It’s a load of old junk….

16 May

Now, in my last post, there was a gap. A two day gap. You may not even have noticed it.. but to keep the pacy narrative flowing and succinct, I decided to leave out my trip to Halong Bay. This was one of the trips I had really wanted to do, as it’s a real Vietnamese highlight, and truly beautiful – or so they say.

Anyway, Halong Bay is around 200km from Hanoi, so it’s onto a bus for the 3 hour journey. Which was terminally dull, travelling through Vietnam’s combination of rural life and micro industry, where paddyfields jostle with mom and pop mechanical engineering. Rice farming is hugely dependent on water, and the Vietnamese have corralled and maintained their water supply, bending it to their will to feed the fields as well as support their fishing and duck farming.

Things start to get interesting as we rock up in Halong City.. another industrial town with little to recommend it, but outside there are stilt houses built on the mud flats, people eking out an existence on the fish farming they can achieve in the estuary.

And then.. onto the junk. They all look romantic in the photos with those classic sails catching the wind – but with the sails down – it’s just a boat. But that’s not really why I am here – although the romance of a boat trip never fails to get my islander’s heart excited. As we pull out of harbour, the glory that is Halong Bay immediately leaps out to mesmerise my eyes with dramatic beauty. In the bay are around 3000 islands formed from limestone karst left behind… those islands form jagged and wild shards of impossible mountains in the bay. (Locals say there are only 1969 – but that’s the year of Ho Chi Minh’s death….) Every moment the scenery shifts and changes as another island is revealed. After a while, I realise that my camera is capturing ever more shots of similar looking islands – but it’s such an incredible sight that I’m riveted to the view, trying to capture every moment somewhere in my memory.

Aerial Photo of Ha Long BayHalong Bay (27)Halong Bay (58)Halong Bay (105)

The peaks of the rocky outcrops resemble the spine of a long dead dinosaur, hidden in the sea, and indeed ‘Halong’ means ‘Standing Dragon’.


Halong Bay (50)

We take half an hour on kayaks in the bay – some of our crew come dangerously close to being run down by the train of junks passing. There’s a lot of boats out here, but the islands hide them from each other. There’s also floating pineapple sellers – in fact, a kind of nautical 7-11 selling everything from beer to crisps from tiny rowboats.

Halong Bay (78)Halong Bay (89)

There’s a visit to the Tien Kung caves, too – although the problem with limestone is that it’s terminally dull grey, the sheer size of the caves makes me feel like I am on the movie set for ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ as we move from chamber to chamber. I’ve never been in such a huge cave system before, and it’s just like you might imagine a dwarvish meeting hall might be like.

Halong Bay (65)Halong Bay (67)

The night is spent on the boat… although the cabins are very nice, the promise of a warm night, a sky full of stars, and the gentle rocking of the boat lures me onto the top deck. The karaoke from the boat and the parties on some of the other boats eventually die away, leaving me with an incredible view, and a real sense of peace and connectedness to the universe. It’s a real moment of validation for me, as I feel, in that moment, that everything is alright in my universe… that I am safe, and loved, and that everything is going to be OK. And I get the sense, too, that the plans I have, the dreams that are in my heart are going to come to pass too.

Halong Bay (36)

The guide has suggested that folk get up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise. Which is a bit silly, because sunrise is at 4:45. So it’s only me that sees it as dawn paints the sky with orange and purple. It may not be the most spectacular sky I’ve seen on this trip, but the setting is absolutely stunning.

Halong Bay (11)

And after dropping some of our party off on one of the islands for their overnight stay, it’s back to the mainland for the bus back to Hanoi. Or, at least, that was the plan. For a while, we run aground on the sandbars in the bay, and need to be pushed off by the ship’s landing craft. Now that’s gotta be embarrassing.

Halong Bay- Sandbanks!

As we approach Hanoi, the sky darkens and the heavens open.  Lightning spatters shards of electric fire across the horizon. Boats in the river seem about to sink under the weight of water, while motorcyclists don ponchos if they have them, or huddle under bridges until the rain stops. The more determine soldier on, dripping wet. Others strip to their underwear to work in the roads. Some of them are keener to protect their cargo than themselves – it only takes a few moments for a cardboard box to turn into sludgy pulp and there’s at least one consignment of beer that isn’t going to make it past the roadway.

Back to Hanoi (7)


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