18.05.2014 - 20.05.2014
This is it, the dream’s finally come true, we’re now officially millionaires! Unfortunately we’re only millionaires in Vietnam where 1,000,000VND is a little under £30 but when you can buy beer for 20pence and a meal, including drinks, for four people, for around £6, it’s easy to make your money go far. So with our newfound millionaire status we decided to do what other rich people do – book a cruise.
Our three day cruise took us around the UNESCO World heritage site, Ha Long bay, an area of 1,553 square kilometres where a dense cluster of 1,600 limestone pinnacles, topped with vegetation and peppered with caves and arches, rise spectacularly from the ocean.
The name Hạ Long means "descending dragon" and the mythology of the place goes like this:
According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade (as mystical dragons tend to do). These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. Numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders' ships and the ships struck the rocks and each other. After winning the battle, the dragons decided to live in the bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long and the place where the dragon's children resided was called Bái Tử Long island.
This is the more fanciful way of saying ‘sea erosion did it’, just going to show that spin doctors were alive and well and doing their stuff many hundreds of years ago.
Getting back to the cruise, what made the trip even more enjoyable were the group of people we shared the boat with. The others already knew each other and their quintet included 3 Canadians (although one was part Filipino), an Argentinian (who lived in Canada) and a Frenchman (whose Moroccan side somehow removed the natural arrogance you’d expect to find).
Now I’ve always thought of Canadians as being a bit like New Zealanders, a kind of polite, peaceful version of their brash Australian / American neighbours. That was until I met Rose. Perhaps it was the Filipino influence but she seemed to want to mount a one-woman assault on any group of tourists who joined our boat (the tour company rotated parties daily so there were always two sets of tourists on board at the same time with their itinerary one day apart). As she plotted to repel the other passengers as they returned from their kayaking session, or practised her evil-eye stare, we felt privileged to have been allowed into her inner sanctum of friends. If Rose were an email provider she would automatically send all messages straight to junk.
In the end the limit of her war on the other passengers was shushing five Vietnamese tourists as they noisily made their way along the boat’s corridor at 10.30pm. Ironically, the loudest thing I heard from my room that night was the sound of someone shushing five Vietnamese tourists.
Anyway, her antagonistic nature, larger than life personality (especially for someone so small) and her friendly nature (to us anyway) made the trip more enjoyable and it was a pleasure to meet them all so we plan to meet up with them again for dinner tomorrow night in Hue.
The rest of our cruise consisted of several hours worth of kayaking, one beautiful sunset, fishing for squid and a visit to one of the local floating villages.
During the first afternoon we went kayaking for an hour and a half around the bay but as Sara stayed in our cabin I had to paddle the two-person kayak by myself. I would say that the three hour kayak journey the following day was made easier with Sara helping too, but she did seem to stop for rests a lot, particularly near the end. My arms and shoulders are still feeling the effects.
In the evening (after a fantastic 5-course meal of fish, shrimp, calamari and prawns – it was always fish, shrimp, calamari and prawns, though sometimes served in a different order and always cooked differently) Omar, our non-arrogant Frenchman, became an expert at the squid fishing. He was so good that on one occasion he didn’t even need to hook the squid, with the creature leaping out of the water and into the boat all by itself.
No visit to Ha Long bay would be complete without a visit to one of the floating villages in the area. Here the inhabitants are born in their floating huts, live and work on the sea and finally die, without ever stepping foot on the mainland. It’s an incredible way of life although I suspect someone from the village must have learned a few tricks of commercialization from the mainland because there’s a fully functioning pearl farm in operation and quite a well set out jewellery shop happily accepting Mastercard. As you can guess, Sara is now the owner of a few pearls.