Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’m using the gentle ocean breeze wafting into our private cabin aboard the Glory Legend junk boat to dry my laundry. We’ve blown off the morning activities to instead relax and catch up.

We’ve left the noise and congestion of Hanoi for this incredibly peaceful sanctuary. Last night we slept with the door cracked open, the lights of neighbouring boats twinkling in the distance. There’s no Netflix or television or Facebook to interrupt the zen.

Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage site, and no trip to northern Vietnam would be complete without a junk boat cruise. You can spend as little or as much as you want, we are on a budget boat – $600 CDN for two nights for two people. Our food and activities are included. The meals are spectacular artistic creations. Both lunch and dinner yesterday were five courses. This mornings “light” breakfast included eggs, meats, cereal, yogurt, fruit, cheese and pho. I walked on but I’ll be waddling off.

The boat is beautiful, but definitely well-used. The wooden floors give in places they shouldn’t. There’s a slight list starboard almost all the time. A peak down into the hold reveals the personal life of the staff looking after us. Our room is elegant, though. The doors slide wide open, so as we sit and sip wine it as if we are right on the ocean. The bed is large and comfortable, the linen top notch. The bathroom is small, but the shower is hot.

Yesterday we kayaked through an oyster farm and then climbed 425 steps up to a view point for sunset.  Us and hordes of other tourists. We could have gone swimming at a beach, but we just waded our feet into the very pleasant 18 degree sea. I read about how dirty the water is here, but they’ve either cleaned it up or my standards are lower. I’ve seen two pieces of floating plastic so far and both were at the beach. Tourists can be pigs.

We have a strange group aboard with us. Ray and I are usually pretty good at making friends, but this is a quiet lot, and there are Aussies and Dutch aboard – usually quite rambunctious. There are 4 American teen aged girls I enjoy watching, future stars of a housewives series thinks Ray. I think the other’s are various Europeans who don’t speak English. It made for a quiet happy hour. We awkwardly made spring rolls together, because five courses for dinner wasn’t enough.

Before I booked the boat, I’d read to beware of boats where you don’t stay on the big boat all day. I didn’t know how to tell. We are on such a boat. Half of us are on a two day trip while the other half are only here for one night. While the big boat goes off to exchange passengers, we are left out here on a small boat. It sounds good, lots of kayaking and time on a beach but it’s 5 1/2 hours and right now its cool and drizzling.

The pressure on Ha long Bay from tourists is immense. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of cruise boats out here. I can see 13 from my cabin without craning my neck. There are these long working boats that I see occasionally and it seems to me their job is to pick garbage out of the sea. There are some enterprising ladies who rowed by last night and this morning, a convenience store on the water. They had Pringle’s and peanuts and wine and whisky among other things. A bottle of wine on this ship is 1.2 million dong (about $70 CDN) while on the floating barge its 300,000 dong (about $18 CDN) . I came aboard with 3 bottles of my own at 185,000 dong (about $10 CDN).

The bay itself is stunning. We are cruising between thousands of uninhabited rocky islands, some with vertical rock walls and no vegetation, others more gentle with small pockets of shrubs and short trees. We’ll be visiting caves tomorrow morning.

While locals would like us to believe fishing or oyster farms are sustainable industries here, it’s obvious tourism is the more lucrative trade. As much as I’m enjoying this, I am not a good sheep. Yesterday we were being herded around as I imagine people on tours are, “you have 45 minutes to kayak in the bay”, and “it takes 15 minutes to climb up to the view point, and 15 minutes down so you will have another 30 minutes to swim if you wish.” “Now it is happy hour, please come to the cooking class at 6:30.”

So we’ve blown off the agenda, much to the surprise of everyone else on board, and now I’m just watching the world go by.

Hang Sun Sot

Before returning this morning we joined in Tai Chi on the upper deck at 6:30 AM. We could see Tai Chi being done on the neighbouring boats too. It’s a formula, but a pleasant one. After Tai Chi we went off in the small boat to visit Hang Sun Sot. Translated loosely this is amazing caves. You are meant to climb in and say “wow!” says our tour guide Tam.

We climb the stairs up and down with lol the other tourists. It is impressive, so I say Wow to please Tam but I’ve had enough of tourists. In high season, Tam tell me there are 8,000 – 10,000 tourists a day here. The pressure is immense.

All in all our two nights aboard the Glory Legend junk boat was a wonderful respite from our traveling. Ha long Bay deserves it’s World Heritage Site status. It is truly a stunning location., with its islands, grottos, beaches and floating villages to explore. If you’re in a hurry or on a budget, a one day cruise would certainly be enough.



Vietnam’s Reunification Train

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