Days 27 and 28: Heavenly Halong Bay (Bai Tu Long Bay)
How do you describe something that is so close to perfect that to put it into writing is to risk breaking the spell? When we decided to finish our time in Vietnam with a trip to Halong Bay, little did we know that it would defy description and that it would be as close to bliss as we could get.
|hiking on island|
A big part of this trip is choosing the right tour company, so since we saved so much money travelling on the train (HA! HA!), we decided to blow the budget and to go with one of the most expensive, but also the most highly rated companies, Red Dragon Cruises. They arranged for pickup at our hotel and the three hour trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back. From the moment that we stepped onto the ship until we were returned to the dock, we felt that we had stepped into the most romantic setting possible. Our cruiser was designed for a couple and no one else, with a beautiful honeymoon suite complete with a king sized bed, silk bathrobes and a shower built for two. We had a crew of five tending to our every need, from Mr. Truong our tour guide, our captain Mr. Khoa, who has the widest grin possible, our chef Mr. Tiu, the engineer Mr. Ha and our waiter/barman Mr. Trung.
As we savoured our lunch of fresh mango juice, seafood soup, salad, shellfish, crab, sole, prawns, snapper and fresh fruit served complete with white linen table cloth at the stern of the boat, we pondered the wonder of being in such a breathtaking place. The boat was a teak beauty, complete with everything needed for a fabulous trip, every minute of which was beyond our wildest dreams! Halong Bay was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in1994 after the movie Indochine with Catherine Deneuve was filmed there in 1993. Since then, it has steadily grown as a tourist destination. Even though it is low season, with the temperature in the low 70s with overcast skies, there were over thirty boats heading out to various locations in the bay. This area encompasses over 1530 square kilometers, and we were going to an area called Bai Tu Long Bay, which is still fairly pristine and not as busy as Halong Bay.
Each island was more impressive than the former, and after a few hours of cruising, we anchored in a lovely little bay and took the junk to a beautiful white sand beach. The island is home to two spectacular caves with phosphorescent stalactites and stalagmites. We emerged from the caves to be helped into our awaiting kayaks, which we paddled around a neighbouring island. The hiking and kayaking warmed us up so much that we decided that a swim in the bay would cool us off. Jumping off the bow of the boat, I’d like to say that our bodies sliced like knives through the tepid water, but it’s probably more honest to say that we hit the water like a few old boulders being plunged off a cliff. Nevertheless, we are young and graceful in our minds, and we frolicked about like a couple of kids reveling in this idyllic experience. We clambered onto the boat for warm showers and spent a couple of hours just talking and holding hands in our deeply padded deck chairs as we motored to our anchorage for the night.
We were wondering how the chef could possibly top lunch, as it was the best food that we had eaten on our trip so far, but we were in for a meal that was right off the charts. Not only did we enjoy another delicious salad, shrimp spring rolls, mussels, giant prawns, grouper and deep fried banana, but each dish was presented with a special hand carved sculpture created by the chef. The presentation of each dish as it was served was nothing less than spectacular, presented with such pride that it just begged to be appreciated. The entire meal took a full two hours, and by the time it was over, we were quite happy to retire to our private honeymoon suite to ponder the specialness of the day. Doing a second Honeymoon is one thing, but it seemed that we had an audience (of sorts) entourage, groupies, or plain old fashioned neighbors close by. When we finally said “good night” to each other in the appropriate way for such a romantic time and place—they broke out in cheering and clapping!!!! Their timing seemed rather coincidental; hopefully they were watching a game on T.V. and their favourite team scored!
|pumpkin eagle sculpture, served with mussels|
We awoke to misty skies, but put on our jackets and sat outside to drink in the scenery, as we wanted to savour ever single moment. As soon as we finished breakfast, which was served once again on our little table at the stern, we headed into a quaint little fishing village, where we were taken by a local sampan operator to visit the local primary school. These people have lived for generations on sampans or junks, as the islands are all steep cliffs and uninhabitable. Once UNESCO got involved, they were helped to build little float houses, and taught how to clean up the trash from the bay in order to keep it attractive for the tourists. The children all learn to swim as babies, and by the time that they go to school at six years old, they are able to row their small junks by themselves around to the other side of the island to go to school which is also a on a float.
They have also set up little fish farms and a pearl farm. We were given a demonstration of how the pearls are seeded before heading back to our boat for a few more hours of cruising. Before disembarking, we were treated to yet another delicious seafood lunch. We left our little honeymoon boat filled up to the brim with peaceful hearts and a renewed gratitude for the water colour magic that God gave us when we created Halong Bay!