Vietnam & Cambodia Trip – Stop Two – Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
For our second full day in Vietnam we drove about four hours northeast of Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. The highway is a major route from the Hanoi into China and was filled with trucks and buses moving things between the two countries. It was rather interesting to realize that we were so close to the Chinese border and pass by many factories of companies we recognized such as Samsung and Apple.
Once we arrived at the port we were taken by a tender boat to the “Princess II” Junk which would be our home for the next two nights. After meeting the crew, the boat started on its way into the bay while we enjoyed lunch on the front deck. Even though it was pretty cold we sat on the deck for a while watching the landscape float by. The bay is filled with limestone karsts, incredibly beautiful and interestingly shaped rock formations. There is a legend which tells of a dragon creating the bay to protect the people from invaders which leads to the areas name, which means “descending dragon bay”.
Once into the bay we passed by a few floating houses and various seafood farms before setting anchor. We were able to kayak around the bay with our guide. This was not something I had on my life list but it should have been. Even though it was cold, the experience was one I would jump at the chance to do again. We did not see other people as we rowed around the karsts. It was so quiet and calm we could hear our paddles slice the water and the birds flying around above. I managed to get us stuck on one of the mussel beds briefly and Chris almost lost the GoPro, but other than that it was great.
Back on the boat we were served a multi-course dinner which included prawns and Mantis Shrimp. After we bundled up, we sat on the front deck of the boat enjoying the peace while watching the moon appear over the formations.
The next day felt even colder than the day before, but it was our one full day in the bay so we just went along with the adventure. After breakfast we took the tender boat to VungVieng floating fishing village and pearl farm. There we got onto a smaller boat and rowed around the village and got up close to some interesting rock formations. The village itself was clearly set up to allow tourists to visit but was still remarkable. There was a bird which would say “xin chao” and a school room along with a pearl shop. We also saw demonstration as to how pearls were farmed before going back to our junk.
Our next stop was a private beach on one of the karsts which included a hidden cave. We climbed into the cave through several chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, before entering a large chamber set up with a table and chairs for our private lunch. The chef set up a grill outside the cave and we were served several courses; my favorite being the grilled squid. After eating, we had time to walk in the beach. The area was owned by the junk company so we were one of only a few couples spending time on the beach. Unfortunately it was too cold for swimming but we did make friends with a dog that lived on the beach before heading back to the junk.
At dinnertime the chef showed us how to make spring rolls. Chris impressed him with his chopstick skills, flipping the rolls around in the oil. In addition to our spring rolls, dinner included several intricately carved vegetables including a melon in the shape of the junk and radishes carved as cranes.
The next morning the junk returned to the port and we drove back to Hanoi to catch our flight to Hue.
Chris’ Comments: Vietnam is a very inexpensive country and renting a private junk was one of the places we decided to spend some money. It was definitely money well spent, as being disconnected from the rest of the world for a few days was a perfect way to immerse ourselves into relax mode. It’s a shame the weather did not cooperate, but perhaps that got us even more isolation during our time there. My only real regret was not going for a swim, despite it. If you’re ever in Vietnam… and you should be… make sure you visit Ha Long Bay.
First Day on the Junk
Second day on the Junk
Note to our readers: If you are interested many of the photographs are captioned, just select the individual images to open them in a new window. Also, we were surprised how large the country was for a small country. I have put together a Travel Map with the places we visited to give an idea of how we managed to cover a good portion of the country during our trip.