We met Sunny, our guide, at 7 a.m. to depart to Ha Long Bay. The car ride would take us from Hanoi, due east, through the countryside, to our destination by the sea. Sunny told us the ride would take over 3 hours because although Ha Long Bay was not so far in distance, the road to get there was shared not only by cars, trucks, and motorcycles but by cows as well and he was not kidding.
We passed through numerous villages, rice fields and farms. We saw plenty of cows and water buffalo. We were also introduced to the architecture of Tube houses. Tube houses were originally built between 1428 and 1788 but today continue to be the house design of choice in the northern part of the country. They can be as narrow as 6.5 feet (2m) but up to 262 feet (80m) deep. Some of these houses today have been made taller and are referred to as “rocket buildings”.
UNESCO designated Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage Site and its name translates into “descending dragon bay”. Ha Long Bay is a 580 square mile (1500 sq km) area dotted with more than 2,000 outcroppings of limestone and dolomite. We were mesmerized to see the mystical beauty of Ha Long Bay. The islets looked even more magical set against the misty bay. Upon our arrival in Ha Long Bay we boarded a junk, named the Ginger with Jasmine Cruises. We would spend the night on board the Ginger with 15 other passengers.
That afternoon we went on an excursion to visit caves that exist inside the numerous islets. The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to a floating fishing village. At the floating village we boarded smaller boats that took us closer to see the floating village homes and the villagers. One of the primary ways to make a living is fish farming.
The children of the village attend the local school also floating on the bay.
We were surprised to see that some of the houses had televisions. We were also surprised to see that some of the families owned dogs. We met a very protective dog taking care of his master’s fish farm. He ran across the logs that supported the fish nets with amazing balance and speed.
During monsoon season the villagers tie their houses together and float them closer to the islets.
The next morning we were invited to take a class of Tai Chi on a nearby beach followed by a short hike to the top of the island.
After a wonderful breakfast we returned to the port. There we met up again with Sunny. He had bought Vietnamese snacks for us to enjoy. Among them were dried Jack Fruit. The flavor of Jack fruit tasted to me like a combination of mango and pineapple.
We said goodbye to Sunny and to North Vietnam and took a flight to Danang, Vietnam. Stay tuned for the continuing trip through central Vietnam.
For further reading about Ha Long Bay: http://wikitravel.org/en/Ha_Long_Bay
For further reading about Tai Chi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T’ai_chi_ch’uan