morning where we went from one travel ‘cafe’ to the next looking for the best deal that seemed legitimate. We opted for one actually on a block away from Bernice’s hotel. The trip was e as a ‘romantic one night/two day trip’ on a classic Chinese junk. For the most part, everyone else who was on the boat was indeed with a significant other except for a Chinese-American woman (I could write a whole blog on just this woman’s adventures, she had some very amazing stories) who brought her Chinese parents along. The parents only had their daughter, and to their surprise, Bernice to talk to since Bernice knows some Mandarin (She’s from Hong Kong, but they speak Cantonese there).

In a cave where an example of a classic junk can be seen.

In a cave where an example of a classic junk can be seen.

After an uneventful four hour bus ride we arrived at Ha Long Bay’s, well, marina. The classic junks weren’t very classic in the sense that they all were motor powered and none of them had their sails up! I was totally looking forward to the classic sails which really help make a junk look like a junk. In fact, I only saw one the entire time with its sails up. Before getting on the boats we had our passports taken away from us. This is actually a very common practice in Vietnam, despite initial hesitance to do so. Basically, the government wants to track every single foreign person at all times to know where they are going and for how long. Our passports are registered at hotels, and at main tourist destinations. I freaked out at first because I wasn’t aware of this until Bernice made a comment to me about it.

Unfortunately for us, we went on a very hazy, cloud/foggy day so the views weren’t as amazing as we’d hoped; however the views we did see did give off an air of mystery and eeriness. After cruising along with the other hordes of junks, our first destination on the romantic cruise was a pretty awesome cave tucked away in a protected cove surrounded by islands. Apparently there are caves on a large proportion of the islands. The cave had three main chambers with two of them being very, very large with at least room for one or two football fields inside them. These caves are still growing, unlike the Perfume Pagoda, because tourists are allowed only to follow a designated track with railings to keep us back.

The cove where we went kyaking and where the cave is located; beautiful!

The cove where we went kyaking and where the cave is located; beautiful!

After the cave was what me and Bernice were looking forward to the most: sea kayaking. We had 40 minutes to kayak anywhere we wanted. We were given life vests which were simply accessories since more than half the straps on the vests were broken; surely if I had fallen in the water it would have popped right off of me! There was one small problem, however, with the kayaks: we were not give a kayak skirt. The result was two very soaking wet people. Unfortunately for me, I had kept my jacket on and while technically it is waterproof, the amount of water it encountered soaked it meaning I had nothing to wear for the coming cold night. Along with my jacket, my pants became soaked too. Later that evening all I had to wear was my pajama pants and a t-shirt and that was not enough to keep warm!

The next morning we left the cove and went to a floating fishing village where we could take a boat ride into ‘water caves.’ In 1997 the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies was partially filmed in the floating village. According to the tour guide, Pierce Brosnan toured the very same water caves and asked that his ticket price be used to support the local school for the floating village. Our guide also told us that our ticket price of 50,000 VND would do the same as this was now the tradition. Bernice, me and two Kiwis decided that this sounded pretty scammish as there was no visible school and the junk obviously had an agreement with two very specific men to guide us in the caves. We thus opted not to see the ‘water caves.’ We apparently made a very wise decision because after only 15 minutes of seeing the said caves everyone who went said that there was nothing to see and that they wished they hadn’t paid the VND to see it. Instead of seeing ‘water caves’ we watched a woman kill live eels for dinner!

The floating fishing village.

The floating fishing village.

The floating village was the last part of the cruise and we headed back to the city of Halong where we ate lunch with a bunch of other tour groups. By this point, however, I was feeling really ill and had a fever and bad body aches. I’m not sure what I had but I did not enjoy the bus ride back even though I had the best seat on the bus: I actually had leg room! Now, the bus itself is a great story because if there were an accident there’d be no way out. The isles have folding down seats that when in use make it impossible to move around the bus. Literally we were crammed in like sardines, but not nearly as bad as the tro-tros in Ghana!

Halong Bay is definitely worth seeing and is incredibly beautiful. Anyone who visits Vietnam must see it, but we have to be careful: The increased tourism could have a potentially devastating effect on the ecology of the bay because of pollution and the oil that inevitably seems to seep sometimes from the aging junks (which by the way don’t seem to be that important because when docking they always ram into each other as bits of the old wood breaks off and falls into the ocean!) Nonetheless, see this marvelous place if you get the chance.

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7 Responses to “Adventures in Halong Bay”

  1. Timi Says:

    Soooo pretty!!!!! Nice musical selection for the video! They are getting more and more high tech (these videos)!

  2. Gillian Says:

    Hope you are feeling better…the videos are great. i think we will have to get a video camera for our trip. they give so much more of a sense of the place.

  3. cory lee Says:

    wow it looks so beautiful there. im really jealous!

  4. TRavis Says:

    Thanks that was nice to read. My girlfriend is head to the same place today. So back in the states I am interested to see it. Now I have a better idea of where she’ll be. Thanks!

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