VIETNAM’S MOST FAMOUS BAY
Our brief sojourn in Hanoi came to an end today with an early morning transfer to Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist sights. We were pretty excited to be heading out of the big city to spend the next couple of days on a boat, cruising around the bay. From the first glimpses we got of Halong’s limestone pinnacles, we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed. It’s beautiful out here, and incredibly serene – pity that we’re only out here for 1 night!
The drive from central Hanoi to Halong Bay took about 4 hours, with the first hour or so taking us through Hanoi’s busy peak hour traffic. Unlike Thailand and Laos, the traffic here is quite chaotic and noisy, with lots of people honking and weaving around each other. The sheer number of motor bikes and scooters on the roads (and footpaths) is incredible! They were lined up hundreds deep in Hanoi, some carrying just the driver but many carrying whole families.
As well as people, we saw motorbikes carrying all manner of cargo – from chickens in cages ready for the plucking, to woven baskets ready for sale, and even caged dogs bound for the butchers*.
*Dog and cat are openly on the menu here, just as in China.
As we left the chaos of Hanoi behind, mountains loomed in the background and all around us were rice paddies and villages. The third (and final) rice crop of the year is just being harvested here and there were quite a few people out, hard at work in the fields. There were fields of vegetables too, all planted in neat rows and carefully tended.
The villages and towns we drove through were all populated with what we have already come to think of as the typical Vietnamese house: tall, narrow, and well maintained*. Our Vietnamese guide told us that homes are built tall and skinny because houses are taxed based on how much physical land they occupy. To minimise taxes, therefore, everyone builds narrow 3-4 storey homes – even out in the country. Additionally, since most Vietnamese live in extended family units, multi-storey homes allow each generation to live on a separate floor, ensuring everyone has some privacy.
*People here may be poor, but they take an obvious pride in their homes and businesses. The streets and frontages are very clean, and there’s little rubbish in the streets.
We stopped at a souvenir factory and shop along the way too, ostensibly to look at the handicrafts being sold there, but really it was to use their bathroom facilities (which were spotless, by the way). The factory was set up by a charity organisation and to provide training and income for people with disabilities, including those who have lost limbs or suffered other injuries due to unexploded ordnances left over from the American War (or the Vietnam War, as we know it). The tapestries, clothing, embroidery, and lacquer-work produced there were all very beautiful, though rather too large to fit into our backpacks.
It was another 90 minutes or so from the souvenir factory to Halong Bay, and soon we could see the high rises and fancy hotels of Halong township looming on the horizon. It seems tourism is booming in Vietnam, and Halong Bay is on everyone’s list of places to see!
Halong Bay, located in the South China Sea, is famous for its iconic karst mountains and green waters. The region’s spectacular seascape of limestone pillars is so unique that, in 1994, the region was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Thousands of tourists a year flock to this North-Eastern corner of Vietnam to see the drowned limestone landforms that pepper the bay. Catering to all these visitors are a flotilla of cruise boats that cruise around the bay, weaving their way between the islands for 2 or 3 days.
There are boats of all shapes, sizes, and prices (with facilities to match the budget). We’re on one of the nicer boats and have a great little cabin for the night with a comfortable bed and a basic, but clean, ensuite bathroom. Our 2 day/1 night cruise includes meals and if lunch today was anything to go by, it’ll be a good couple of days!
After lunch we moved ourselves up to the top deck where we lounged away our afternoon, watching the glorious scenery float past us.
As the afternoon wore on a few clouds gathered above us, helping to cool things down and providing us with some welcomed relief from the ever-present heat and humidity. The clouds somewhat obscured the sunset, but we still got to enjoy watching the sky change colour, from golden to pink to purple.
Now the sun is gone and the boat has dropped anchor for the night, leaving us adrift in an ocean of silence. There are quite a few other cruise boats moored around us, but it’s still nice and peaceful. After the busy couple of days travel we’ve had, we’re looking forward to a good nights sleep tonight and then another day sailing around Halong Bay tomorrow. Join us then for more lovely views from Vietnams most famous bay…