Monday, June 24, 2013


Scenic Halong Bay, the most popular oceanic travel sight in Vietnam
I'm out at sea, in a very unique vessel. This wooden boat, seems to be a cross between a houseboat and a Chinese junk. But there is no clear view of the ocean horizon. Our boat is dwarfed by massive karst pillar formations, which thrust up out of the ocean. They resemble slumping stone giants, rising up from the watery depths. There are few places on the seven seas with views like this. If I weren't in Asia, I would think that this could be a vision out of Greek mythology.

I'm off the coast of northern Vietnam, in the gorgeously scenic Halong Bay.

A lone boat is dwarfed by karst islands

This floating community in the bay includes a school!
This bay is so beautifully unique, that it gained the attention of Hollywood. The James Bond movie, "Tomorrow Never Dies" had a scene here. Pierce Brosnan and Asian action movie star Michelle Yeoh supposedly found an enemy 'stealth boat' in the waters between these oceanic mountains. Although entertaining, part of the storyline was an insult to the Vietnamese. The script said that Halong Bay was controlled by a 'Chinese General'. That's a laugh. Halong Bay and its islands are Vietnamese territory, and no Chinese General has controlled it for centuries. If China tried to regain control of this scenic place, it would spark a new war with Vietnam. The famous spy series was never known for its realism, but anyone familiar with Sino -Viet relations would find that premise downright ridiculous.
Boy brings boatload of snacks and drinks to sell to visitors
While we are cruising for the day, we stop at a floating community. These aren't just temporary housing, there are several of these fully functioning floating communities around Halong Bay. As we check out a fish farm, our guide explains that these floating folk work in industries such as fishing and tourism. That's not surprising, since many thousands of tourists visit Halong Bay every year. It's the most popular tourist spot in northern Vietnam/ What does surprise me, is that many of  the folk living in these floating communities sometimes spend months out here in the bay, without ever stepping onshore. They even have floating school houses for the children.

We step back onto our tour boat, and continue our sea voyage. Soon a rowboat pulls up, commanded by a young boy. His boat is packed to the gunwales with snacks and drinks for tourists. I admire his rowing skills and entrepreneurial spirit, but shouldn't he be in school? And isn't he too young to be selling alcohol?

After my fellow tourists make a few purchases, we're back on our way. Eventually we stop in a sheltered cove, where they have kayaks for rent. I don't see any heavy ocean waves and
I'm handy with a canoe,so I figure I'll be fine in a kayak.

After paying the rental fee, soon I'm out paddling around the bay, as a lone kayaker. Dip... dip... dip... my double bladed paddle makes the only sound I hear, as I slowly make my way around these oceanic towers of stone.

The serenity of paddling a lone kayak
Colorful cave that was long hidden in Halong Bay

Returning to our boat, we close our day by stopping on one of the bay's islands. Many tourists take overnight cruises in Halong Bay, but I'll head home tonight. This island is one of the few with a bay big enough to allow many boats to dock alongside. We do so, and soon I'm trudging up an island trail. Soon we arrive at the entrance to a cave. This island is big enough to hold a cave? Sure enough, walking inside, we find familiar stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone that dripping waters have formed over the past millenia. Our guide tells us, that this cave was only discovered in recent years, it's a wondrous sight.  They should have filmed the James Bond movie in here.

As we board our boat and cruise back to the mainland, I smile. I'm pleased to know, that there are still discoveries being made in today's Vietnam.

Lone lady rower heads for home in Halong Bay

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