We embarked on the Vietnamese junk Ha Long Spirit early afternoon and set sail (figuratively speaking) for Ha Long Bay. The voyage began with an air of mystery and adventure, but Agatha Christie or Gilligan’s Island? One never knows. We were joined by 8 other passengers: 3 couples from Australia, 1 tall and rail thin, 1 tattooed and orange haired, and 1 middle aged and jolly. There was also a family of unknown origin, 2 small boys, a mother who never made a sound and an alpha-male father. This last bunch we never saw after dinner. What became of them we never knew… Luckily, the Australians all turned out to be friendly and the trip was a great success, a wonderful chance to relax, have a few cocktails, enjoy spectacular natural beauty, and learn a few things along the way.
After an uneventful transit of the busy shipping lanes servicing Ha Long City’s port, we glided into the magical Ha Long Bay. Lucky for us, this time of the year is the slow season for tourism and the spectacular views were largely unspoiled by throngs of tourist boats. Ha Long Bay is a maze of thousands of rugged limestone islands and islets, little pillar-shaped mountain-tops really, that seem to mystically rise out of the smooth waters of the Bay, as if the Biblical floods had just begun to recede and the world’s tallest mountains were just poking their peaks into the sunlight for the first time since the Deluge. The effect reminded us of the scene in Avatar, when the helicopters were navigating the floating “Halleluja” mountains of Pandora.
(For the scientifically inclined among you, this from the UNESCO website: The geomorphology of Ha Long Bay is known as a drowned karst landscape due to the exceptional combination of its limestone karst features which have been subject to repeated regression and transgression of the sea over geological time. The limestones of Ha Long Bay have been eroded into a mature landscape of fengcong (clusters of conical peaks) and fenglin (isolated tower features) karst features, modified by sea invasion at a later stage.)
We made 2 stops. The first was to a small fishing village tucked away in a group of islands that forms a perfect little harbor providing good protection from bad weather, including typhoons. This protection is essential, because this little village of 600 lives entirely on the water. Their houses float, their school floats, their fish farms float, and their markets float. Aside from the floating, this village resembles hundreds of little villages scattered around Vietnam. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO protected World Heritage site and, as such, no new building is allowed on the islands. But I guess these people never want to lose their sea legs because they rarely if ever visit the mainland, except to have their babies (a recent development). Fresh water and supplies are ferried out every night and their fishing catch is shipped to shore on the return trip.
Our second stop was to a little cave that was really not too impressive so I forgot it’s name. The most interesting aspect of this cave was the evidence of cave man inhabitation from the Stone Age. But, aside from the presence of thousands of little snail shells with little holes in their sides suggesting that people sucked the snails out of the shells long long ago, I didn’t see much. I understand that Ha Long Bay really does have some amazing caves, but this was not one of them. I suppose we were promised a cave and this was the best they could do in a pinch. Ah, the vagaries of travel. We didn’t care one bit.
Sipping boat drinks on the top deck of a Vietnamese Junk while watching the sun set over the dazzling landscape of Ha Long Bay with your daughter: priceless.