Operations Manager Anna Baldwin Heads to Vietnam for a Reunion…
Having said our goodbyes and thanks to Tracy and her family, the next day my parents and I set off for the magical Halong Bay, often deemed as one of the seven great wonders of the world.
Nothing quite prepares you for the splendour of Halong Bay’s dreamlike landscape. The emerald green waters of the bay are interrupted by breathtaking, jagged limestone karst rock formations, jutting out of the ocean for as far as the eye can see. This special and extremely unique place feels magical and covers an area of more than 1,500 square kilometers.
Now came time for surprise number two – I had organized a cruise for the three of us on Halong Bay that we would embark on for three days! We would be sailing on our own privately chartered “junk” (aka large boat). There are a variety of wonderful “junk” tour companies that we use in Halong Bay with accommodations ranging from 1-15 cabins. Some trips are private, some are shared, and all of them offer a great experience and overnight accommodations with excursions ranging from one to three nights long. On this occasion however, I felt like I wanted my parents all to myself, so we chartered our own private junk to explore the bay on.
Arriving on board we were introduced to our crew– our guide, host, cook, skipper, and of course, the captain.
Leaving the busy city of Halong behind us, we set off along the Northern part of what is known as Bai Tu Long Bay, a quiet section of Halong Bay where only limited numbers of boats are allowed at a time. This made the experience so much more enjoyable for us to be away from the touristy day-trip boats that can crowd other parts of the area.
After a delicious lunch on board, our first stop was the Cap La Fishing Village, a floating village in Halong Bay that is home to approximately 55 families. Here we took some time to explore and learn about the lives of the people on the water, the different fish that they farm, as well as the amazing process of oyster farming.
There is even a small school for the local children of the floating village to attend, with volunteer teachers coming in from Halong City. Not all the children attend school however; they are often trained from a very young age to be actively involved in their family’s business of fishing because it is seen as a more valuable use of time and source of a more immediate income.
We ended the day by setting anchor in a beautiful hidden bay, away from any other junk boats. Shelter from the sea’s winds was provided by the surrounding massive karst rocks, which made protective shields from the chill at this time of year.
On day two we set off for another smaller floating village, where we stopped and talked with the head of the village himself. We found out from our discussion he had been elected “Chief” by the village’s occupants, as opposed to having an appointed authority figure come in from Halong City (which used to be the case.) We discussed the history of the area, how things have changed over time, and of course with it being Tet (Vietnamese New Year), we wished each other Happy New Year over a very large shot of rice wine!
Continuing on, we came to a beautiful beach, which was to be the setting for our delicious BBQ lunch. Luckily the sun was now shining! Having arrived in the late afternoon we had the beach to ourselves. We were served up a feast with everything from freshly barbecued shrimp and scallops, to chicken wings and pork; all accompanied by delicious salads and rice and washed down with some refreshing local beer.
Before climbing back onboard, we were taken by our lovely guide Mr. Tup to a peak high upon the limestone karst, where we were treated to spectacular views of the bay.
Reaching the top, we also realized that this spot was the entrance to one of the most beautiful caves in the area. Venturing in, we found an array of spectacularly huge stalagmites and stalactites. We found our way to a huge cavern, which is sometimes used to host the very special cave dinners that are available on some of the junks.
Another popular activity in this area is kayaking, allowing you to set off on your own and get up close and personal with the massive rock formations. This activity also enables a visitor’s ability to spot some local wildlife, including sea eagles and the occasional monkey!
Back on board, we headed back to the anchoring bay for our second and final night on the journey. The journey back to anchor took around two hours, which provided the perfect amount of time to relax and soak up the stunning scenery as the day came to an end.
After a few sundowners up on deck, it was time for our last supper, which we chose to have in the main cabin seeing as temperatures had dropped quite a lot that day. This meal was magical, as the cabin was decorated with colourful flags and paper chains for the Tet celebrations. Not only were we treated to a delicious ‘’hot-pot’’ (a concoction of shrimp, meat and vegetables), but the presentation was outstanding. One dish was framed with two elegant stalks, the other accompanied by a detailed sculpture of a junk, both of which were carved out of vegetables and fruit.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful crew, who had been a key part of this very memorable experience. Back to Hanoi we went, and it was already time to put my parents on their flight South to Hoi An, where they would set off on their next big adventure in Vietnam.