April 2 and 3, 2017
The sail in to Ha Long Bay is really spectacular – in fact the Vietnamese and others think it is one of the most spectacular places in all of Vietnam. If you can imagine many islands rising from the Gulf of Tonkin, you can almost imagine the mystical beauty. Again, my photos will not do it justice. We got up at 5:30 so we could see the sun rise as we sailed in.
Halong translates as “where the dragon descends into the sea” and the legend is that the islands were created by a dragon from the mountains that was sent by the gods to fight off northern invaders. As it charged toward the coast, its tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles behind. The limestone islands, more than 1600, are mostly uninhabited but are really almost mystical in their beauty. In fact the area has been named one of the new 7 wonders of nature and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many boats are in the harbor – from small fishing boats to large cargo ships as well as some excursion boats and the junks. The fishing boat engines make a put put sound as they pass by. And one of the ships was washing our ship today!
We were here on our last world cruise and did the popular junk cruise and saw the many caves and on our second day we made the long trip to Hanoi. So this time we did an excursion to the Ha Long countryside and a Buddhist temple complex – the Giac Tam which was about a hour from the ship. Along the way, our guide, Anh – which she said signifies First Child – talked to us about Vietnam. We are in the northeast of the country.
- The country is only 20% Buddhist. She is Catholic but does believe in some of the Buddhist principles.
- A major industry here is coal mining and we passed huge piles of coal along our way.
- Vietnam is a socialist republic. She said that means that you follow all the rules and don’t ask why!
- Most people have incense burning in the middle of their homes even if they are not Buddhists.
We saw rice paddies along the road and the driver stopped for a water buffalo which Anh says is not that common for the farmers to use now.
The monastery was beautiful, built up into the hills and consisting of many levels and areas where people bring offerings and pray. There were literally about a hundred buses in the parking lot and we got worried, but the complex is so large it really didn’t feel crowded. It is a Sunday and lots of families come there as it is a day off.
We actually felt like celebrities – most westerners do not come to this area and many families wanted us to be in pictures with them!
And never let it be said that the Buddhists don’t know how to make money! There were these benches sponsored by banks and other businesses!
After the monastery, we traveled a short distance to see a Vietnamese family in their home. We were served sweet potatoes and tea, which is a welcoming custom here. The family members interacted with us, not much English spoken, but Anh helped with the translation. This family has a large amount of land and they grow vegetables, peaches and other fruits and also raise pigs, turkeys and chickens. The farm is surrounded by stone walls with broken glass sticking up on top, to keep intruders from climbing over it! Their daughter was adorable to watch playing with the baby chicks. Norm bonded with the man of the house.
At night on the ship, since we were staying overnight, there was a fun deck party with the entertainment team singing, lots of dancing, and beautiful views of the huge ferris wheel. The sky ride has a gondola that holds 270 people and it extends all the way across the harbor.
The second day in Ha Long Bay, we went out on our own. It is a tender port, so we waited to have breakfast and take the tender until all of the people on full day tours were off the ship. We had the entire terrace restaurant outside area to ourselves! We took a long walk and saw some of the back streets and the tall thin homes, many with businesses on the ground floor as is the Vietnamese custom.
Norm got a haircut and a shampoo and head massage!
We then had lunch at a lovely restaurant – had to have Pho Ga, which is kind of a Vietnamese chicken soup. Norm had a beer too, and the resident cat wanted to make friends. When it came time to pay , the waitress said it would be $7. We could hardly believe that was correct and she went back to check – after all, on the ship, the beer is $7! It was correct! So Norm gave them $20. The manager came out to double check with us, quite puzzled with the amount of money we gave them as they did not speak English. When they realized we wanted them to have the extra money, they were beyond thrilled!
As I have mentioned before, the air is very polluted here, not as bad as China, but here is the afternoon sun – you can look right at it…