Halong Bay

Vietnam's flag
Asia » Vietnam » Northeast » Quang Ninh » Halong Bay
October 22nd 2012
Published: October 22nd 2012
Edit Blog Post

Davie is captain of Halong Bay junkkDavie is captain of Halong Bay junkkDavie is captain of Halong Bay junkk

Note bed and shirt in background - captain's quarters are also the bridge
Halong Bay - it is as beautiful a we were told, and is nowhere as dirty and polluted as we were led to believe. It is truly stunning scenery and the boat is as luxurious as the Avalon European river vessels, just in a different way.
We left Hanoi early - ish, and the usual van trip with lots of horns beeping, alarming inside passing, and the most extraordinary (and often huge) loads on motor bikes. Sadly, along with the usual chickens, pigs, sacks, boxes and so on we also saw two bikes with cages packed with German Shepherd pups destined for the cookhouse Not for us! Also, unusually, we saw two accidents - these are rare despite the somewhat casual nod to road rules. It is rice harvest time up here in the north of Vietnam and despite it being a Sunday there was a lot of action in the reaping, winnowing, baling of straw and drying of rice on the side of the road. There are only two rice crops annually this far north as there is not enough rain over the winter to sustain a rotation of rice. So they alternate with sweet potato, potato and sweetcorn during summer. I have mentioned before these are a very industrious people, but the lack of state handouts makes ensuring there is enough food grown is pretty vital. On the way north we stopped at a venture where children and young people with disabilities arising several generations later from the use of Agent Orange work. This provides lovely craft work, which is very expensive in Vietnamese terms. We also visited a pearl shop (oh be still my beating heart) and learned about the difference between totally fake, ground shell pearls, freshwater and seawater pearls. Hmn. My Grandmother's Miki Moto's are real, I know that. But some of the Hong Kong market ones might be a bit on the ground shell side - but who cares??? So then we drove into Halong city outskirts, and around the corner there was the bay - still with heaps of 'haze'. All on board, a three story junk boat, level one all suites, some more suites on the second level with a very glamorous dining room/bar and the top deck is a sun deck - all with lovely teak decking and beautifully fitted out. 12 suites in all, nice and cosy. And they have
Our accommodationOur accommodationOur accommodation

Very comfortable - 12 suites, great food and lovely staff
set us up in the dining area with a table for seven, right in the middle. This is a bit dangerous as we do tend to dominate things- if you think I have leadership potential, you wanna see my pals!! After the safety talk (first time we've put life jackets on, let alone had them throughout the journey of many river trips) we had a multi course almost degustation lunch. Our suite is simply lovely - as nice, but different to the river boats - and we have a full size bathroom. Our first excursion was to a gorgeous bay, where Rick and John disembarked onto a kayak and we more staidly clambered onto bamboo junks rowed by young ladies. So row row across the bay, lots of lovely views, and then through a cave with stalagmites or the other sort, dripping water, and out the other side into a completely land surrounded bay to watch the monkeys with the reddest botties you have ever seen! The scenery was redolent of Lake Taupo around by the Maori carvings, and very lovely with birds and lots of greenery. But, commerce never ceases, across the bay, in another junk rowboat came the
Commerce even hereCommerce even hereCommerce even here

Water, lollies, chippies, biscuits and even pearls for sale....
local store, with the every present oreo biscuits (I'll never eat them again - too many), water, fizzy soda and beer and, blow me down, bliimmin pearls, hands full of them. Velly cheap madam, only a dollar. Everything is 'only a dollar' but not really. This is 20,000 dong - but is never the price, it is only the 'come on in' call. I had a dollar pedicure which ended up with me threaded from top to bottom (apart from the middle bits - lalalala too much info), with nice clean eyebrows, smooth legs and no fuzz even on my face!! One dollar - who would believe it?? Nah, turned out to be more of course. Threading is the way to go - do we have that at home? What a lovely finish. We have to convert from US dollars to dong from kiwi dollars, so I have resorted to my usual simple ready reckoner - so we ask for prices in dong, and can convert quite easily now. A meal with drinks can be around $30 - $40 NZ for the two of us. A beer is usually around one kiwi dollar, Davie is in seventh heaven, of course. I am drinking JW black label at $30NZ a litre, and gin is much less, around $10 - $15. Petrol is about $2NZ a litre, a brand new Toyotal Camry is $100,000 US - heavy taxes to discourage road usage. It seems there is a 200% vehicle duty for bikes and private cars. 80% of vehicles - buses, vans, cars and so on are Hyundai. Toyota comes in second here. Very rare to see two vehicles of the same model. Odd. Also odd is the occasional reminder that this is a communist country. Certainly 'The Government' has to approve a lot of stuff - and there are lots of red flags flying and gorgeous wee kids with red scout scarves - but this country is like Hong Kong - everyone is out to make a buck, bribery is discussed openly and you never see the army. We have learned about coffee money. You are stopped by the motor police for speeding - you have two choices, pay a hefty fine to get your vehicle back in a week or so from city hall or pay half the fine directly to the cop for coffee money. Traffic police, we are told, often buy their jobs and don't draw a salary - that goes to the boss!!! A most amazing experience today was our first sight in weeks of blue sky, and the first time too that we were not expiring from heat stroke. The rest have gone across to a beach which is, we think, a bit like Oriental Bay (haha did not mean to make joke) with imported yellow sand. There is also a 400 step walk to the top of the hill for photo opportunities. Hmn, I have already taken some nice ones. About to have a shower in the normal sized, marble lined shower. Nice. More lovely food, and some decent wine - then we sat up talking to our Vietnamese host about life in Vietnam. He has four days off every three months when he spends two days with his parents and two with his wife and little boy. He clearly has worked hard to become cruise host, and is ambitious to emigrate to somewhere where he can work and be with his family. Seems pretty tough here. This morning we motored into yet another glorious bay after a good night's sleep, and disembarked to clamber up a hill to view the Surprise Caves. It was a bit of a Barnes' Dance with several boats all arriving at the entrance at the same time, but the caves were simply amazing. Lots of stalactites and stalagmites, dripping roof - with a reasonably well made path through so us oldies didn't trip and fall. As part of the UNESCO park it is well maintained with paths, illumination of the best bits with coloured lights and dangerous bits are fenced off. The caves were incredibly humid, not particularly hot, but we dripped - no elegance here. Back to the boat for a shower and brunch. We are now sitting on the top deck under a brolly watching the remarkable scenery - truly remarkable. Then it will be a four hour drive back to Hanoi. Tonight we plan to go back to the big fun restaurant called Quan An Ngon. In addition to fantastic food, the venue is extraordinary. Guests are seated in the centre on long tables, and around the walls are different booths cooking different sorts of Vietnamese food. However you make a single order, and the waitrons zoom around assembling the orders (cause we have several small courses between us). There is a heap of noise from the locals, and lots of buzz in general. It is pretty big and was lots of fun. We have tickets too for the late night show of the water puppets which we are told is a 'must see', so we'll go there after dinner.


Tot: 0.093s; Tpl: 0.01s; cc: 9; qc: 46; dbt: 0.059s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.1mb