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
- Cruise by junk to Thien Cung Cave and then cruise around the
bay to see the exquisite views and rock formations.
- Tour the Red River Delta by bus.
Most of us took the first choice, but some people arranged to bus
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.
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
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.
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
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
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