Just off the coast of northern Vietnam lies Halong Bay, a fantastical world where thousands of limestone karsts shoot out of the water at 90-degree angles and fishermen live in floating villages in their shadows. It's a landscape where creatures like pearl-and-fire-breathing dragons seem plausible -- which perhaps explains how it got its origin story: According to legend, a mother dragon and her baby defended ancient Vietnam against invaders and then descended into the sea, leaving Halong Bay ("Descending Dragon") and Bai Tu Long Bay ("Descending Baby Dragon") in their wake.
Obviously no one in their right mind visits Vietnam without making a pilgrimage to Halong Bay, so after whetting our appetite (literally and figuratively) in Hanoi, we set out for the coast. After a nearly four-hour drive (in a private car with driver and air conditioning - the only way to go!), we found ourselves looking out over a hazy bay with boats bobbing in the distance.
One of those boats would be ours. We'd signed up with Indochina Junk for a two-day cruise on a junk out into the bay. Once everyone in our party had arrived (in addition to Vanessa and me, there was an older Chilean couple and a young family of four from Australia), we set out for the boat . . .
. . . and were pleasantly surprised by what we found! Despite the strong reviews we'd read on Tripadvisor, we had gone in with fairly low expectations about the comfort levels on the boat. But everything was spotless and luxurious and, most important, air conditioned. Aside from our room being adjacent to the engine (with its constant hum and occasional whiff of exhaust fumes through the window), it was perfect.
|The dining area|
|Indoor dining area and bar|
|Our room (with private bathroom not shown)|
We stood around for a while looking picturesque in our nautical setting . . .
|I just knew those nautical stripes would come in handy someday.|
. . . and then the captain and crew assembled to welcome us to the boat . . .
|From right: Chilean guy, captain and crew, Eliane and Maile|
following which we eight passengers sat down to a delicious lunch (which I'll write about separately -- the food was excellent and deserves its own post). We tried to ignore the senery long enough to eat and get to know each other. The Australians were friendly; clearly experienced backpacker types who "grew up" enough to have children and jobs that would allow them to take said children (who are now two and four) on exciting adventures as a family. The Chileans also were friendly, but they spoke very little English and my Spanish has gotten all muddled from disuse (I remember the forms of the conjugations, just not which one goes with which tense!), so it was difficult to bring them into the conversation in a meaningful way.
Once we'd eaten, we all grabbed our cameras and headed to the rails to take in the incredible panoramic views that were passing before our eyes (and which I've posted separately here
, with more to follow).
|I have to peer over my glasses when I hold the camer at an |
angle because otherwise the polarization makes the screen
look totally black.
P.S. I should explain that our cruise took us through Bai Tu Long Bay, and not through the heart of Halong Bay. Although Halong Bay is the more famous of the two, we had read that Bai Tu Long Bay is just as beautiful and much less crowded and polluted. We booked the cruise for Bai Tu Long Bay with some trepidation that we'd be missing the party in Halong Bay, but it turns out the recommendations were right on the money: The Bai Tu Long Bay that we saw was pristine and nearly tourist-free, while the description we got from other travelers who went to Halong Bay only reinforced its somewhat tarnished reputation.
Very nice! Lady
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