Part IV Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay has been on my ‘todo’ list since the first time I went to Vietnam. Very famous spot for limestone outcroppings in a beautiful ocean setting. I was not going to return to Vietnam without actually going there this time and I’m glad I did. It’s idyllic and beautiful. I could have spent a few days here I’m sure.
The trip started out excellent. We had booked a cruise ahead of time and they provided transportation, and we were all a bit surprised when a full sized luxury bus showed up to haul us. Extremely nice ride. It’s almost a 3 hour drive from Hanoi to Ha Long so we were glad to have such a comfy ride, and it was possible to nap, or scenery watch.
Many napped, and I spent my time staring at the scenery and observing farm life, Vietnamese cemeteries, rivers & bridges as well as the endless construction areas along the way. About halfway in my daughter had to use the bathroom so we asked the driver if we could stop. He said we were on a busy highway and there wasn’t really anywhere but we’d have a chance in about 15 minutes.
Eventually he pulled of and we stopped near a gas station / store. There was a bathroom and the “store” was selling all sorts of things from the usual fruit & food items, to wood carvings, jewelry etc. One display had some questionable looking carvings in it, and cousin Jessica asked what it was. “Elephant” they replied. Ugh. Ivory. She turned up her nose and I stood there staring. Hard to believe in this day & age this is still an acceptable thing. My mother in law was looking and we told her what it was. “That’s illegal in the USA” I said to her. Really? she said. One of the clerks understood me and started trying to say it was no problem to buy and I interrupted him and said, “you cannot take this into the US, it’s illegal”. They looked a little baffled.. or maybe disappointed. I couldn’t tell which. Anyway… some things you cannot change… at least not on a short visit.
Back on the bus and we soon arrived at our drop-off spot for the cruise. We were quickly loaded up and hauled over to our boats which looked very nice. Halfway down the gangway I was startled by the entire crew yelling ‘WELCOME ABOARD!’ as a group, and then ‘XIN CHAO!’ (This is a polite hello in Vietnamese). They must have counted it off together. I’m trying to imagine this happening on an american cruise. I can’t.
We all loaded up, were shown to our rooms, and the boat pulled out.
Lunch was quite nice with a good buffet and lots of americano coffee for me (yay).
It was misty and overcast and a bit cool, but I had read that that was typical this time of year so I wasn’t real shocked. There were games in the bar later on and enough drinks to make some of our crew tired REAL early… We went up on top and enjoyed the drive out to our overnight spot. The bay is absolutely beautiful and unique, but pollution is a problem here, and there are a lot of commercial ships & freighters nearby spoiling the vibe a bit. Luckily that was just on the way out and it was nice and quiet once we got deeper into the bay.
First stop was Cua Van (Ancient Village) a floating fishing village. You could choose to row around the village with a local resident or kayak. Most of us chose the rowing (to stay dry) but my sister took my daughter and a couple cousins in kayaks and they promptly rowed out of sight causing no small amount of stress for my sister, and my mother in law, until they returned.
The village itself has been here for hundreds of years. The people build little simple houses on floating platforms, and tie them all together to make little villages, and they’ve been living this way as long as anyone remembers. They are traditionally fisherman, but nowadays, things are complicated. Pollution is a big problem here for the health of the bay, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The villages have no way to get rid of their waste, human & otherwise other than to dump it in the bay. Between that & the huge influx of tourists, things are looking sketchy for the future. Large numbers of shellfish have died off and their way of life is threatened. For the sake of tourism (and the money) the government has stepped in and is forcing the issue. they want the people to leave their traditional homes and move inland. They govt has offered them a little land and money to relocate if they will, but most have no interest in leaving the places they’ve lived their entire lives. The government even sent out a negotiator, to go there everyday and talk to them and try to convince them they’d be better off. Some have agreed and they have an agreement that they can go back and forth and visit as much as they like, but once they leave they are not allowed to construct any new floating homes or resume traditional activities. They are given some money, but when the money runs out, many of them try to return.
There are some bright spots, as tourism has brought money, and they are now taking up ‘aquaculture’ raising fish farms in nets near their houses. This is very profitable work but again, the pollution threatens the success there as well.
As I listened to all of this, I was reminded of our own native people, whom were asked to give up their traditional way of life and take up farming, etc etc. The same old story plays out again and again and again… but I digress.
We returned to the boat and cruised over to another area and were informed we could swim if we wanted to. A little cold for my taste, but a few of the kids were game, as well as a dude from the Netherlands who’d obviously had a few. The kids didn’t last long, but the the Netherlander guy swam all the way around the little ship. I salute you dude.
Dinner was served and we all turned in for the evening.
The next morning we cruised over and visited a cave that has evidence of human use from 10,000 years ago. They’ve excavated a few spots in the cave and found large deposits of clams etc that were placed there by people. The caves are cool but not real impressive by US standards, the cave we visited appears dry so not much formation going on. Back to the boat for lunch and it was time to start heading back. Luckily the sun came out and we ended our trip with a nice cruise in the sun, and the bay was absolutely beautiful.
I definitely recommend a cruise like this if you visit, but I would also recommend visiting during the summer months for weather purposes.