A cruise in Halong Bay

Vietnam is a long way off being able to compete genuinely with China. The labour may be cheaper, but the transport and port infrastructure is far below that of China. It’s not many miles from Ha Noi to Ha Long Bay (95 miles), but it is a four hour drive. We did our journey there in the driving rain in a minibus full of South Africans who spent the whole journey discussing the price of everything they had ever consumed (and they weren’t young). Despite this backpacking tedium, there was a lot to see outside of the minibus: factories; lots of people; livestock; street hairdressers; and food to name just a few things.

Our destination was Ha Long Bay, a Unesco World heritage site. Essentially, this is is a x km2 body of sea filled with Karsts, conical-shaped mini-mountains protruding from water. Traditionally, its population is of fishermen who live on floating villages. The bigger population is now from travellers taking mini cruises. It has not (yet) been ruined however and this place definitely merits its Unesco status.

Lorna booked a one night cruise on a high class junk in the less frequented area of the Bay. I think there is a two night cruise you can book and I wish we had. We had two cabins, beautifully set out with most of the luxuries you would expect. The meals were a particular highlight. There were too many courses to count; the food was excellent and they even accommodated my dietary peculiarities.

But we came for the scenery. The weather had transformed itself from monsoon to sun. The view from the sun deck was exceptional and endless.

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We stopped at a karst island and kayaked around some other nearby islands. The girls learned something about teamwork from kayaking together. Lorna and I renewed our Zambezi kayaking experience. The sea was flat and the kayaking easy.

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We spent some time on the beach; it was also lovely. We visited some caves. We have a high threshold on caves, which was not met by these largely stalactite-less caverns. We visited a fishing village. It seemed traditional. Dogs and children lazed away their lives.

Should you make this trip? Absolutely. Book it today.

On the way back to Ha Noi, we broke the journey for 3.5 hours by visiting a Vietnamese village. They didn’t really have all of the elements of this sidetrip right yet. We marched around the farming area of this village for over an hour in the summer heat. Our guide regularly – certainly every 60 seconds or so – asked us if we knew what a particular plant, fruit or berry was. We played the game for 15 minutes or so before realising that the questions were rhetorical. He was going to tell us anyway.

We spent some time with an old guy who had plastered his family tree on the wall of his very decorative house. I’m not much interested in my own family tree (OK, not at all interested), but it is amazing how low this interest could go with someone else’s tree.

The best part of the trip was the traditional singing from a villager. It was great, but – judging from the interest from the local youth on their bikes who periodically stopped by to see what was happening – it was already dying here too. If I were a Vietnamese villager, I would be leaving for Hanoi (see previous blog).

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