Friday, March 6, 2020

Halong Bay Cruise, 1

Perhaps our chief interest in visiting Vietnam was seeing the great karst pinnacles in Halong and Bai Tu Long bays, some of the greatest concentrations of these structures in the world. We have always enjoyed visiting mountainous areas and became of aware of karsts, both on land and sea, as early as 1983, after a visit to Japan. In 2008, we did the River Li cruise in China, seeing the great land accretion of them between Guilin and Yangshou, and we have seen plenty more in our retirement travels. There's a lot of limestone in the world, eroding away into towers, mountains, caves and sinkholes and a variety of other curiosities, but nowhere as numerous or scenic as these two bays off of northern Vietnam.

Halong Bay is by far the more popular of the cruises, which can take 1-3 days. Some 600 ships are licensed to operate in Halong Bay. Bai Tu Long Bay is very similar in terms of scenery, but further from Ha Long, and only 30 ships are licensed to tour it. We opted for the 3 day Bai Tu Long Bay cruise but--it's a long story I'll be unfolding here (cue the "three hour tour" music)--we actually saw Halong Bay.

On board our ship, the Dragon's Pearl 2, a diesel-powered junk, were 7 other couples, US, British, and Australian, a US family of four, and a single architecture grad student from Sydney. All very nice, friendly, and good-humored people. Amusingly, one of the passengers was a retired merchant ship's captain and another a retired diesel engineer. But I'm getting ahead of the story. The crew numbered about 7, all Vietnamese, of whom the guide, a steward, and the bartender spoke some English. A good combination, I thought.

We boarded and occupied our cabins in the early afternoon as the ship set forth into Halong Bay and a roadstead there that the cruise company, Indochina Junk, uses as an overnight anchorage.
Our luxury van dropped us off at a luxury hotel right on the harbor; luxuriously

Boarding the lighter (tender?) to take us to...

Dragon's Pearl 2

Our cabin, spartan but en suite; starboard, stern; not luxurious

And we're off; even from the harbor you can see plenty of the landscape we wanted
to see

Still pretty near the harbor; all this is in the Gulf of Tonkin, South China Sea;
calm like a lake for our three days

Dragon Pearl 2's figurehead

It was a bit hazy our first day out

Incipient arch

So after the usual safety talk, cruise talk, etc., the cook came up to give us a
lesson in Vietnamese cooking; pork spring rolls, which became our afternoon

Though the sea was calm, you could see the tides are in the 8-10' range

Caves everywhere

Once we got to the roadstead, it was play-time; for the younger passengers; Vicki
and I would kayak the next day

Roadstead, with some of the bigger junks

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