Ha Long Bay

After disembarking from an overnight train back to Hanoi at 4:45 AM, we had a few hours respite at a nearby hotel, and then embarked on a 4-hr car ride to Ha Long Bay.  We were to spend the next 48 hours cruising the bay on a pretend Chinese junk, Prince II, which is part of the Indochina Junk Tours fleet.  This company has exclusive rights to cruise Bai Tu Long Bay.  Bai Tu Long Bay is  adjacent to Ha Long Bay and has similar scenery, but unlike Ha Long Bay, which lets everyone and their brother in, this bay gave exclusive cruising rights to Indochina junks, with its fleet of 14, which makes cruising here very peaceful. We rarely saw another ship safe for some local fishing boats.

Prince II consists of 4 cabins and has a crew of 7.  There are 7 passengers on board.  The junk’s decor is a bit tired an shabby, our cabin is practically nothing but a kingsize bed with no room for much else.  There is no internet or TV on board, but the lunch we were served on the upper deck compensated for the shortcomings of the decor and technology.  We ate lemongrass soup, morning glory salad, and various seafood dishes fresh from the bay.  All those good things were consumed while floating amidst one of the most stunning sceneries ever.  After lunch, we went kayaking.  My kayaking trip ended before it even started.  Our kayak kept tilting left to right; the guide offered to switch us to a different, more steady kayak, but I opted out, leaving Kenny to deal with the instability by himself.

The next day started with breakfast on the top deck, and then we went kayaking again.  This time i shared a kayak with one of the Vietnamese guys, and it went smoothly.  We kayaked between the islands dotting this bay.  Close up, they were just as magnificent,  some looked almost architectural.  The islands are of limestone, with some vegetation, but no life safe for rats and lizards.  The islands seem to be floating on water, as if they were carefully placed atop the still water by a (probably) Japanese designer.

We kayaked to a private beach where tables complete with white tablecloths were set up for us, and the cook from the ship barbecued a variety of seafood, beef, and chicken for our dining pleasure.  It was too cold to swim but warm enough for us to wade in the shallow water.

Our fellow passengers are a couple from India and their daughter who lives in New Zealand.  The father is an architect who came here to lecture at the university of Hanoi and meet up with his daughter.  He did an abbreviated version of his presentation for us, and really impressed me!  He is into sustainable architecture, and his designs are  beautiful, zen, and environmentally conscious.  He only uses local and recycled materials and aims for harmony between the indoors and the outdoors, serenity, which is also aesthetically appealing.  He showed us a rehab center and a hospital that he designed, and there was nothing cold or institutional about them.  They were elegant, stylish, inviting and calming, as well as absolutely beautiful.  I would totally love living in one of his houses! 

At night, we were served a farewell dinner, for which the chef carved several decorative pieces out of a watermelon, pumpkin, carrots, and other vegetables and fruits, among which a model of our ship was the best and finest, and the most incredible  (as well as edible), especially incredible were the sails made of carrots.  Our whole group then played Cards Against Humanity – an idiotic and raunchy table game.

The next and last morning we visited a floating village of the local fishermen.  Their little houses moored in the middle of a pristine bay, on top of the emerald water, lightly rippled by the breeze, and tucked safely between Bai Tu Long Bay islands.  I am sure their life is very hard and poor, but their habitat is so spectacular as well as serene, that even we, the visitors, went absolutely silent, dwarfed by the awesomeness of this stunning natural spot. 

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