Halong Bay

Arrival   Hong Kong   Sanya, China   Nha Trang, Vietnam   Phu My, Vietnam   Sihanoukville, Cambodia  

Life at Sea   Laem Chabang (Day 1)   Laem Chabang (Day 2)   Koh Samui, Thailand   Singapore  

Halong Bay, Vietnam

After a day at sea, our ship dropped anchor in the harbor of Halong Bay, Vietnam. A couple of small boats rowed up to our ship and women offered fresh produce and held their hands up as if begging. Some passengers threw things overboard to them, but the captain soon put an end to that with a warning on the ship's intercom to stop it before someone got hurt going after the money and other things tossed to the boats.

As soon as we were cleared by Vietnamese customs, several junks pulled up to the ship to take us on our excursions. We had two choices:

Most of us took the first choice, but some people arranged to bus to Hanoi.

Cruising the Bay by Junk

Crowding onto the junk, we sat down for a 30-minute ride to the Thien Cung Cave. The name of the bay, Ha Long, means "falling dragons," which is what the Vietnamese call the tall limestone hills poking out of the bay like giants' fingers.

Junks Docking at the Cave

Junks Docking at the Cave

Thien Cung Cave

The walkway up to the cave was irregular and narrow, and several tour groups jammed in together, making progress slow. I asked our guide why the groups didn't go in an orderly fashion, and she said that's how things are done in Vietnam, even in traffic, which leads to horrific jams that could last up to two hours. So we squeezed through the narrow passage, which opens into a huge grotto. The slow progress through the huge vaulted opening gave us plenty of photo opportunities and a chance to get a good look at the stalactites and stalagmites, so the crowding had its advantages. As you can see by the photo, the brilliant colors of the limestone enhanced the magnificent sculptures that adorned the interior.

Thien Cung

Inside the Grotto of Thien Cung Cave

Grand Tour of the Bay

On our way back to the ship, we took a wide cruise of the bay in our junk. But getting back aboard our junk presented a problem because with all the junks crowding up to the dock in Vietnamese fashion, ours managed to bang a hole into the side another junk. Fortunately, the puncture wasn't critical, but it required our pilot to disembark and fill out some paperwork. Finally, he was finished, and we got under way.

Junk Touring Halong Bay, Vietnam

Sailing through Halong Bay

We had a choice of sitting up top on wooden benches in the cold breeze or more comfortable, warmer seats inside. We chose to cruise al fresco because the views were unobstructed and the fresh sea air felt good. As we putted along, the boat sounded like the African Queen, and any minute we could be dead in the water. But we kept chugging along, taking one grand tour.

As we cruised through the bay, our guide pointed out several floating fishing villages. We'd seen the small fishing boats earlier, and now we saw where they'd come from. These nomadic villages floated around the bay in a way I'm not certain about. It could be that they just floated with the tides, although they must have somehow been anchored to keep from bashing into the steep outcroppings.

Floating Fishing Village

Floating Fishing Village

Once we sailed out of the steep cliffs of the falling dragons and into the open bay, we could see our ship in the distance. The ride to the ship seemed to take forever. Several of us heartier passengers opted to sit on the open upper deck for a better view. The wind was chilly and the skies were gray, but at least it wasn't raining. As we sailed along, and our ship didn't seem to be getting any closer, I announced to some of the passengers that I'd heard the ship would hold dinner for us. Everybody laughed at the joke, which eased the impatience as well as the hunger most of us were feeling. Finally, we made it back to the ship in time to have some lunch.

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